Six yards separated the Soul from a three-touchdown, third quarter lead that would have all but secured a victory. Instead, the defending American Conference champions suffered an overtime loss to the previously winless Cleveland Gladiators, 64-57, after a costly turnover.
Playing their home opener before a crowd of nearly 13,000 fans, the Soul squandered multiple opportunities to put the game away. Quarterback Dan Raudabaugh threw for 306 yards and five touchdowns, but the interceptions he threw on back-to-back possessions opened the door for a Cleveland comeback.
The Soul (2-2) led 35-21 in the third quarter when Raudabaugh threw an interception in the back of the end zone on first and goal from the six yard line. The Gladiators (1-3) scored on the ensuing possession, and when another Radabaugh interception was followed by another Gladiator touchdown, the Soul found themselves tied 35-35 and unhinged.
"I don’t think we’ve been in rhythm yet,” said Raudabaugh. "I think it starts with me. I’m not making good enough reads, good enough throws, and so I’m going to take responsibility for how the offense has been struggling right now."
The Soul managed to regain the lead in the fourth quarter while both teams traded touchdowns in a period that saw 44 total points scored. Down 54-50, Anthony “Tiger” Jones caught a tipped pass from Raudabaugh near the sideline and scampered in for a 13-yard touchdown with 10 seconds remaining to take a three-point lead. Jones caught 13 passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns.
An onside kick attempt that would have secured the win bounced off of a Soul player and out of bounds, giving the Gladiators a final possession. Cleveland kicker Ross Gornall then drilled a 45-yard field goal as time expired to even the score at 57-57.
"We didn’t show up on any side of the ball, honestly,” said Soul head coach Clint Dolezel. "Special teams played well, but they had opportunities to make plays too and didn’t. We had a chance to get the onside kick and we didn’t get it. That could put have put the game away."
Gladiators quarterback Brian Zbydniewski engineered a crisp overtime scoring drive that resulted in a game-winning 16-yard touchdown pass to Thyron Lewis. Zbydniewski finished with eight touchdowns and 316 passing yards, while Lewis ended his night with 122 yards receiving on six receptions-- four of them touchdowns.
Next week, the Soul host the undefeated Jacksonville Sharks, who improved to 5-0 on Friday.
"We’re going come out and we’re really going hit this week hard like it’s an Arena Bowl-type of week," said Raudabaugh. "I promise I’ll come out and play better and lead this team better."