CLEVELAND — The sports spotlight shining down on Cleveland this year got a little brighter Sunday.
Quarterback Shane Austin threw seven touchdown passes to lead the Cleveland Gladiators to a 56-46 win over Orlando and a spot in the Arena Football League national championship game.
They will face two-time defending champion Arizona in the ArenaBowl on Aug. 23 at Quicken Loans Arena. Gametime is 8 p.m.
The Rattlers beat San Jose 72-56 on Sunday in the National Conference Championship game.
Austin got hot early, competing four-of-five passes on the Gladiators’ first drive of the game. Thyron Lewis capped it off with a 10-yard touchdown catch to give Cleveland the early 7-0 lead.
The teams traded touchdowns throughout the first quarter, with Dominick Goodman also scoring for Cleveland to end the quarter 14-all.
Goodman scored his second TD on a 10-yard pass from Austin early in the second to put the Glads up 21-14.
The Predators tried to answer, driving from their own 3-yard line to the Gladiators one. But the Cleveland defense kicked in, as back Dominic Jones recovered a fumble on the snap and returned it 48 yards to the Orlando 1-yard line. Jason Jones ran it in to give the Gladiators a 28-14 lead with 6:22 left in the half.
Goodman added his third and final touchdown before the half ended. But Orlando’s Larry Brackins scored twice in the final moments of the half to pull the Rattlers to within a touchdown, 35-28.
The third quarter was a defensive battle. Tom Gilson pulled in an Austin pass and broke two tackles in a 9-yard run to the endzone for the only score of the quarter and the Gladiators led 42-28 heading into the fourth.
Orlando outscored Cleveland 18-14 the final quarter, including a TD with 17 seconds left before time ran out.
Austin connected with Lewis for two touchdowns in the fourth, the last with 46 seconds left to provide a cushion.
Austin completed 22 of 32 passes for 204 yards. Goodman had eight catches for 69 yards and three touchdowns, and Lewis added five receptions for 59 yards and three scores.
Bernard Morris was 31-of-52 for 360 yards and four touchdowns for Orlando.