By Matt Popchock
7:00 – We are live from CONSOL Energy Center, and, mercifully, out of the rain, though for the past few weeks, opponents of the Pittsburgh Power have rained on their parade. Tonight the Power (1-3) will try to snap their skid and collect an increasingly important win over the team that gave them their lone victory in the season opener, the Orlando Predators (0-4).
Stay right here for periodic updates as the game progresses. In the meantime, a few preliminary thoughts on this game:
7:05 – A couple changes to the Power’s lineup tonight…with Lonnell DeWalt having left the team for personal reasons, John Green has been inserted as a starter and moved from DB to mac linebacker. Wide receiver Christian Wise, who previously spent last season and this one with the Kansas City Command, will debut with the Power tonight.
One change to Orlando’s lineup…quarterback Colin Drafts, who has faced the Power twice already, is out, and backup Justin Roper is in under center tonight. The 24-year-old Montana product was property of the Chicago Rush in 2011.
7:10 – As you can see, wide receiver/kick returner P.J. Berry is my “cover photo,” if you will, this evening (theme warning). There are talented ironmen on both teams who could really take center stage tonight, including Berry, who finally had the breakout game we were all hoping for in that loss to Iowa last Friday. Berry was named the league’s Ironman of the Week after a kick return TD, nine catches, 110 receiving yards, and two offensive scores against the Barnstormers. He is averaging 190.5 all-purpose yards per game, ranking third in the AFL.
Meanwhile, fullback/jack linebacker Marlon Moye-Moore, a 2011 All-Arena selection, is a force to be reckoned with for Orlando. He is second on the team with 18.5 tackles and part of a defensive corps that features a number of talented AFL veterans. Speaking of veterans, journeyman receiver Bobby Sippio, perhaps the “T.O.” of the Arena Football League, re-signed with Orlando this week after spending last year with that team.
7:14 – The Predators take the field. They’re coming off a 41-24 loss to the Cleveland Gladiators, who did the Power a favor by losing to the Tampa Bay Storm, Orlando’s arch-rival, last night. Pittsburgh beat Orlando 40-26 Mar. 9 amidst the here-and-gone AFLPU strike. Obviously both these teams have been flat since.
7:17 – We have confirmed that this is Roper’s first career start. Offensively his top targets will likely be T.T. Toliver, who played well against Pittsburgh in last season’s only meeting, and another AFL vet, Dwayne Eley Jr., who only has 179 receiving yards but has already racked up seven touchdowns.
7:19 – Mike Washington leads the Power onto the field through their obligatory pyrotecnhic tunnel, to the obligatory tune of “Thunderstruck” (a song that will never get boring to me, win or lose). Crowd looks about the same size as the one here eight days ago.
7:21 – Washington, once again, will be joined by Wise, along with Berry. Andrico Hines stays under center for the Power, with Tyre Young, the Pitt/IUP product as his sidecar, and Mike Lucian, Beau Elliott, and Moqut Ruffins up front.
7:26 – Sippio and Young lightheartedly exchanging words at the end of the National Anthem.
7:28 – “Touchdown” Eddie Brown, one of the greatest AFL players of all-time, is here as a dignitary to oversee the coin toss. A two-time league MVP, he was an ironman receiver for the Albany/Indiana Firebirds in the original AFL. He is the father of Desmond Brown, a current Pitt football player, and, lest we forget, Steelers Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown.
7:31 – Defensively the Power look like this: Stevenson, Williams, LeFlore in the back; Purvis, Pittman, and Taylor up front; Parrish and Green at the linbeacker spots. Meanwhile, Orlando wins the coin toss, and defers, kicking left to right.
7:33 – Orlando’s defense looks like this: Travis Coleman, Eddie Moten, Simeon Castille in the back; former Power DL Terrance Carter, Ailao Eliapo, Richard Clebert, and Quinn Pitcock up front; Mark Robinson at linebacker.
7:35 – Berry catches about 50 feet of air as he is catapulted to the Power’s 10 yard line.
Moments later, Wise breaks open down the far sideline, but Hines overthrows him.
