By Matt Popchock

7:20 – We are live from press row at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, which, in this venue, is withing hailing distance of the field, as the Pittsburgh Power and arch-rival Cleveland Gladiators warm up! Hopefully for our sake this is not the last meaningful game we cover in 2011, because tonight the objective is simple for our Power: win, or miss the Arena Football League playoffs. A victory by the Gladiators would knock the Power out, and give the Glads their first division title of any kind since 2002, when they were known as the Las Vegas Gladiators.

The Power enter 8-8, losers of four of their last five, including a 68-34 blowout loss to the National Conference’s No. 1 playoff seed, the Arizona Rattlers, at CONSOL Energy Center last Sunday. The Glads, who come in at 9-7, had their pride hurt too; they got creamed, 49-21, by the Soul, in Philadelphia, in another nationally televised game last Friday.

The Power are coached by Chris Siegfried, who believes he’s found the 21 guys who can lead him to victory in this crucial game, as he told us earlier this week…more on that shortly. The Gladiators are coached by Steve Thonn, who is 16-16 overall in the midst of his second year with that club. He’s trying to lock up just his second winning season in seven years as an AFL head coach.

We’ll be keeping you posted with game notes and thoughts as the night goes on…

7:25 – One of the in-house promotions here at “The Q” is that, if the Power don’t score during the third quarter, everyone in attendance gets a free haircut. Funny enough, the third quarter has been a bugaboo for the Power for much of the season…though last time these two teams played, it wasn’t. The Power held off the Glads 35-32 in a defensive slugfest at CONSOL Energy Center June 4, which, at the time, extended the Power’s win streak to four games, and gave Pittsburgh sole possession of first place in the American Conference’s East Division for the first time in the brief history of the franchise.

In that contest both teams were held scoreless in the fourth quarter, which is something of a rarity in arena football. Another gritty, relatively low-scoring contest wouldn’t surprise me at all. The Gladiators average a league-low 44.4 points allowed per game, while the Power, to this point, have held ten total opponents to 50 offensive points or less.

7:30 – The gang’s pretty much all here; Coach Siegfried and his team left the field moments ago, following warm-ups, while the NFL Network broadcast crew, including field reporter Anthony “Big Ant” Herron, could be seen chatting with a number of people, among them AFL commissioner Jerry Kurz. A lot of credit should go to Jerry for re-stabilizing the league economically, and brokering the new TV deal. He’s a very hands-on commissioner, and by all accounts, very approachable. The league seems lucky to have him.

Bumped into Troy Clardy and Darnell Dinkins within the past half hour or so, to say nothing of the rest of our fine engineering team at The Fan…as well as Jerry DiPaola from the Trib, and fellow Pittsburgh Power blogger Dom Errico from “The Power Plant”…as well as Lauren Suchy, the Power’s media relations coordinator, who’s been a big help all year. The gang’s all here, now let’s play some football!

7:35 – Just saw some yellow on the scoreboard…Terrible Towel yellow, that is! A chorus of mild boos greets the Pittsburgh fans who made the bus trip here, as some of them are shown on the big board at The Q…

7:40 – A bunch of Pittsburgh fans, including a couple friends of my own, are sitting right behind the Power’s bench to my left, and, for that matter, right behind Lynn Swann! The Hall-of-Fame Steeler isn’t the only former NFL great in the house, either; former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, who led the successful Cleveland teams of the Eighties, is a special advisor to team owner Jim Ferraro.

7:45 – The Power take the field. “Cleveland Rocks,” perhaps better known as the theme song for The Drew Carey Show, plays over the P.A., as a giant inflatable Gladiators football helmet takes shape in the near left corner of the end zone.

Among those in uniform for the Power tonight…Bill Stull wearing No. 13, backing up Bernard Morris…Irving Campbell back in at wide receiver…offensive lineman Tommy Crowley added and in uniform tonight…Tyrell Herbert back at DB…Terrance Washington (DB) and Eddie Thompson (WR/KR) also rejoining the Power after not seeing any action since very early in the season.

7:50 – I notice a number of the folks who made the Pittsburgh-Cleveland bus trip sitting right behind me just as the house lights go dark, vuvuzelas in tow and blaring away.

