PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia Soul (8-5) will travel to face the Cleveland Gladiators (2-11) for their final divisional matchup of the season, with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 29. With a win, the Soul will clinch the East Division for the second consecutive season.
"We have to stay hot on the road," explained Soul head coach Clint Dolezel. "This week, we don't have our families and fans in front of us, so we don't have those motivating factors that can help you take over a game. Because of that, we just need to worry about playing our style of football and put pressure on their young quarterback. If we take care of our business, we should be able to leave with a win and lock up the division."
Over the past four games, the Soul defense has forced 16 turnovers, giving them a positive turnover margin (+2) for the first time this season. Rayshaun Kizer is in the AFL's top ten in passes defended with 24 (No. 5) and interceptions with six (T-No. 8). Defensive Player of the Year candidate Bryan Robinson is tied for No. 1 in tackles for loss (15.0) and No. 2 in sacks (10.0).
Despite having a season-low 192 yards last week, the Soul still have the highest-ranked offense in the AFL (306.2). Their scoring average is 58.9 points per game (No. 3), while averaging 273.0 yards through the air (No.6) and 33.2 yards on the ground (No. 3).
All-Arena candidate Dan Raudabaugh has been the catalyst for the offense, ranking No. 2 in passing yards per game (270.4), pass efficiency (123.6) and completion percentage (67.6). He is No. 3 in the League in passing yards (3,515) and passing touchdowns (70). Raudabaugh has relied on his best target, Offensive Player of the Year candidate Tiger Jones, who is No. 1 in receiving yards (1,656), No. 3 in receptions (112), No. 4 in yards-per-catch (14.8) and No. 8 in receiving touchdowns (29).
It's been a struggle on both sides of the ball for the Gladiators as they rank No. 12 in scoring offense (44.3) and No. 13 in scoring defense (57.3). One of the bright spots for head coach Steve Thonn's team has been their rush defense, which allows only 16.4 yards per game (No. 4). In the last matchup against Philadelphia, they held Soul's Offensive Player of the Year candidate Derrick Ross to 17 yards rushing.
Despite losing their past two games, Cleveland has rushed for 131 yards, their highest output in any two-game stretch this season. Chris Dieker has proven himself to be a duel threat, as he ranks No. 6 in the AFL in rushing yards-per-game (18.6) and No. 10 in pass efficiency (100.9). Cleveland is the only team in the league to have two players ranked in the top ten in rushing (Dieker and Derik Steiner).
Because the Gladiators defense struggles to get to the quarterback (No. 14 in sacks), their No. 11 pass defense will have their hands full with the Soul's high-powered offense. The East Division leaders have three wide receivers with more than 740 receiving yards, so teams can't concentrate on one person. However, if Cleveland and their No. 4 rush offense can keep Clint Dolezel's team off the field, perhaps they can see their six-game losing streak come to an end.