SAN JOSE, Calif. – The San Jose SaberCats (4-2) won their second consecutive game, defeating the Cleveland Gladiators (1-5) 56-36 in front of 8,563 fans at HP Pavilion on Saturday night. On a night when SaberCats legend, quarterback Mark Grieb was honored by the retiring of his jersey at halftime, current San Jose quarterback Russ Michna made his home debut, completing 18-of-25 passes for 197 yards and 4 touchdowns with zero interceptions.
“He’s getting better,” said Coach Darren Arbet on new quarterback Russ Michna, “it’s tough in a week and a half to get to know all the guys. He is starting to understand all the little things that the receivers do, and it’s showing out there on the field.”
The SaberCats got off to a much-needed fast start against the Gladiators. Michna, looking to immediately impress his new home crowd, showed his skills during the opening 45-yard march down the field that ended with a six-yard toss to Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game, wide receiver Jason Willis for the score. After the defense forced a turnover on downs, buoyed by a Terrance Carter sack on fourth down, Michna found wide receiver Jamarko Simmons for the 50th touchdown of his Arena Football League career and a 14-0 lead for the ‘Cats.
After being held scoreless through the first 15 minutes, the Gladiators got on the board early in the second quarter with a one-yard keeper from quarterback Brian Zbydniewski. After Carter blocked the point after attempt, JLS Playmaker of the Game Fred Williams took the ensuing kickoff 57-yards to the house to extend the lead back to double digits at 21-6, in favor of San Jose. Following an impressive defensive stand led by defensive back Clevan Thomas, the offense kept the momentum rolling for the SaberCats. Michna completed all five of his pass attempts and Simmons found the end zone with a one-yard bull rush to push the San Jose lead up to 28-6. Cleveland answered back with a touchdown in the final minute to close the gap to 16 points; however, Williams wasn’t quite ready to be done with the first half. He took the next kickoff 55-yards, his second kickoff return for a touchdown of the night, to prop the San Jose lead back up to 35-12. A last second 42-yard field goal from Cleveland brought the halftime lead to 35-15 in favor of San Jose.
Coming out for the third quarter, Cleveland’s halftime adjustments paid off early, as wide receiver Dominick Goodman found the end zone from 17 yards out, making the Cutters Catch of the Game over the boards to close San Jose’s lead to 13. The subsequent kickoff bounced off the bar and directly into the hands of Gladiators defensive back Lenny Wicks, who walked into the end zone for a net recovery touchdown to bring Cleveland within six. Getting on the field for the first time in the second half, the offense extended the lead back to 13 when Michna found Willis from 18 yards out, their second touchdown connection on the evening.
Following an interception by Riddell Defensive Player of the Game, defensive lineman Jason Stewart off of a tipped pass late in the third quarter, the offense quickly struck to open the scoring in the final frame. Simmons once again bullied his way into the end zone for his second rushing, and third overall touchdown on the night, to drive the SaberCats lead back up the halftime margin of 20 points. Cleveland wouldn’t go away just yet, as Zbydniewksi connected with wide receiver Jamar Howard for a 6-yard score, bringing the count to 49-36 SaberCats with just over seven minutes remaining. Michna continued his efficient play, answering the Cleveland score by once again finding Willis for a 20-yard touchdown and ending all thoughts of a Gladiators comeback. After the defense forced its fourth turnover on downs, the offense ran out the clock to seal the 56-36 victory for the SaberCats.
Offensively, Willis led the way for the SaberCats, totaling eight catches for 85 yards and a trio of touchdowns. Simmons finished his night with three scores as well, while Williams finished with three catches and the two touchdown return scores. Wide receiver/jack linebacker Huey Whittaker made his presence felt all over the field, as he compiled three catches and six total tackles. Defensive back Ken Fontenette led all players with ten tackles, while fellow defensive backs JC Neal (six-and-a-half tackles) and Clevan Thomas (six pass breakups) helped to minimize the Gladiators passing attack. Carter and Stewart each recorded a sack, with Stewart also hauling in the only interception of the game.
During a tough night on offense for Cleveland, Zbydniewksi finished 24-of-47 passing for 231 yards with two scores through the air and one on the ground. Goodman led the Gladiators receiving corps with ten catches, while both he and Howard each hauled in a touchdown pass. Defensively, LaRoche Jackson totaled seven tackles and defensive lineman Randy Colling forced a fumble. Cleveland also got a net recovery touchdown from Wicks to round out the Gladiators scoring.
With the win, the SaberCats improved to 2-1 at home on the season. Next week, San Jose plays at home again as they welcome the Tampa Bay Storm (5-2) to HP Pavilion. That game, originally scheduled for Saturday, May 11 has been moved to Friday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. PT, and will be broadcast live on the radio at KNBR 1050.
Courtesy San Jose SaberCats media services