A crowd of 9,190–not a bad one, considering what else what happening on the local sports scene–was privy to Pittsburgh sports history at Consol Energy Center last Saturday. The Power notched their first win as a franchise in convincing fashion, once again using stellar defense to break down the Barnstormers in a game that, arguably, could have been even more lopsided than the final margin. They played very opportunistically and must continue to do so Monday night against a Milwaukee squad that, like Iowa, can’t be overlooked. As the Power continue chasing history by seeking their first road victory and divisional victory, here’s a quick glance at Week 3:
KICKOFF: 7:30 PM, Bradley Center, Milwaukee
TV/RADIO: AFL Live on ArenaFootball.com, 93.7 The Fan (Troy Clardy on play-by-play, Darnell Dinkins on color, Megan Wolfley reporting)
LAST WEEK: The Power are coming off their first-ever AFL win, a 58-28 blowout of the National Conference’s Iowa Barnstormers at Consol Energy Center in Week 2. The Mustangs, who were champions of the old Midwest Division of the National Conference in 2010, return home after coming off their second straight loss, a 62-31 non-conference decision against the Arizona Rattlers. That dropped Milwaukee to the bottom of the American Conference’s East Division behind second-place Pittsburgh.
MEET THE QUARTERBACKS:
Kevin McCabe, Pittsburgh: Until halftime last Saturday, the 26-year-old Pine-Richland grad’s claim to fame was leading the Rams to a WPIAL Championship appearance in 2002, and later guiding California University of Pennsylvania to a PSAC West Division crown. That all changed when injured starter Bernard Morris left, but McCabe hardly missed a beat, completing 10 of 14 passes (71.4%) for 110 yards, three TD’s, and no interceptions en route to the big win, good for a near-flawless 133.9 QB rating.
Eric Ward, Milwaukee: The rookie didn’t look too shabby in a season-opening defeat against former division rival Chicago, but last Saturday’s West Coast trip was a much different story. Ward was held to one touchdown, was picked twice, and struggled to complete just 17 of his 31 attempts (54.8%) in the loss to Arizona. Through two games Ward has amassed 477 yards, six TD’s, three INT’s, and a QB rating of 78.6, while running for 22 yards and four TD’s on nine carries.
*As is the case with several franchises, this is the second coming of the AFL in Milwaukee. Head coach Bob Landsee was an offensive coordinator for the original Mustangs from 1999 through 2001, their final three seasons. The Milwaukee Iron joined AF2 in 2009 and, after one forgettable year in the minor league, joined the new AFL last season. In the off-season a local investment group took over the team and returned the “Mustangs” moniker.
*You might say Milwaukee’s offensive woes began before the season even started with the departure of quarterback Chris Greisen. Greisen earned 2010 Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Year honors by throwing for 107 TD’s and a career-high 5,139 yards, then left the team to sign with the Dallas Cowboys…but the pantry is not entirely bare. Ward has a perpetually effective target in wide receiver Damian Harrell, a 12th-year man who, after 1,101 career catches, is the AFL’s all-time leader in receiving yards (14,473) and receiving touchdowns (350).
*Morris has been placed on IR, so, per AFL rules, he will miss the next four weeks, which includes three games and a bye week for the Power. Penn State grad Anthony Morelli has been re-signed to back up McCabe, but in the meantime, look for McCabe to try and spread the ball around as effectively as he did in Week 2 in order to tread water. Four different players caught TD passes for Arizona against Milwaukee, and three different Power players caught one from McCabe versus Iowa, including a key fourth-down toss to fullback Joshua Rue. The Duquesne grad has become a fan favorite, racking up a pair of rush TD’s in each of his first two outings.
*The strongest suit of the Power continues to be its defense, which has played inspiring football in each of its first two games. That unit was boosted by the arrival of Aliquippa grad and former Pitt defensive back Josh Lay coming off IR after a preseason hamstring injury. He had an interception last week, albeit a fumble on the same play, and could easily have had more in what was a promising debut. Lonnell DeWalt, with his pick-six, was one of two other Pittsburgh players to intercept Iowa rookie Brad Banks. Lenny Wicks, once again, led the team in tackles with nine overall in Week 2, and has a team-best 16 through two weeks.
By Matt Popchock