By Matt Popchock
6:55 – We are out of the schizophrenic spring weather and thankful to be nice and warm inside CONSOL Energy Center, where we’ll be giving you live updates throughout tonight’s game between the Pittsburgh Power (2-4) and the Cleveland Gladiators (3-3).
The Power are trying for their second win on home turf in four efforts this year, and they’re also trying to rebound from a 51-48 loss on the road to the New Orleans VooDoo last week that could easily have been a win. Meanwhile, the defending East Division champions are also coming off a tough loss, a 54-49 decision at home against the league champion Jacksonville Sharks, that got away from them toward the end of that contest.
Last year Pittsburgh defeated Cleveland, 35-32, in this building June 4 to ascend to 7-4, and take over sole possession of first place in the East Division, the high-water mark of their inaugural season. The Gladiators, who took the division crown and eliminated the Power from American Conference playoff contention in the penultimate week of the 2011 campaign, are trying to avoid a three-game losing streak tonight.
The Power are coached by Chris Siegfried, their second-year bench boss, who went 9-9 last year. The Gladiators are coached by AFL veteran Steve Thonn, now in his eighth year in the league. He is 47-26 lifetime, and 20-20 overall in the midst of his third year with the Glads.
7:00 – I saw a girl I saw outside the arena the last time I was here (and she literally walked behind mejust as I wrote this) sporting a Dominie Pittman game jersey and a homemade Power replica helmet. Gotta get ’em started young.
There was a time I didn’t think a Pittman jersey would be worth much, but the 6’3″, 250-pound rookie from North Alabama (and the CFL) is among the league leaders in sacks with 3.0, and has been one of the Power’s more consistent players up front this year.
7:02 – Speaking of the defensive front, veteran lineman Neil Purvis will return to the starting lineup this week after missing last week with a lower-body injury. Purvis had 12 solo tackles and three sacks in an injury-plagued 2011 season.
7:04 – One note about the offensive line: we won’t see Tyre Young, the former Pitt/IUP player, at fullback tonight. Penn State standout Mike Lucian, normally an offensive tackle, will line up in that spot, and newcomer Greg Niland, a 6’5″, 305-pound tackle from UMass, will take Lucian’s place.
7:06 – Despite contradicting reports that this would be a game-time decision, multiple sources confirm fromer ACC MVP Bryan Randall (Virginia Tech) will make his first-ever start at quarterback for the Power tonight. Technically, he’s the fifth Power QB to be used this year (since Kyle Rowley never played an actual game), and he has auditioned with the San Jose SaberCats and Utah Blaze since getting cut by the Falcons, Bucs…and Steelers.
7:10 – Jerrett Sanderson (Bowling Green), the recently-added AFL rookie, will make his second straight start at defensive back. He had ten solo tackles and a pass breakup against the VooDoo, a performance that impressed Siegfried, as the coach pointed out at his weekly presser. The secondary needs to keep an eye on former University of Cincinnati standout Dominick Goodman, who has 658 receiving yards and 15 TD’s thus far.
Goodman ranks sixth in the AFL in receiving yards entering Week 8, and also sixth in receiving touchdowns.
7:13 – The lights are out here for pre-game introductions as the Glads take the field. They’re met with mostly boos; there is a Cleveland contingent in the far left corner in relation to press row, but they’re not as voluminous, nor as vocal, as last spring.
7:15 – Cleveland starters: John Dutton at QB; Robert Redd, Goodman, and Mo Williams (Pitt/Edinboro) at WR; Maddux, Economou, and Aumaitre up front; Michael Dyer at fullback. On defense we have Levy Brown, Joe Phinisee, and Dominic Jones at DB; Purnell, Sewell, and Richardson up front; Tim Cheatwood at mac linebacker, and Denayne Dixon at jack linebacker.
7:18 – Cue “Thunderstruck,” cue the pyrotechnics, and cue the Pittsburgh Power, who take the field. Looks and sounds like a third straight smallish crowd.
7:20 – A bit louder applause as P.J. “Superman” Berry is introduced. The wide receiver/kick returner leads the AFL with 853 kick return yards, and he had 284 all-purpose yards against his old team, the VooDoo, last Friday. He’ll be going for his fourth straight Ironman of the Week award, which would be a presumed league record. He’ll make an interesting foil for Redd, who played well against Pittsburgh last year, and is also a double threat on special teams and at flanker.
7:25 – Pittsburgh starters: Randall at QB; Berry, Randy Hymes, and Mike “The Joystick” Washington at WR; Lucian at fullback; Elliott, Niland, and Ruffins up front. On defense, I have a correction to make: Sanderson will line up at linebacker, along with Anthony DeGrate. LaRico Stevenson, Chris LeFlore, Bryan Williams at DB; Pittman, Purvis, and Taylor up front.