In Cleveland they make a point of introducing both the mascot and the dance team. Bonus…I guess…

7:55 – Wallace, Williams, and Thompson scratched for the Power. Joe Phinisee, a dangerous DB, among the names scratched for Cleveland, as well as new OL Joe Blanks, who recently played for an Erie-based team in another league.

Someone just tried to pull a Jimi Hendrix, playing the national anthem on electric guitar. Not bad, not bad…

The vuvuzelas, by the way, are drowning out the house mic…gotta love the passion of Power fans!

8:00 – I see some red towels as well, on the other side of the arena, and also in Coach Siegfried’s back pocket. Because this is an NFL Network game, certain plays will be challengeable. Normally instant replay wouldn’t be a factor in AFL games, though Mr. Kurz is open to expanding the system, or so I’m told. Personally I hope the replay system does expand, but that’s another conversation for another time.

8:02 – Power win the coin toss, for the first time in what seems like a while, and defer to the second half. Bernard Morris throws a ball high in the air, mocking what LeBron James used to do with chalk in this very building. Power will kick right to left on your computer screen. Very boisterous atmosphere around press row…

8:08 – Quorey Payne takes Paul Edinger’s kickoff from his end zone out to his own 11 yard line. Dominick Goodman, the former University of Cincinnati product, ducks, dodges, and makes the chains after hauling in Kurt Rocco’s first pass. Rocco, a true AFL rookie, played his college ball at Mount Union.

8:10 – Rocco finds Troy Bergeron in the right flat, and Bergeron rolls into the end zone untouched from 15 yards out for his 29th TD of the year. 61st TD pass for Rocco this year. Matt Denny’s extra point is good, 7-0 Cleveland, 12:11 left, 1st quarter.

Bergeron, a former AFL Rookie of the Year with the Georgia Force (2005), will join the Dallas Cowboys after the end of the AFL season, assuming the lockout ends soon.

Rocco got rid of the ball quickly on that drive, and the Power didn’t seem to get much heat in his kitchen, so let’s hope the offense can answer here.

8:14 – Denny’s kick eludes Mike Washington and goes through the slack net into the stands for a touchback. Power ball, 1st and 10, at their own 5.

8:15 – Lonnell DeWalt has the Power’s first 1st down out to their own 22. Moments later the high motion man is ruled offside, nullifying a nifty scramble by Bernard Morris just shy of the lead stick.

8:18 – Morris misses Washington deep, and Joystick takes a beating going over the wall…though it looks like DB Levy Brown got the worst of it in man coverage.

8:19 – WOW! On 4th and 10 it looked like Bernard Morris had overthrown Jason Willis to the back right corner, but the ball bounced off the wall, and right into his hands, for a POWER TOUCHDOWN! 16th of the year for Willis, who did a great job staying with the play. 49th TD pass of the year for Morris. Edinger’s kick works. Huge play there. 7-7, 7:26 left, 1st quarter. Willis really brought the visiting Power fans to their feet with that one…and took a much deserved bow after making that catch.

8:23 – Edinger kicks a touchback right down the middle, into the slack net. 1st and 10 Cleveland, moving left to right from their own 5.

8:25 – Carlos Downey runs for five to the Cleveland 22. First run of the night for either team.

8:26 – Terrance Carter with an ill advised personal foul as emotions run high following a catch by Goodman. 1st and 10 Cleveland to the Pittsburgh 10…but moments later DL Neal Purvis breaks through and gets just enough of Rocco to trip him up for the sack! Third of the year for Purvis.

8:28 – A potential INT in front of the end zone, near side, goes through the hands of a leaping LaRico Stevenson. Power are doing a better job getting heat in Rocco’s kitchen.

8:30 – Timeout Cleveland, they have 2 left. Matt Denny was about to try a field goal, slight right to left, from about 25 yards out. 2:15 left, 1st quarter.

8:31 – Robert Redd makes a difficult catch in the back left corner of the end zone around Stevenson…gutsy call there by Steve Thonn. Denny’s kick is good. Unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Power (couldn’t tell what exactly it was) will be enforced on the kickoff. 25th TD of the year for Redd, 62nd of the year for Rocco, 2nd of the night for Rocco. Denny’s kick is good, 14-7 Glads, 1:51 left, 1st quarter.

