It happened again.
The Washington Valor held their own for the first 30 minutes and took a 27-21 lead into the half of their first-ever road game. But a familiar narrative would play out in the third quarter (shut out in the period for the second straight week) as the once winless Cleveland Gladiators (1-3) used a 27-7 second-half advantage to secure a 48-34 win at Quicken Loans Arena.
Here’s three problem areas the team needs to fix to stop their sluggish second halves.
Veteran quarterback Erik Meyer has struggled with accuracy the last two weeks. He’s thrown two interceptions in back-to-back weeks. A death wish for any AFL team.
Once again, Valor head coach Dean Cokinos had to come up with answers for why his offense sputtered coming out the locker room at the half. “We turned the ball over in the second half,” he said. It’s really hard to win in arena football when you turn the ball over like that.”
Against the Gladiators on Friday night, Meyer was noticeably bothered by the absence of starting receiver Mike Washington. He was inconsistent with his throws and lacked chemistry with the supporting group. The most costly interception proved to be in the third quarter, in which he tossed a deep ball to Gregg Car (two touchdowns) who was in double coverage. The Gladiators would follow with a touchdown to tie the game at 27 and never look back.
The Valor defense hasn’t gotten to the quarterback much this year, and that has a lot to do with the second half struggles. Not too much analysis needs to be given here. Though they did register a sack in the second half, it was quickly erased by the spectacular show that was Arvell Nelson.
The Valor haven’t been able to slow down opposing quarterbacks so far this season, especially in the second half.
Following last week’s eight touchdowns, the Gladiators QB lit it up again, with five total (three passing, two rushing). He amassed 243 yards passing to go with 60 yards rushing, including a Mike Vick-like scramble for a 43-yard touchdown in the third. Even still, according to Cokinos, the Valor had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth.
“We had that fourth down play where we had a sack and [Nelson] got out and threw a bomb,” he said. We get the stop and then score, it’s a tie game.”
The play Cokinos described was the last act from Nelson on the night. On a fourth-and-15 from his own 11-yard line, the Gladiators star circled away from the Valor rush, leaked out to left, then heaved a 39-yard heat-seeking missile that found the hands of WR Collin Taylor in the back of the end zone. The score put the Gladiators up 48-34, and essentially capped their first win.
Cokinos knows this is a bug-a-boo his squad must sure up heading into their second bye week. “At the end of the day, it’s a 60-minute game,” he said. We’re still that team that’s not coming out on offense and finishing the game right now.
Erik Meyer: Surpassed 300 career touchdowns. Just the 25th player in AFL history to do so.
T.T. Toliver: Caught his 304th touchdown as a receiver. He’s now third in that category in AFL history.
Brandon Thompkins: Surpassed 500 career catches. Only the fifth player in AFL history with over 500 catches.