7:38 – Turnover to the Preds at the Power 19. 4th and 1.5, and Hines not only missed Washington, but threw it six yards to the wrong shoulder. Yeesh…
7:39 – Orlando’s offense, with Roper under center, features Tolliver, Eley Jr., and Sippio at receiver; Drew Miller, Christian Jamison, and Thaddeus Coleman up front; Moye-Moore at fullback.
7:40 – Sippio hangs on against the wall for an Orlando TD from 15 yards out. Mark Lewis shanks the extra point to the left, but the Preds lead 6-0 with 11:10 left in the 1st quarter. Good catch in man coverage.
7:42 – Lewis makes up for it by kicking the ball through the soft net and into the stands. That’s one way to take P.J. Berry out of a game.
7:43 – Touchdown Power! Hines doesn’t miss this time, hitting a wide-open Berry 45 yards in stride. 4th TD catch of the year for Berry. 13th TD pass of the year for Hines. Wagner makes his extra point, and the Power are in front 7-6, with 9:58 left in the 1st quarter.
7:47 – Offsides on the Power defensive line. For an expansion team, the Power did a good job avoiding flags last year, but last week penalties were a big factor.
7:51 – Roper hits Eley Jr. in the same spot as Sippio last drive for his second TD pass. Unsportsmanlike conduct on Neil Purvis after the play. Defense needs to start showing some discipline. Lewis converts this time, and it’s 13-7 Orlando with 6:26 left in the 1st quarter. 8th of the year for Eley Jr.
7:54 – Again Berry seems to the putting the team on his back. Nice return out to the 20, despite the fact penalty yardage against Purvis will take away some of that field position.
7:57 – Four and out for the Power from their own 14, though Berry was clocked by two DB’s on fourth down. I really don’t get why there wasn’t pass interference there.
7:58 – Rough night for Purvis; unnecessary roughness call leads to an Orlando touchdown. Roper floats one to Sippio in the back of the end zone. Stevenson was way late to the ball. As soon as that penalty was assessed, by the way, Purvis immediately went off and down the tunnel. Lewis makes it 20-7 Preds with 2:39 left in the 1st quarter.
8:03 – Nice work by Hines to matriculate the ball on this drive. 2nd and goal after a couple bursts up the middle by Young. The first quarter ends with Orlando leading 20-7.
8:08 – Power keep going to Young, but Orlando’s defensive front has shown poise. 3rd and goal at the 5 before Hines is sacked by Pitcock (say that without giggling). 1st of the year for him, and Hines is limping…
8:10 – Collin Wagner boots a 22-yard field goal, his second in the AFL. He had a rough start to his rookie season, but generally I’ve been impressed with the former PSU product. Power now trail 20-10 with 13:09 left in the half.
8:14 – T.T. Toliver just lit up Bryan Williams like a Christmas tree as Roper took off to his right for a good gain.
8:15 – Power head coach Chris Siegfried challenging the spot of a presumed Orlando first down near midfield. Timeout with 10:54 to go in the half.
8:18 – Some confusion on the field, but basically the play stands, and the Power lose that timeout.
8:20 – The game is coming to something of a crawl, as now Orlando takes a timeout. 10:24 left, same score.
8:22 – The Power catch a break as Roper trips and falls backward. Justin Parrish, by virtue of simply touching him, gets the sack. Moments later, Roper scrambles for a long 1st down run. Unbelievable.
8:24 – Block in the back on Orlando. By the way, 1st sack of the year for Parrish. Moments later, Dominie Pittman gets his 3rd of the season.
8:27 – Orlando takes its 2nd timeout while facing a 4th and short inside the Pittsburgh 10. 6:36 left in the half.
8:30 – Tolliver sneaks into the end zone along the far sideline for his 4th TD of the year. It’s Roper’s 4th TD pass of the game. Disappointing to see the Power not teeing off on a rookie QB. 27-10 Preds with 5:56 to go.
8:32 – A big “ooh” goes up as Castille tackles Berry way high on the kickoff return. Borderline hit is my knee-jerk reaction. Backup QB Derrick Cassidy now in for the Power.
8:34 – Three-time All-Arena DB Eddie Moten with a pick-six in front of Washington. About 25 yards on the run-back. Excessive celebration penalty will aid the Power, whose tailspin continues as Lewis kicks the extra point. 34-10 Preds with 3:41 to go in the half. That’s actually Moten’s first INT of the year.
