Power and Gladiators streaking, ready for divisional rematch

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The position in which the Power finds itself tonight is entirely unfamiliar.

The team that went a combined 18-36 in its first three seasons -- and 9-27 in its past two -- is 7-3 this season and riding a four-game win streak, which ties a franchise record. There is an unmistakable optimism and confidence about the team that hasn't been present since its debut season.

Scouting report
 
Matchup: Power (7-3) vs. Cleveland Gladiators (9-0), 5 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.

TV, Internet: ThisTV, ESPN3.com, ArenaFootball.com.

Power: Coming off 62-61 victory a week ago against the Orlando Predators, a game in which it scored the winning touchdown with one second remaining. It was the fourth win in a row, tying a franchise record. ... QB Tommy Grady completed 29 of 48 passes for 306 yards and eight touchdowns vs. Orlando. ... DB Virgil Gray, who leads the team with eight interceptions, is unlikely to play because of a high ankle sprain.

Gladiators: Coming off 54-52 victory May 23 against the Philadelphia Soul. ... One of only two remaining unbeaten teams (Arizona, 10-0) in AFL. ... QB Shane Austin, a member of the Power a year ago, ranks fourth in the AFL in completion percentage (61.1) and fifth in passing efficiency (111.4).

Hidden stat: A loss would be the Power's third of the season to Cleveland.

But with improvement comes expectations, and with a loss tonight, one of the team's goals could be out of reach just more than halfway through the season.

For the second time this year, the Power will play host to the Cleveland Gladiators. At 9-0, Cleveland is perhaps the only team in the Arena Football League that has made greater strides this season than the Power. A win would continue the Gladiators' surprising start, but more importantly, it could remove its toughest competitor from the race for an American Conference East Division title.

A victory would give the Gladiators a season sweep of the Power, effectively granting them a 41/2-game lead for first in the division. With only seven games left for the Power after tonight, that likely would be too much of a deficit to overcome.

"It's a very important game for us," Power coach Ron James said. "We're past the midway point and being three games down to Cleveland and playing them this week, it's the last opportunity we're going to have against them. It's an important game for both teams."

If the Power is looking for a time to notch a marquee win, it certainly has a good opportunity now. Barely one month removed from being stuck at 3-3, it has won four consecutive games, including three against teams that were at or better than .500.

A revamped offense that at times struggled to find a rhythm has elevated its play in recent weeks, scoring at least 50 points in each of its past four games after being held to a season-low 28 points in an April 26 loss to the Gladiators. Last week, the offense got back one of its most important pieces in wide receiver Prechae Rodriguez, who caught seven touchdowns in the first two games before suffering a foot injury.

In his return, Rodriguez (6 feet 4), a favorite target of quarterback Tommy Grady, had 13 receptions for 148 yards and four touchdowns as the Power edged the Orlando Predators, 62-61.

James expects that sort of offensive success to continue, which could keep the Power's hopes for a division title alive.

"We've got a good blend of receivers and we're finally getting healthy at that position," James said. "That's great for our offense and we need that at this point in the season."

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.


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