Milwaukee Mustang Head Coach Bob Landsee is not a big believer in playing for pride.
If there is a football game on the schedule, the object is to win that game, regardless of what's at stake.
Saturday night's Arena Football League contest against the Cleveland Gladiators at the Bradley Center was no exception.
Despite suffering a heartbreaking, last-second loss last week, the Mustangs came to play.
Trailing 28-21, the Gladiators got up off the mat to score three touchdowns in a row to break the game open.
Then Cleveland had to hang on for dear life for a 62-58 AFL win on the strength of quarterback Kurt Rocco's eight-yard rushing touchdown with just three seconds left.
That came after a controversial reversal of a call on a sideline catch that kept the winning drive alive.
Milwaukee wideout extraordinaire Dwayne Eley, Jr. had given Milwaukee an improbable lead with 40 seconds left on a 41-yard bomb from Mustang pitchman Gino Guidugli.
"It is absolutely, absolutely undescribable what has gone on this season," a hoarse Landsee said after yet another tough loss.
"These guys have shown so much courage," Landsee said. "Coaches get paid to win, but these guys have heart. They are as talented as anyone in the league.'
At the risk of being fined by the AFL, Landsee said, "I get frustrated. The umpire made the call and it was not his call to make. The referees cannot make an impact on the outcome and tonight they made an impact."
It was a familiar nemesis that did in Milwaukee, namely turnovers. In this case it was a recovered fumble and a ’Pick 6’ that did in the ’stangs.
Cleveland was reeling a bit and the Mustangs let them off the hook.
So even though the Gladiators had twice as many wins, it was Milwaukee that looked to be the better foe this night.
At least in the early going, that is.
The Glads struck first with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Rocco to Dominick Goodman.
The goal for Milwaukee all season long has been to stay in front or at least not to dig too deep of a hole.
It is a goal that has rarely been achieved.
But when recently-minted starter Guidugli got untracked, the ‘stangs were able to keep pace.
G-squared found a streaking Eley, Jr. just past the goal line from eight yards out and the game was tied at 7-7 with 3:15 left in the opening act.
That play was set up by a completion to a rambling Jason Jones, who belies the cliché that no man is an island.
EZ pickins -- as in an end zone interception by Antonio Malone -- gave the ball back to Milwaukee and the quarter ended.
The ‘stangs were able to sustain the momentum and Eley, Jr. snagged a 20-yard pass from Guidugli. Milwaukee took its first lead, 14-7, with 13:47 to go in the half.
Rocco got the equalizer on a one-yard run to the outside and the affair was knotted again.
Milwaukee used a near-breakout kick return by Antoine Burns and another long pass to Eley, Jr. to set up the Guidugli to Victor Williams score of eight yards.
Williams was robbed of a TD in the first quarter when the referee ruled he didn’t have possession. The replay did not bear that out, however.
The Mustangs got the ball back when a fourth and forever play after three Cleveland penalties in a row.
But Guidugli was stripped after taking the snap and Anthony Hoke landed on the greased pigskin under the nets to tie it at 21-21 with 50 ticks ‘til halftime.
The half ended with time management issues and a chance for a Milwaukee field goal never materialized for some reason.
Milwaukee took the second half kick and methodically marched downfield with a blend of passes and runs culminating in a one-yard gambol by Justin Lawrence.
After Garrett Lindholm’s PAT it was 28-21, ‘stangs with 9:19 remaining in Act III.
But on the next possession, Rocco found Troy Bergeron in the textbook definition of being wide open and 29 yards later the teams were tied at 28-28.
Another costly fumble gave the ball back to the Glads and Rocco hit Robert Redd in coverage for a mini-dagger and Cleveland’s first lead since the first quarter, 35-28, with 2:43 left in the third stanza.
Things went from bad to worse when Mike Bragg had a 16-yard ‘Pick 6’ of a Guidugli aerial for a 42-28 lead as the quarter turned.
The Guidugli to Eley, Jr. connection hit for a third time in the game, but Rocco finished off the ensuing drive on the ground from three yards out and the cushion remained, 49-35, with 9:17 to play.
The word ‘quit’ is not in Landsee’s lexicon and Guidugli brought Milwaukee back to within a touch with a four-yard run and it was 49-42 with 5:39 left.
Burns recovered the kick off the net and the tide seemed to be turning in Milwaukee’s favor.
When Guidugli plowed his way over left tackle for a two-yard score, the game was tied at 49-all with 3:52
Bergeron gave Cleveland the lead with a 15-yard TD catch from Rocco, but the extra point attempt was blocked and Brandon Brinkley took it the other way for a two-point play and the score was 55-51 with a minute to go.
It was (three guesses) Eley, Jr.’s turn to don hero’s laurels with a leaping grab and 41-yard touchdown from the strong arm of Guidugli.
That made it 58-55 with 40 seconds left.
But Rocco took the wind out of the beleaguered crowd with a 8-yard TD run with three seconds to go to seal the deal.
Milwaukee travels to New Orleans to take on the VooDoo on Friday, July 8th.
The ‘stangs return to the Bradley Center on Friday, July 15th, when the Iowa Barnstormers square off. The kickoff is at 7 p.m.
Tickets are available at the BC box office, through Ticketmaster, at www.MkeMustangs.com or call the team’s office at 414-224-4000.