8:35 – Willis with some nice YAC (yards after catch), bringing the Power past midfield. He’s playing with a purpose early on…

8:36 – End of 1st quarter. 14-7 Cleveland. 2nd and 9 Pittsburgh from the Glads’ 19 yard line when play resumes…

8:41 – Turnover on downs as Willis can’t hang on in the back corner of the end zone, near side, despite his pleading to the referee. Morris missed Willis in the middle of the end zone on second down. Morris’ M.O. is that he gets better as the game goes on. Let’s hope so, and let’s hope the Power’s defense can answer. 13:32 left, 2nd quarter, Cleveland ball on own 19.

8:45 – Things go from bad to worse as Josh Lay is flagged for pass interference on Troy Bergeron. It looked like he had a handful of jersey along the near sideline.

8:46 – Easy touchdown for Troy Bergeron, as Lay was frozen over the middle. 30th of the year for Bergeron, 2nd of the night for him. Three TD passes for Rocco, 63 on the year. Denny clangs his extra point off the right post, which is about the only redeeming quality of that series for the Power…who trail 20-7, 11:29 left, 2nd quarter.

8:50 – Washington with a beautiful kick return to the Cleveland 12!

8:52 – Morris takes a licking but converts a 3rd and 3 himself to the Cleveland 1…

8:53 – TOUCHDOWN POWER! Morris fakes the handoff to new fullback Mike Lucian and keeps it himself, fooling the Gladiators’ defense and scoring standing up. 4th TD run of the year for Morris. Edinger’s kick is good…the Power cut the deficit to 20-14, 8:06 left, 2nd quarter.

8:57 – Payne counters with a nice return of his own, reversing his field against the wall, and cutting it out to Cleveland’s own 23. Just some fancy footwork there.

8:58 – Redd, who killed the Power last time in Pittsburgh, did so just there. He catches Rocco’s last-second pass at the 10, shakes off Josh Lay’s open-field ankle tackles and scores untouched. 2nd of the night for him, 26th of the year. 64 TD passes this year now for Rocco. Terrance Carter gets some outside pressure on Denny, who shanks his P.A.T. wide left…26-14 Glads, 5:59 left, 2nd quarter.

9:01 – The vice tightens as Morris loses the handle on his pass attempt…veteran DL/LB Tim Cheatwood, who had a fumble recovery June 4 in Pittsburgh, recovers this one in the end zone. 4th fumble recovery of the year for Cheatwood. Siegfried challenges, and loses the challenge, not to mention one of his timeouts. Two-point pass to Redd is errant to the back of the end zone. 32-14 Glads, 4:51 left in half. Cleveland’s turnover margin: plus-17. Pittsburgh’s turnover margin: minus-13.

9:06 – Davion Mitchell with a nice special teams tackle to force a touchback.

9:08 – Washington, last week’s JLS Ironman of the Week, pays a physical price for a first down up the far sideline. Moments later a nice catch-and-run by Willis gets the Power inside the Cleveland red zone…

9:10 – TOUCHDOWN POWER! Morris completes to Willis in the right flat, and he barrels just beyond the chalk from 9 yards out…2nd of the night for Willis, who now has 17 on the year. 50th TD pass of the year for Morris, 2nd of the night for him. Edinger’s kick is good, 32-21 Gladiators, 1:09 left, 2nd quarter.

Once again, I love CONSOL Energy Center, but it is certainly a different atmosphere when they sit you out amongst a bunch of fired-up Pittsburghers, including the vaunted Pittsburgh Power Green Man…

9:15 – The one-minute warning comes with 52.4 seconds left in the half, after a nice job by the Power secondary to hold the Glads to a short gain.

9:16 – Bergeron picks up the first down at midfield and hangs on for dear life. Timeout Cleveland, which now has none left. 44.5 seconds left. Ball on Power’s 24 yard line.

9:18 – Terrance Carter comes up a bit lame after diving for Rocco, who fires a dart to Robert Redd in the right side of the end zone for Redd’s third of the night. 65 on the year for Rocco, 5th of the night. Denny makes it this time. 39.4 seconds left, 39-21 Cleveland.

9:23 – Morris keeps it himself and gets drilled…but not before converting a 4th and 3 up the far sideline. Good recovery after badly missing DeWalt the previous play. Washington catches a ball from Morris that threads the needle on the very next play. Timeout Pittsburgh. 15.8 seconds left. 1st and 10 on Cleveland 14.