Megan Peebles, the Power’s national anthem contest winner, sings The Star-Spangled Banner.
7:30 – Coin toss. Cleveland wins, and defers. The Glads will kick to the Power from left to right on your computer screen or mobile device to begin tonight’s game.
7:32 – Berry shaking hands with fans in the front row as Cleveland’s special teams sets up. One of the most approachable guys in the league.
More to come…
7:35 – Berry shimmies and shakes but is brought down at the 5 by Jeramie Richardson. First look at Bryan Randall…
7:37 – Randall connects with Washington in the left flat on a 3rd and 6 for the Power’s first 1st down, out to their own 20.
7:41 – Touchdown Power! On 4th and middle distance Randall loses a would-be tackler, not to mention his left shoe, and throws a 13-yard score to Wise, who makes a jumping catch far side. Nice, patient drive by the Power offense to begin this one. 1st AFL TD pass for Randall, 3rd TD of the year for Wise. Collin Wagner kicks the extra point…7-0 Power, 9:21 left, 1st quarter.
7:43 – Last year Washington was held under 5 catches and under 75 yards receiving in both meetings with Cleveland. Important to get him involved in this game early; tough to get out of Berry’s shadow these days.
7:44 – Redd returns the kickoff near midfield. Coverage disturbingly absent.
7:45 – Pickoff deep down the near side by Chris LeFlore! Brought down at the Cleveland one-yard line. Team record sixth INT of the year; he’s second in the AFL in that category.
7:46 – Touchdown Power! Berry with his second TD run of the year, right over the middle, scores standing up. Second-Team All-Arena linebacker Tim Cheatwood yapping at him after the play. Wagner converts…14-0 Power, just like that, 7:30 left. Just the 10th INT this year thrown by John Dutton.
7:49 – Levy Brown nearly gives away the kickoff off the bar, but he brings it out to the 6, stopped by Sanderson.
7:50 – Dutton, the 12th-year man from Nevada-Reno (3rd year with Cleveland), completes to Redd in front of the Cleveland bench for his first 1st down, out to his own 17. Dutton recently surpassed the 700 career TD pass mark.
7:52 – Nyere Aumaitre, lining up as a tight end, is wide open for a 17-yard catch and run down the left side, hooking up with Dutton to get the Glads on the board. A personal foul will help the Power on the ensuing kickoff, but Aaron Pettrey converts the extra point to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 14-7, 4:20 left, 1st quarter. No one in sight of the big lineman as he walked into the end zone.
707 career touchdown passes for Dutton. He now has 37 this season.
Dutton, in that category, is 6th on the all-time leaderboard, 3rd among active AFL quarterbacks.
7:56 – Touchdown Power! Washington wide open in the far corner for a 35-yard score! Brown picks up a personal foul for clocking him after the play. Team-leading 12th TD catch of the year for The Joystick. Wagner makes it work, and the Power lead 21-7, 3:25 left, 1st quarter.
7:59 – That last TD was set up by Berry’s kick return. Had three or four hands on him just outside the end zone, and broke away for positive yardage. Meanwhile, an equally nice return by Redd is nullified by that aforementioned penalty, though he does catch a pass subsequently in front of his own bench.
Power playing very confidently in the early goings…
8:02 – A couple pre-snap penalties against the Power move Cleveland to the 19 yard line on the plus side of the field. Offside and illegal defense (jack linebacker outside his restricted area). Thyron Lewis drops a sure TD pass on the far side.
8:04 – Redd gets behind Stevenson on the far wall, and scurries alone into the end zone before time expires. 38th TD of the year for Dutton, 2nd of the night. 12th of the year for Redd, who had three against the Power in this building last year. Pettrey converts.
21-14 Power entering the 2nd quarter.
A little surprising to see this much offense early on; these are the top two teams in the AFL in terms of fewest total yards allowed.
8:07 – Very unlucky bounce for the Power off the goal post leads to a net recovery for Joe Phinisee at the Power 11. Right place, right time.
8:08 – Goodman gets behind LeFlore and catches one in the corner. Team-leading 16th of the year. In two meetings with the Power in 2011 he was Cleveland’s aggregate receiving yardage leader. 39th of the year for Dutton, 3rd TD tonight. Pettrey, despite a lousy snap, line-drives a good extra point. 21-21 just 1:09 into the period.
Interested in how the Power respond now that the tide has turned…
8:13 – Siegfried challenges the ruling of an incomplete pass to the Cleveland 10 intended for Washington. I’m guessing this call stands; can’t say conclusively that Washington held that ball all the way as he was brought down.