8:39 – 1-minute warning. First down Power at the Orlando 19. I’m sure the half can’t end soon enough, but at the same time, one can’t say enough how badly the Power need points on this drive…
8:43 – Moye-Moore tackles Washington as the latter makes a nice grab against the near wall. Clock stopped with 25 seconds left.
Touchdown Power! Moments later, Cassidy throws his first TD pass with the Power, a 12-yard dart to Washington over the heads of two defenders. 9th of the year for The Joystick. Wagner is true, and I smell an onside kick with the Power down 34-17, 21 seconds left in the half…
8:45 – Interesting. No onside kick. It just seems like normally Siegfried would try one there.
8:47 – Chris LeFlore assigned to Sippio. LeFlore had a solid season with the Dallas Vigilantes in 2011. Moments later, Sippio gets ahead of LeFlore for his third TD of the game with three seconds left. Extra point by Lewis is good. 41-17 Orlando.
I guess this is what you call hitting rock bottom? I’ll go out on a limb and predict more substitutions in the second half.
8:52 – A token interception by Travis Coleman ends the half. Orlando head coach Bret Munsey arguing Coleman was not downed before running into the end zone. Nothing doing. Halftime, same score.
In the immortal words of Woody Allen, “Yes, it could’ve been worse. It might’ve rained.”
For some reason, I foresee a real interesting 2nd half. Getting one’s butt kicked is a good time to take note of who’s still giving a damn, and what you have to work with moving forward.
9:04 – Bubba Snider (“The Bubba Show,” Star 100.7) gives a shout-out to the PIHL, one of my other employers! Kudos to league commissioner Ed Sam for treating the America’s Showcase participants to a game tonight. Too bad they couldn’t see a better one so far.
9:07 – First half numbers:
Hines went 4/9 for 74 yds, 1 sack, 1 TD before getting pulled.
Cassidy went 4/8 for 24 yds, 1 sack, 2 INT, 1 TD.
Roper went 10/14 for 111 yds and 5 TD, sacked twice.
Sippio caught 4 passes for 45 yds, 3 TD.
Moye-Moore has 4.5 tackles, and Washington and Berry have combined for 90 receiving yards and two TD.
9:10 – As Siegfried said during an in-house interview, there’s a lot of football to be played–trite, but true in arena football. Still, knowing the way things have gone, it’s virtually impossible to imagine this team coming back from this. Defense needs to start forcing turnovers in a hurry.
9:16 – Nate Forse caps a long drive with his 4th TD catch of the year. 6th TD of the night for Roper. Orlando was aided by a long completion to Sippio and a holding call against the secondary. Lewis converts for a 48-17 Orlando lead. Already see a few folks splitting. Brutal.
For all their defensive issues, the Power were actually among the league’s best in terms of total passing yardage allowed. I expect that to change after tonight.
9:21 – Touchdown Power! Cassidy hits a wide-open Randy Hymes up the near side for a 24-yard strike. 2nd of the game for Cassidy, 4th of the year for the ex-Baltimore Birdie. Wagner’s kick makes it 48-24 Preds with 5:56 left in the 3rd quarter.
9:24 – LaRico Stevenson with an interception against the wall! 2nd of the year for him. At least the team is still fighting.
Touchdown Power! Weird play; Moten picked it off in the end zone, Washington knocked it loose, Berry recovered in the corner. Right place, right time. Ugliest TD of the season, but they all count. Unsportsmanlike conduct against Orlando after the play. 2-point conversion to Hymes is good, despite great coverage near side.
48-32 Orlando, 4:41 left, 3rd quarter…
9:30 – Eley Jr. bounced around, penalty yardage puts the ball back at the 1 yard line. Interesting series here…
Moments later, Eley Jr., who had a step on Stevenson, drops one in the end zone. 2nd down for Orlando, still in their own territory.
9:34 – Too bad…LeFlore just misses a diving interception…no harm done, but that would’ve really lit up this place.
End of the 3rd quarter with the Power trailing 48-32. Still a big hill to climb, but on the plus side, this is probably the best 3rd quarter the Power have played since the opener.