9:24 – DeWalt makes the catch and gets pinned against the wall at the 8 to stop the clock…and Mike Washington makes a nice catch, beating Levy Brown through traffic, for a POWER TOUCHDOWN! 51st of the year for Morris, 3rd of the night. 26 on the year now for The Joystick. Edinger’s kick works. 39-28 Cleveland, 5.4 seconds left…

9:28 – Halftime at The Q…Cleveland Gladiators 39, Pittsburgh Power 28.

I’m not one for motivational speeches, but someone needs to tell the Power’s secondary the game started at 8:00. They looked more out of sorts as the half wound down. Give credit to Cleveland’s receiving corps, which, as a group, is playing a solid game, in my opinion, but clearly something is still missing. Like I said last week, maybe they really do miss defensive backs Carlos Campbell (IR) and Royce Adams (defected to UFL) that badly; I’ve yet to see anyone in black and gold play that position as well as they.

The third quarter has typically been when the Power are at their worst. Now, more than ever, is the time to rewrite that script. They need to take the second-half kickoff, which they will receive, and pound it into the end zone, then the Power’s defense, which showed a lot of swagger in the last meeting between these teams, needs to start showing it again. They’ve gotten some pressure on Kurt Rocco, but Rocco has still made some nice throws under that pressure, so the Power need to keep it up.

1st half numbers:

Morris 13 of 21 175 yds 3 TD; 6 rush 10 net yds 1 TD; fumbled once

Rocco 16 of 18 (wow!) 192 yds 5 TD; sacked once

Both teams had 13 first downs; Cleveland out-gaining Pittsburgh barely, 192-189

Willis 5 catches 90 yds 2 TD

Washington 3 catches 35 yds TD; 79 all-purpose yds

Bergeron 5 catches 60 yds 2 TD

Redd 4 catches 77 yds 3 TD

Herbert 7.5 total tackles (7 solo); the next closest Power player has 2.0

Levy Brown: 5 solo tackles

5 penalties/36 yds for the Power; 2 penalties/13 yds for the Gladiators; all in all, a well officiated game compared to the first meeting, if you ask me…

9:43 – Mike Bragg wrapped up Joystick before he could sneak out past the Power 5 yard line…

9:45 – Morris with a 13-yard keeper to his left…his mobility is invaluable to this offense.

9:47 – The shoe is on the other foot penalty-wise now, as a personal foul is committed by the Glads after Washington got creamed after a short gain. Lucian then rumbles for a yard down to the Cleveland 5.

9:48 – TOUCHDOWN POWER! Morris hits Irving Campbell all alone in the back of the end zone; 4th of the night for Morris, who now has 53. The 5-yard catch by Campbell is his 2nd TD of the year. Edinger converts…Power now trail 39-35, 9:50 left, 3rd quarter. Solid way to start the half. Now it’s up to the defense to take it up a notch…

9:52 – Edinger boots another touchback, Cleveland has 1st and 10 at their own 5, moving right to left on their first offensive series of the half…

9:54 – Lay almost had one…he was right in front of Bergeron deep in Pittsburgh territory. Good coverage. 2nd and 10.

9:56 – Gary Butler wraps up Rocco, and a penalty for illegal offensive formation is declined…4th and 10. Big moment here…and the Power get a stop as Rocco egregiously overthrows his man down the near side! Once again, good coverage by Lay. Power ball at the Cleveland 12, 6:16 left, 3rd quarter. Could the tide be turning?

10:00 – TOUCHDOWN POWER! Morris throws up a rainbow, and DeWalt comes down with it before he runs out of room! 19th of the year for the ironman, 6th TD pass of the night for Morris. He now has 54. Edinger’s kick is partially blocked, or so it appears, as it sails wide left. But with that 12-yard strike the Power have their first lead of the night at 41-39, 5:23 left, 3rd quarter.

10:04 – Nice catch by Goodman to the Power 16 before getting sawed off by Lay. Gotta give credit where credit is due.

10:05 – Rocco dinks and dunks to OL Cliff Louis, who rumbles in for a 5-yard score. Goodman’s play, which followed a nice kick return, keyed that drive. Rocco’s two-point pass to Bergeron, despite pressure, is caught on the left side. 47-41 Gladiators, 2:05 left, 3rd quarter. Rocco now has 6 TD’s tonight and 66 on the year.

10:10 – A block in the back pins the Power deep, but Morris doesn’t care; he goes deep down the near sideline to Washington, who hauls it in for a first down.

