SALT LAKE CITY -- While the Utah Blaze had hoped to be extending their AFL season deep into postseason, they will instead hope to wrap up the 2013 season on Saturday night with a big showing against the Cleveland Gladiators.
Game time is 7 p.m. at EnergySolutions Arena. Members of the United States Armed Forces will be honored throughout the evening on Saturday as part of Military Appreciation Night.
This week's contest marks the second time during the 2013 season the Blaze will face the Gladiators. In their previous meeting, Utah (6-11 overall) took to the road in Week 6 and defeated the Gladiators, 57-40.
In their last outing, the Blaze traveled to Des Moines and toppled the Iowa Barnstormers in the first annual Iowa Bacon Bowl, 55-41.
Cleveland (4-13) is also coming off a win, as the Gladiators defeated the Orlando Predators last Saturday, 65-62.
Gladiators quarterback Chris Dieker took over the starting role midseason and has directed the AFL's 11th-ranked passing offense. With 12 games of his belt, Dieker has thrown for 2,277 yards with 41 touchdowns and nine interceptions while completing 64.5 percent of his attempts. Also a rushing threat, Dieker has added 256 yards and 16 scores on the ground.
Dieker's primary target is 2012 second-team All-Arena performer Dominick Goodman, who ranks third in Arena Football in receptions. Through 16 games, Goodman has notched 143 catches for 1,226 yards and 24 touchdowns. Opposite Goodman is wideout Thyron Lewis, who has delivered 91 receptions for 1,319 yards and 22 scores.
Coach Ron James' defense turned in an outstanding performance in Week 17 after registering five stops against the Barnstormers. Rookie defensive back Arness Ikner emerged as a playmaker in the UTah secondary, posting six tackles with one pass breakup and two interceptions, one of which was returned 28 yards for a touchdown. Along the front, nose guard Keenan Mace registered 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss.
Cleveland's defense has allowed an average of 58.8 points per game in 2013, placing last in the AFL. Rookie Randy Colling provides pressure from the interior, where he has delivered a team-high four sacks this season. In the secondary, Marrio Norman has contributed four interceptions and a team-high 11 pass breakups.
AFL MVP Tommy Grady returned to the starting lineup for the first time since June and threw for 231 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions last week against Iowa.
Wide receiver Chase Deadder provided a spark in the air and on the ground, as he turned in seven receptions for 65 yards and one score while adding two rushing touchdowns.
The Blaze rank third in the AFL in passing with an average of 277.7 aerial yards per game.
Members of the Armed Forces can receive ticket discounts by calling 1-888-99BLAZE or online at UTBlaze.com.