Power's defense hands Gladiators first loss of season

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The script was one the Power had seen play out before.

Facing the Cleveland Gladiators in a game it largely controlled throughout, there was a moment when it looked like it was about to lose its grip. The same thing happened more than two months ago when the Power gave up a 17-point, third-quarter lead against Cleveland in a season-opening loss, one that ultimately helped cost coach Derek Stingley his job.

This time around, Arvell Nelson was determined to see a different ending.

With the Gladiators trailing, 28-21, and threatening to score with about 10 minutes left, the Power linebacker returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown to help secure what turned out to be a 48-34 victory Saturday at Consol Energy Center.

The win was the fifth in a row for the Power (8-3), setting a franchise record. The loss was the first of the year for the Gladiators (9-1).

"I would have to say this is a marquee win for the franchise," Power coach Ron James said. "For the team this season, there's a lot of football left to be played. We haven't done anything to put ourselves in the playoff position.

"We're not there yet, it's not the end of the season, so it's a good win for us. For the franchise, yeah, I can't remember the last time a Pittsburgh team's beaten an undefeated Cleveland team on their home field. It's great."

Nelson and defensive back Al Phillips each had two interceptions, helping lead a strong defensive effort that held Cleveland to its lowest point total of the season.

The win was the third time in the past four games the Power has limited an opponent to fewer than 42 points. With the defense starting to establish itself as arguably one of the best in the Arena Football League, the victories have started to come along with increased confidence.

"That comes naturally when you're winning, people get more confident, but at the same time, that's our goal," Nelson said. "That's what we come here to do."

The Power did not trail at any point, but there was a moment late in the game when the final outcome didn't look so certain.

Trailing by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Cleveland drove to the Power 24. But a Shane Austin pass to Thyron Lewis was deflected and Nelson snatched it out of the air, taking it down the sideline for a touchdown.

"When you get a play like that, it changes the whole momentum of the game, especially when you're at home and the fans get into it," Nelson said. "That definitely could have changed the whole game and I believe it did."

The Gladiators responded on their next drive with a touchdown, but the Power followed that with a 39-yard touchdown catch by Tyrone Goard, his fourth of the game, to push the lead to 41-28 with 5:19 remaining.

A Cleveland win would have given it a season sweep of the Power and a 4½-game lead for first place in the division.

"We were disappointed," Gladiators coach Steve Thonn said. "We did not play a good game anywhere -- offense, defense, special teams. We don't look at it like 'Hey, we've won a lot and we finally got a loss.' We don't look at it that way."

First Published May 31, 2014 8:01 PM

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