10:11 – TOUCHDOWN POWER! Morris hits Willis in the back corner, near side, from 28 yards out, and Willis hangs on as the quarter ends! Edinger’s kick is good…48-47 Power lead the Gladiators entering the 4th quarter. 6th of the night for Morris, who now has 55. 3rd of the night for Willis, who now has 18 on the year.

The Glads have only lost once in seven home games. Could tonight be the Power’s lucky night? The season, at least for now, comes down to whether they can hold and/or pad the lead in this final stanza…

(Sorry, Sec. 108, no free haircuts tonight. Better luck against Utah.)

10:16 – The compete level of the Power at this moment compared to this time Sunday is night and day. Edinger, who has been sharp thus far, boots another touchback.

10:17 – Cleveland recovers its own fumble inside its own 5, but Terrence Taylor is called for grabbing Rocco’s facemask. Tough break. 1st down Cleveland to its own 21, then Redd can’t hang onto a potential TD pass in the near corner of the end zone…

10:20 – Great pass breakup by Herbert against Redd, who was bobbling the ball in the middle of the end zone. 3rd and 9 from the Power 18…and Goodman gets around Lay for the touchdown. 8th of the year for him. 7th of the night for Rocco. Denny converts. 54-48 Gladiators, 10:11 left, 4th quarter…and the “Cleveland s****” chant goes up on our side of the building in response to some hometown fans whooping it up in the aisles…

10:25 – Denny kicks a touchback. 1st down Pittsburgh at its own 5…

10:26 – Exactly what the Power didn’t need…Morris fumbles the snap, and Prentice Purnell recovers. That’s been WAY too much of a problem this season.

10:27 – Fullback Russ Monk rumbles in from two yards out. 10th of the year for him. Two-point pass is blocked by the Power, but they trail 60-48 with 7:39 left to resuscitate their playoff hopes. Oh boy…

10:30 – Washington reads the bounce off the hard net well and runs it out to the 15. Attendance announced at 8,139, which is a good crowd for this market, if statistics are any guide. Power fans should give themselves a pat on the back for helping out on that one. It’s been a fun atmosphere, can’t say it enough…

10:34 – Morris is bull-rushed, sacked, and stripped near the 20 yard line. But wait just a minute…Siegfried challenges the ruling. They’ll go to the booth. Does he see something we don’t?

10:36 – The call stands, so it’s gut check time for the Power defense, as the offense continues to self-destruct at the worst possible time…

10:39 – Goodman makes a nice fingertip catch along the near side as he falls into the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown. Denny’s kick is good. 67-48 Gladiators. They’ll never use this as an excuse, but the warts and growing pains that come with being an expansion team have really shown down the stretch. 3:12 left. 2nd of the night for Goodman, 8 TD’s tonight for Rocco, who now has 68.

10:43 – Touchback. Power have three minutes left for a miracle…

10:45 – One-minute warning comes, though unfortunately it may just be a formality with 59.1 seconds left.

10:46 – Cleveland fans chanting “P-A-Turn-pike” at some Power fans who are leaving the building…

10:48 – Timeout Pittsburgh with 49.2 seconds left. Power driving deep in Cleveland territory, trying to at least make this look a little more respectable…

10:50 – Morris to DeWalt for a Power touchdown from 4 yards out, 2nd of the night for DeWalt, who now has 20 on the year. Edinger converts. 67-55 Cleveland, 41.1 seconds left. Onside kick or bust.

10:52 – Goodman recovers the kick at the Pittsburgh 12. Sigh…there goes the season, it appears. Power called their third and final timeout with 38.7 seconds left.

10:54 – Congratulations to the Cleveland Gladiators, East Division champions. Glads win 67-55. They deserved it. Too many self-inflicted wounds by the Power tonight, and the veteran Glads took full advantage. Power fall to 8-9, losers of five of six. They will end their inaugural campaign, hopefully with a win, in Philadelphia next Friday night shortly after 7:00 at Wells Fargo Center.

Injuries, bad execution, inconsistency, and a general learning curve did the Power in. They can deny it up and down all they want, but that learning curve does exist. The proof is in these past six games. Great teams don’t let the season spiral out of control the way it did for Pittsburgh. Anyway, Gary Butler staying at midfield to reflect after the prayer circle breaks up.

