Big stakes by the lake as Power meet undefeated Gladiators
When the Power visit the Cleveland Gladiators on Saturday night, the matchup will feature two of the best teams in the Arena Football League. The unbeaten Gladiators (5-0) are No. 2 in the coaches' poll; the Power (3-2) are third.
There's plenty at stake, especially when you consider the Gladiators already own one victory against the Power and could build a three-game lead in the American Conference East with another.
If it's too early in the season to worry about the standings — and Power coach Ron James will tell you it is — the other interesting storyline is the relationship between James and Gladiators coach Steve Thonn.
They are good friends who have been on the same indoor football team twice. First in Albany in the early 1990s when Thonn was the player and James a coach. Later in Houston from 1999-2001 when James was an assistant on Thonn's staff.
James laughed when it was suggested he knows what's happening in Thonn's head.
“I do,” James said. “It's going to be an interesting thing to see what happens.”
The battle of wits may extend to Thonn's deployment of quarterbacks. He has used two this season:
• Shane Austin, who has thrown 18 touchdown passes after mostly failing while playing for the Power last season.
• Chris Dieker, who began this season throwing and running for nine touchdowns against the Power.
“You have to prepare for both,” James said. “I think both will play.” James said he is unsure of Thonn's pattern.
“Maybe they think (Dieker) has a strong arm, and Austin has a quick release,” he said. “They use them for certain things. I really can't tell.”
James is more concerned about his defense than who will be behind center for the Gladiators. The Power's defense had been stingy until meeting Arizona last Saturday and allowing the Rattlers to score on every meaningful possession.
The 73-69 loss showed the Power what they need to do to become a championship team. The margin isn't huge, but it still exists.
“If we had one stop in that game,” James said, “we would have won the game.”
Wide receiver Aaron Lesue said watching the film made the players “sick to our stomachs.”
“We realized what we are capable of,” he said.
James liked the way his team rallied from a 20-point deficit to take a lead in the fourth quarter against the two-time defending champions, but he's putting the comeback in its proper perspective.
“We learned we can compete against a good team on their home turf,” he said. “That's about all we learned. We can't say we learned how to beat a good team.”