Unfortunately for the Power’s sake, I was right. Pittsburgh loses a timeout (two remaining). But the breaks even out; a pick six by Jones is wiped out by an illegal defense call (“jack out of the box”). Berry picks up a first down to midfield.
8:18 – Cleveland gets a pick six after all. Randall lollipops a ball intended for Washington, and Phinisee follows his blockers up the far side, taking it 17 yards to the house. Pettrey converts for Cleveland’s first lead of the night, 28-21, with 10:11 left in the half.
Important for the Power to turn the page and respond right now. Glads’ defense starting to dig in. Phinisee has played an impressive game (4th pick of the year for him).
8:22 – Although the Power have gone deep a couple times, I see them trying to matriculate the ball and work the sidelines, much like they did with their last couple quarterbacks.
8:25 – Cleveland takes over at its own 22 after a 4-and-out by the Power. Tried to go to the middle of the field, secondary tightened up its coverage, then Hymes, all alone in the middle, drops one on 4th down that probably should have been picked off.
It’s remarkable how schizophrenic this team can be…
8:29 – 4th and 4 for the Glads just beyond midfield. A stop here would be just what the doctor ordered.
Goodman open over the middle, however, and the beat goes on. LeFlore answers with a nice breakup on Goodman in the near corner of the end zone.
8:34 – Jeramie Richardson with a contested 2-yard TD run on 2nd and goal for Cleveland. 3rd rush TD of the year for him, as he entered the game with 6 yards on 9 attempts.
Pettrey converts at the 1-minute warning. 35-21 Cleveland, and once again, the Power really need to show some kind of a pulse before the gun sounds…
8:37 – Give Dominic Jones an Oscar; he got his legs tangled up with Berry on the ensuing return, and went down like Berry pulled a gun on him. Berry gets flagged for a personal foul. Unbelievable.
8:40 – Power linebacker Justin Parrish spent most of the TV timeout barking at the officials. Let’s see if it buys the Power a call anytime soon.
Meanwhile, Goodman, after a Mike Washington fumble, beats Sanderson like he stole something. Thirty-five unanswered points by the Gladiators. Ouch with a capital “ouch.” 43 seconds left, Cleveland in full control, 42-21.
8:45 – Washington gets stripped again, though this time it looked like he might have been down. Siegfried uses another red challenge flag, not to be confused with the various other red flags surrounding this team right now…
The Power catch a break, as the ruling is overturned. Need a score before the end of the half badly.
8:50 – Power take their second timeout with 9 seconds left. Ball at the Cleveland 13 after Hymes tried to unsuccessfully escape a tackle up the far side.
8:51 – Touchdown Power…? Washington with a pretty catch in man coverage, scooping it off the turf in the back of the end zone. Thonn throws one of his own red challenge flags for the first time tonight. We’ll wait and see if it stands.
And it does. Second of the night for Joystick, team-leading 13th of the year. 3rd TD toss of the night for Randall. Wagner misses to the right with 4 seconds left in the half. 42-27 in favor of the Glads.
8:56 – End of the half. Same score. Second half ought to be real interesting, not just because it’s a pivotal early-season game for both these clubs, but because the Power might be at a point where guys fighting for jobs.
9:06 – Halftime: not surprisingly, the most thunderous ovation of the night belongs to “Super Steelers” Mel Blount, Jack Ham, and Pittsburgh Power co-owner Lynn Swann, who are on the field for “Hall of Fame Night” festivities.
Swann is not the first ex-NFL star to get involved with the AFL. Ron Jaworski has a stake in the Philadelphia Soul, Mike Ditka has a stake in the Chicago Rush, and John Elway and Deion Sanders have been involved with defunct teams in Denver and Austin, Texas, respectively.
9:09 – I’ll keep the halftime stats to a simple QB comparison, because, really, the one that jumps out the most is the one I already mentioned: 35 unanswered points by Cleveland. No AFL team, good, bad, or indifferent, should let that happen.
Randall went 17/26 with one pick, 3 TDs, 179 yds; Dutton went 12/18 with one pick, 4 TDs, 135 yds.
Berry only has 73 all-purpose yards and that’s a problem.
Power kick left to right to begin the half. Redd takes it to his own 17.
9:12 – Goodman sneaks his way up to the Power 15 for a first down. Very elusive run, good use of the wall.
9:13 – Yikes! Thyron Lewis goes over the wall in the far corner going after a pass. Appears to be okay, but man…falling in that part of the building can hurt. Pass interference on Sanderson brings the ball to the Power 6 yard line. Pure frustration by the DB trying to cover Goodman, who scores for the third time tonight on the next play. Give Dutton 41 TD passes on the year as Pettrey converts. 49-27 with 10:56 left in the 3rd.