Ironman of the Game: DeWalt

Offensive POTG: Rocco

Defensive POTG: Cheatwood

Playmaker: Redd

Catch of the Game: Willis 1st TD of the night

(Missed the Highlight of the Game…sorry…will pick that up later…)

Final numbers:

The Power fall to 3-5 on the road, and 3-2 overall against divisional opponents. They haven’t won a road game since that 76-75 marathon over the Dallas Vigilantes May 28.

Paul Edinger’s accuracy has left something to be desired lately, but tonight he outscored Matt Denny for a second time this season, going 7-for-8 to Denny’s 5-for-7, and recording three touchbacks.

Pittsburgh out-gained Cleveland with 340 net yards on offense to 305, though the Power did run ten more plays.

Cleveland was assessed four penalties for 29 yards, while the Power had seven penalties for 50.

Both teams were uncharacteristically efficient in the red zone, with the Power going 6-for-8, and the Glads 7-for-8.

A couple roster notes…center Sione Ohuafi was pulled for Tommy Crowley, who slipped under our radar at the time, but was confirmed in the final participation report…DeWalt won Ironman of the Game honors despite splitting time at jack linebacker with Anthony DeGrate.

These teams played on pretty even terms, but the number that did the Power in, as previously alluded to, was three lost fumbles…the only three turnovers of the entire game. Furthermore, the Power’s defense only made two stops, one of them coming due to the end of the first half…but at least it’s two more than it had last week.

Morris: 28-of-41 (68.3%), 318 yds, 7 TD; 8 rush, 23 net yds, 1 TD; sacked once

Willis: 9 catches, 134 yds, 3 TD

DeWalt: 7 catches, 60 yds, 2 TD; 2.5 tackles

Washington: 5 catches, 54 yds, TD; 147 all-purpose yds (game high)

Rocco: 25-of-35 (71.4%), 297 yds, 8 TD; sacked twice

Goodman: 12 catches, 130 yds, 2 TD

Redd: 5 catches, 84 yds, 3 TD

Bergeron: 6 catches, 70 yds, 2 TD

Herbert: 9.5 tackles (9 solo), 1 breakup

Butler: 2.5 tackles; 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack

Purvis: 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack

DeGrate: 2 tackles

Lay: 4.0 tackles (3 solo), 1 breakup

Brown: 8 solo tackles, 2 breakups

DeMarcus Robinson and Mike Bragg: 6 solo tackles each

Cheatwood: 2.5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 sack, 1 QB hurry

Final thoughts, including some from Coach Siegfried, to come soon…

Talked to Coach Siegfried after Friday’s loss…turnovers late the second half did them in…turnover margin has defined their season…feels bad for management, city, because they feel they could have played a little bit better; they have the ability, individually, to be a much better football team…Philly will be a tough game because the Soul are doing a good job playing for pride. “We want to kick off next season next week.” A lot of the youngsters are going to get opportunities to play next week, including some who haven’t. “We’re going to see which team, Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, has more pride next Friday.” Should have learned from tough times earlier in the season, though points out that even the veterans on the team are relatively young players. Still a lot of bright spots this season; made some changes in recent weeks that can help moving forward. Feels like opportunity was let go, but Cleveland outplayed them. It’s a matter of what the team learns from this moment. Power have been one of the more successful first-year franchises, in some ways, in recent AFL history. Impressed by the turnout–and the loudness throughout the game–of traveling Power fans. “We want that support next year.” “I’m not going to have much of an off-season, I can tell you that much.” Thinks a number of current players will be anxious to redeem themselves. Management has done a great job selling the new team.

We didn’t have time to reach certain players for comment immediately following the game, but we did want to catch up with Mike Washington, because he’s been a very capable and, above all, candid leader of the Power’s offense, and he certainly spoke from the heart after Friday’s loss…didn’t mask his frustration over late turnovers, which he feels have killed the team not just in this game, but over the course of the season; “It took the air out of the balloon…that’s the kind of stuff that can get you cut, especially if you make the same kind of mistake.” Feels like traveling Power fans lifted the team’s collective spirit. Was it a learning experience for the team? Yes and no…a lot of the guys have played in big games in order phases of their football careers, so that concept is old hat for them. Doesn’t buy into “expansion team” mentality. Sometimes guys pack it in at times like this, will be curious to see who comes to play in season finale…”You have to ask yourself, what am I playing for? That last game can tell a lot about your character.”

