Derik Steiner's receiving touchdown with 30 seconds remaining in the game brought the Cleveland Gladiators to within two points of the Jacksonville Sharks, but the Gladiators were unable to recover the ensuing onside kick, which helped the Sharks secure a 43-41 win over Cleveland Saturday night at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
Cleveland led Jacksonville 14-7 after the first quarter, but were outscored 14-0 by the Sharks in the second. After a low-scoring third quarter – 9-6 in favor of Jacksonville – the Gladiators outscored the Sharks 21-13 in the fourth; but it was not enough to overcome the second-period lapse.
Carlese Franklin and Dominick Goodman had two touchdown receptions each for the Gladiators.
At quarterback, Chris Dieker completed 20 of 30 passes on the evening for 222 yards and five touchdowns, and was intercepted once late in the fourth quarter; a turnover that resulted in a Jacksonville touchdown.
The loss was the sixth straight for the Gladiators. Jacksonville snapped a two-game losing skid with the win, and secured a playoff spot by topping the Gladiators on Saturday.
Jacksonville, at 9-5, has the top record in the American Conference.
The Gladiators held a 14-7 lead after one quarter.
First, a 15-yard touchdown pass from Dieker to Franklin helped the Gladiators tie the game at 7-7 with 5:45 remaining in the first quarter, then with 1:04 left in the first quarter, former Shark LaRoche Jackson gave the Gladiators the lead.
The first of Jackson's three interceptions on the evening was returned 32 yards for a score, giving the Gladiators a 14-7 lead through one stanza.
Jacksonville would counter with a 14-0 second quarter run, giving the Sharks a 21-14 lead at halftime. Sharks starting quarterback Kyle Rowley found Jeff Hughley for a touchdown from 14 yards, and Rowley gave the Sharks the halftime lead with a one-yard touchdown run with 34 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Jeron Harvey scored on a five-yard touchdown pass to extend the Sharks lead to 27-14 with 11:05 left in the third quarter, but the Gladiators answered afterward.
The first of Goodman's two touchdowns pulled the Gladiators to within seven points with 5:51 left in the third quarter; Goodman's first touchdown was from six yards.
A Jacksonville field goal late in the third quarter gave the Sharks a 30-20 score with a quarter remaining.
A 21-13 fourth quarter run was just two points shy of tying the game for the Gladiators, who saw receiving touchdowns from Franklin, Goodman, and Steiner in the final frame.
An acrobatic grab from Goodman at the center of the back wall from 10 yards out gave the Gladiators their first lead of the game, 34-30, with 8:25 left in the fourth quarter.
Goodman fell over the wall, but maintained possession for the touchdown.
A two-yard touchdown run by Jacksonville's London Crawford with 2:43 left, and a 10-yard interception return for a touchdown by the Sharks Micheaux Robinson with 1:15 remaining gave the Sharks the lead for the duration.
Steiner's touchdown set up an onside kick with 30 seconds left, but the Gladiators were unable to recover.
The Gladiators begin a two-game homestand Saturday night at 7:00 PM when they take on the Philadelphia Soul at Quicken Loans Arena.
NOTES: Carlese Franklin averaged 13.5 yards per reception for the Gladiators on six catches, and entered the game with a 12.1 yards-per-catch average... The Gladiators are 0-2 this season against Jacksonville, and are now 1-6 on the road this season... LaRoche Jackson was in a three-way tie for the team lead with two interceptions entering the game, and intercepted three passes, increasing his season total to five interceptions... Goodman's two touchdown catches give him 17 touchdown receptions this season... Dieker entered the game as the Gladiators leader with 192 yards rushing, and was second on the team Saturday night with 21 rushing yards on six attempts.