9:19 – This defense seems to have figured out Berry, who runs into his own man at the 8 yard line. Kick coverage has been superb all night.
9:21 – Touchdown Power! And a weird one, at that. Hymes catches it out in the open, the defender gets just enough to strip it, but Hymes scoops and scores anyway. Ruffins of Pittsburgh and Brown of Cleveland shaken up on the play, but both all right for the time being. Wagner is true, and the Power trail 49-34 with 7:34 left in the 3rd. 9th of the year for Hymes…and, technically, we’ll call it the 4th of the game for Randall.
9:26 – Once again, Pittsburgh seems reluctant to throw down the middle, and Cleveland, with its experience, does not. That’s been a big advantage for the Glads.
9:29 – 4th and goal Glads after a couple unsuccessful off-tackle runs. Ball at the Pittsburgh 2.
Thonn elects to go for a chip-shot field goal from pretty much dead center, which Pettrey makes. He’s now 2/4 on the year in that category.
A win for the Power’s defense, but they still trail, 52-34 now, with 2:10 left in the 3rd.
9:33 – Randall and Berry haven’t been on the same page on these deep throws. Earlier Randall missed him wide open down the middle because he threw to the wrong shoulder. Meanwhile, Mike Lucian with his first catch of the season, setting up a 3rd down past midfield.
9:34 – Power will face 4th and short, trailing by the same score, when we begin the 4th quarter.
9:38 – Touchdown Power! Randall opens the 4th by lobbing one to an open Washington, who outraces the Cleveland secondary. 3rd of the game for Joystick, 14th of the season. 5th of the game for Randall.
Wagner’s kick makes it 52-41 Cleveland just 45 seconds into the period. Could this be the Orlando game all over again? Let’s hope…
9:41 – Ooohhh…Power got hosed. Should have had a net recovery in the end zone, but refs say Lewis had possession in the end zone for a touchback. Not even close.
9:44 – 4th and 10 for Cleveland from the Power 15. It would be huge if the Power could overcome that bad break…
Timeout called by Thonn. Cleveland has two left with 11:16 left in the game.
9:47 – Injustice…Dutton has time to find Goodman, who ranged to the far left to pick up his 4th touchdown of the game. Terrance Taylor, the former Michigan product, blocks the extra point, and ultimately, LaRico Stevenson recovers and dives into the end zone for two points. Upon closer review, they might give that score to Wise, but anyway, it’s 58-43 Cleveland with still a lot of time left…10:14 to be exact.
9:51 – Block in the back pins the Power on the 2 yard line.
9:53 – Randall’s compete level is very high, but his accuracy leaves something to be desired…
9:55 – A Washington grab along the wall and an illegal defense call on Cleveland has aided the Power, who are out to midfield.
9:58 – Power in business at the Cleveland 10, six minutes left in this one. Need a score and a stop.
Richardson with his first pure sack of the year for Cleveland on this drive. Power in a bit of trouble now, 4th and long back at the Cleveland 17.
10:00 – Cleveland takes over at the same spot. Dominic Jones was draped all over Berry.
I voted for Dutton as game MVP, though I think one could argue, collectively, for the Cleveland secondary to get that honor. They’ve made big plays when they had to.
10:03 – To the credit of the Power’s defense, they still have a lot of fight in them, but time is ticking away. 2:30 left.
10:04 – Power call their first timeout of the second half, but Cleveland comes out of it with a big first down completion to Goodman. That’s probably the ballgame.
10:06 – 1-minute warning. Cleveland has its foot on the head of the snake, and it has the ball at the Pittsburgh 11.
10:09 – Cleveland trying to kill the clock; in arena football you have to make forward progress for the clock to wind down inside of one minute.
Looks like the Glads will be 4-3, while the Power’s season continues to regress at 2-5. Power burning their timeouts here.
6,034 is the announced attendance. More than the last two home games, at least.
10:11 – Power’s offense takes over after a 4-and-out, but no timeouts remain. 43 seconds left. Same score.
10-yard call for illegal defense. 38 seconds left.
10:14 – Ball bounces off Washington’s helmet, and right into Jones’ lap at the Cleveland 10 yard line. Snapshot of the season.
58-43 Glads is your final.
Offensive POTG Goodman
Defensive POTG Phinisee
Catch of Game Washington 2nd TD
Highlight of Game LeFlore INT
Game MVP Goodman
Press conference audio later…
(Follow the Power on Twitter @AFLPittsburgh.)
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)