9:38 – Power open the 4th quarter by forcing a turnover on downs. Good work by LeFlore deep. The plot thickens…
9:40 – Orlando still unraveling. A late hit on Cassidy after he scrambled, then a roughing-the-passer foul. Power in business.
9:42 – Siegfried throws another challenge flag. Arguing that Randy Hymes extended the ball over the plane of the goal line. If so, it’s a 10-point game with a lot of time left.
9:43 – The call stands, and personally I think it was the wrong one, loyalties aside. Anyway, 1st and goal at the 1.
9:44 – Touchdown Power! Cassidy is guided forward by fullback Tyre Young. 2-point pass barely out of Washington’s reach…but the Power are back in this thing, amazingly enough. 48-38 Preds with 12:57 left in regulation.
9:50 – Orlando with the ball just shy of midfield, aided by a defensive holding call against Terrance Taylor. Clock winds under 11 minutes.
9:51 – LeFlore picks off a pass in the end zone intended for Eley Jr. 9 minutes left. Oh boy…
That was LeFlore’s team-leading 3rd INT of the season.
9:55 – Power now inside the Orlando 20, facing a 2nd and 10. 6:30 left in the game, down by 10.
9:57 – Touchdown Power! Washington makes a diving catch in the far corner of the end zone…but Wagner clangs the extra point. Will it make a difference? 4th of the game for Cassidy, 2nd of the game for Joystick and 10th of the season. Impressive grab as he hit the wall, then he lifted his jersey to show an “I (heart) Quips” shirt. No excessive celebration foul.
48-44 Orlando with 5:07 left in the game. Incredible comeback by the Power thus far, but not done yet.
10:02 – LeFlore with another interception deep in Pittsburgh territory. 2nd of the night, 4th of the year.
Wow with a capital “wow.” Power ball at their own 10. 3:33 left.
10:04 – Coleman with a shoe-string INT as Cassidy tries to go deep for Berry. Luckiest bounce of the game, as Berry had that ball bounce off his leg and into Coleman’s hands. Run back to the Pittsburgh 18.
10:06 – Timeout Orlando with a 1st and goal, 1:27 left in the game.
10:08 – Roper loses yardage after bobbling the snap, and defensive coordinator Derek Stingley calls timeout. Power have one left with 1:21 to go.
10:11 – 3rd down and goal Orlando from the 8 yard line at the 1-minute warning, still ahead by 4.
10:14 – Lewis makes a 22-yard field goal with 53 seconds left, his second field goal of the year. 51-44 Preds, as the Power’s defense continues to play inspired football.
10:16 – Power start at their own 17 after Berry’s return…
10:18 – Touchdown Power! Hymes with an incredible fingertip catch as Cassidy was hit! Extra point coming…and it’s good! We. Are. Tied.
51-51 is your score with 37 seconds left in regulation.
10:20 – Eley Jr. brings it to his own 15, tackled along the near wall. 32 seconds left. Place going nuts.
10:22 – Timeout Orlando, its second charged timeout. 18 seconds left. Ball on their own 21.
10:23 – Williams had an INT bounce off his hands with 9 seconds left. Field goal unit on for about a 35-yarder.
10:24 – It goes wide left, settled in by Berry off the hard net…and we go to overtime! What an amazing turn of events.
10:28 – Power will kick off to Orlando after electing to do so to begin overtime.
10:35 – A field goal of about 25 yards is good by Mark Lewis. 54-51 Orlando. The Power, if they score a TD here, will win. An offensive holding call against Orlando nullified an Eley Jr. TD.
10:38 – Berry returns it to the Orlando 18. So close…
10:39 – TOUCHDOWN! TOUCHDOWN! TOUCHDOWN! Christian Wise! Wide open, far side! 57-54 is your final! You have GOT to be kidding me!!!
Offensive POTG: Roper
Defensive POTG: Stevenson
Catch of the Game: Moten pick-six
Highlight of the Game: Stevenson INT
Game MVP: Roper
(Full disclosure: these awards are voted on before the game is over.)
(Follow the Power on Twitter @AFLPittsburgh.)
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)