Head coach Chris Siegfried has announced, despite the pending availability of original starting quarterback Bernard Morris, who is coming off IR, Anthony Morelli will once again be his man as the Power hit the road for a second consecutive week. Any way you slice it, it certainly looks like Siegfried is doing the right thing. After a rocky start in the first half at New Orleans, Morelli and the Power just kept on punching en route to an impressive and much-needed victory. They scored touchdowns on eight straight possessions, using the ninth to run out the clock and secure a win that helped the Power keep pace with first-place Cleveland in the East Division. But this week they face a much stiffer challenge, and will need every bit as much of that offensive consistency against one of the most prolific teams in the AFL. Here’s a look at what’s at stake for the Power in Week 8:
KICKOFF: 7:30 PM; The Arena at Gwinnett Center, Duluth, Georgia
TV/RADIO: AFL Live at ArenaFootball.com; 93.7 The Fan (Troy Clardy on play-by-play, Darnell Dinkins on color)
LAST WEEK: The Power are coming off a 56-49 win over the New Orleans VooDoo at “The Graveyard” (New Orleans Arena) last Thursday in American Conference action. It ended a two-game skid and ultimately left the Power one game behind the Cleveland Gladiators (4-2) in the American Conference’s East Division. It was the Power’s second road victory in as many tries. The Force are also coming off a road victory, a 57-48 triumph over the Milwaukee Mustangs, one of Pittsburgh’s divisional rivals, last Saturday. They have won three of their last four overall, and sit in a second-place tie with the Orlando Predators in the South Division, one game behind the Jacksonville Sharks.
MEET THE QUARTERBACKS:
Anthony Morelli, Pittsburgh: He’s entering his third game as starting signal-caller, and despite the difficulty of Saturday’s opponent, he should be feeling pretty good after what he did in The Big Easy last week. Morelli went 23-of-35 (65.7%) for 232 yards and six touchdowns in last week’s win without getting sacked or picked off, while also scrambling for 45 yards and a short-range TD on seven carries. For his efforts he was named the AFL’s National Guard MVP of the Week for Week 7. Through two-plus games he has completed 54 of 88 passes (61.4%) for 636 yards, 12 TD’s, and one INT, good for a passer rating of 112.7. The Penn Hills and Penn State grad has also run nine times for 84 yards (10th in the AFL through Friday), that lone touchdown, and a two-point conversion.
Brett Elliot, Georgia: After spending his rookie season in Utah, he has settled into his new surroundings quite nicely. Last week Elliot completed 20 of 31 attempts (64.5%) against the Mustangs for 246 yards and seven touchdowns, and was intercepted once. Through five starts he has connected on 122 of 188 passes (64.7%) for 1,626 yards, 33 TD’s, and five INT’s. Elliot’s passer rating of 120.0 ranks third in the AFL entering this weekend’s action, his touchdown total ranks fifth overall, and he sits eighth in the league entering Saturday in pass yardage. He has scrambled four times for -2 net yards and one score, and has also caught a four-yard TD pass.
*The Power’s defense put forth another commendable effort last Thursday, and made enough big plays to sway momentum after the team had fallen behind 14-0, but against a Georgia squad that has not struggled nearly as much to score as New Orleans, Pittsburgh’s margin for error shrinks considerably. Entering Saturday, the Force rank ninth in the 18-team AFL in points, but the 326 they have put up through six outings (54.3 per game) are the second-most in the American Conference behind only Jacksonville. Receiver Maurice Purify ranks fourth in the AFL entering Week 8 with an even 700 yards on 51 catches to go with 14 TD’s. Larry Shipp Jr. is two spots back with 638 yards on 43 catches and 11 scores. The good news for the Power is that Georgia’s three lowest-scoring games have all come at home.
*The battle of field position was a key one in the Power’s win last week with two of the top special teams units in the Arena League meeting on the same turf, and don’t be surprised if once again, a kick return here or there makes a world of difference Saturday night. Making matters difficult for Pittsburgh is the fact that receiver and top kick returner Jerome Mathis has gone on injured reserve with a hamstring ailment, joining fellow special teams ace Eddie Robinson, so the onus probably falls on wide-out Jason Willis, who has returned four kicks this year for 62 yards (15.5 per attempt). In the meantime, the Power will need to try and contain C.J. Johnson, who is fifth in the AFL with 537 yards on 23 returns (23.3 per attempt) and has scored twice.
*One x-factor for the Power offensively could be its running game. With teams presumably starting to key on high-scoring fullback and Duquesne graduate Joshua Rue, having Morelli at the trigger has given the Power another option, as has Siegfried’s tendency to hand it off to receiver/reserve QB Xavier Lee. Lee ran for one of his two touchdowns last week, Morelli dove for another, and though Rue didn’t get on the board, he is tied for the team lead in TD’s with nine, and he is fifth in the AFL with seven rush TD’s. Rue may also be counted on to help block defensive lineman Jerry Turner, who is tied for second in the league with 4.5 sacks. Anyway, the Power rank sixth in the AFL with 161 team rush yards entering Week 8, while the Force rank dead last in the 18-team league with four net yards rushing. The plot only thickens, as both these teams are among the bottom three in the AFL in total rushing yards allowed.
*Injuries continue to nag the Power, though a number of their newcomers have certainly contributed, especially on defense–something they will need to continue to survive the Force. After being thrust into the starting lineup, defensive lineman Abe Koroma recorded his first sack of the 2011 season in New Orleans, made four solo tackles, and also recovered two fumbles, one of which led to a touchdown. Fellow lineman Caleb Bostic, another fresh starter, also recovered a fumble that led to an all-important insurance TD in the third quarter against the VooDoo. The Power’s defense has allowed 50 points or less to five of its six opponents thus far, a very respectable showing in the present-day AFL. Their 292 points allowed is the fifth-best total after six games in the league, and third-best in the American Conference, a mere five points better than Georgia. Carlos Campbell, who leads the team with 33.5 tackles and six pass breakups, including five solo tackles last week, will probably draw the assignment against Purify.
The Power have added defensive lineman Dayon Benson, offensive lineman Albert Stinson, and receiver Craig Fulton Jr. to their roster. In addition to Mathis, they have placed lineman Chris Terrell on injured reserve as well due to ankle problems. One bit of good news is that two-way lineman Neil Purvis, whom Siegfried believes is a key player up front, has been cleared to play.
Although he won’t get to suit up for another week, another very important addition to the Power’s roster came a couple days ago in the form of 10-year-old Michael “Mick” Walsh, an Upper St. Clair native who has joined the team as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s annual World Wish Day.
By Matt Popchock