Final thoughts from yours truly:

First of all, kudos to all the Power fans who made it to “The Q,” and of course, to the management of the Pittsburgh Power and all the essential team employees who helped make that happen. Not that I don’t enjoy home games, especially when the Power fare better than they did Friday, but you folks made for a great road atmosphere this past weekend, and, in my honest opinion, held your own against the Cleveland fans. I would definitely corroborate the kind things Coach Siegfried said about you.

It’s a tough time for this team right now, because it really seems like they hit a wall after that initial win over the Gladiators, and because you certainly feel like they were capable of ending the season on a much less sour note. It’s frustrating to see them struggle the way they did; in a way, it’s stupid stuff that has kept them from maximizing their potential, whether it’s not being able to field a kickoff, unforced fumbles, or things of that nature. On the other hand, this team is roughly half rookies, as Coach Siegfried alluded to, and has not necessarily been healthy for most of the year, which is why part of me is keeping their failures in context. Still, should it have come to this? The Power certainly won a couple games I’m sure some people feel they should have lost, but they also lost a couple games that, in my opinion, they should have won. Friday’s loss symbolizes the mixed feelings I have about this season; I certainly feel the Gladiators outplayed the Power, but the Power also did things to gift-wrap the game and put it under the proverbial Christmas tree.

A lot of Pittsburgh, as a result of Friday’s loss, may have lost interest in the season finale, but I have not. I, for one, am intrigued, as Joystick said, to see who still has fight in them this approaching Friday, and who doesn’t. Playing for pride can go a long way toward telling coaches what they have to work with going into the next season, and it’ll be interesting to see what team resolve and team chemistry are now like. Rumors of in-fighting, finger pointing, and the general disruption of that chemistry have begun to surface. I find it amusing how such rumors never surface until something particularly bad happens, but whether they’re true or not, I trust Chris Siegfried to lead this team appropriately. I don’t see how any fan can hold him accountable for the negative turn the season took. He’s proven he has his finger on the pulse of the league, and in my experience, he’s handled himself with professionalism throughout the year. To be a head coach of any pure expansion team with not a lot of seasoned AFL veterans, no matter how much they downplay that, is a stiff challenge, and when your team gets bitten by the injury bug early and often, that just turns a headache into a concussion. Bottom line is, if there really are issues with team chemistry, I believe Siegfried will ultimately weed out those responsible, and hang onto the guys who want to be in Pittsburgh, and want to contribute more positively to that chemistry. That’s the most important thing, regardless of how deep or shallow the talent pool is.

Having said that, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were finger-pointing taking place, and to some extent, I do believe certain players deserve to have fingers pointed at them. To me, the Power’s secondary, minus Carlos Campbell and Royce Adams, has let them down greatly in these final weeks, though Bernard Morris is the one who might have the most looking in the mirror to do this off-season. It’s obvious how much of a presence he is in that huddle, but for all he has given the Power this season, including his fancy and quite valuable footwork, he has also taken away with periodic accuracy issues and turnovers like the ones on Friday that seem rather inexcusable–two of the three, anyway. Siegfried said he’d give some different players a look this Friday. Does this mean Bill Stull gets some reps? Time will tell. In the meantime, I’ll be interested to see how loyal Siegfried still is to Morris moving forward (the former coached the latter in Jacksonville, which would explain some of that loyalty), because recruiting a new quarterback might make a difference in how well the Power compete next year.

So overall I would put the 2011 season, regardless of this Friday’s outcome, under the label of “good, but could have easily been better.” The Power, which were the only brand new team of the four that joined the AFL this season, can do no worse than second place in their own division, but at the same time, certain opportunities were within reach that were not seized. In time, I believe the franchise will be successful, and from a financial standpoint, compared to other AFL teams, it already is. But success doesn’t always happen right away, not even in a league of parity like the AFL, so hopefully those who supported the team this year won’t lose patience or faith just because it didn’t happen immediately. Certain leaders have emerged, and certain pieces of the puzzle have been discovered this year. Hopefully those pieces remain in place, and hopefully, as I’ve said before, Chris Siegfried is still around to lead them. In the meantime, Friday should give us a nice early indication of what the Pittsburgh Power will look like in 2012.


Be sure to revisit later this week for more coverage of the Power as they try to end their maiden voyage on a positive note in Philadelphia!

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