By Matt Popchock
7:40 – It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame, whether you’re outdoors or indoors. For our purposes, we choose the latter, as we’re getting ready to watch the Pittsburgh Power (2-5) host the Georgia Force (3-4) on what is being dubbed “Superhero Night.”
The Power are coming off a 58-43 loss at home to Cleveland, and will try again for their second win on their own turf this season. The Force are aiming for their second win on the road in 2012, and they’re coming off a humbling home-field loss as well, a 60-27 decision against the AFL runner-up Arizona Rattlers. Both are trying to avoid three-game losing streaks.
As if Cinco de Mayo couldn’t get any nuttier, the Power encouraged fans to dress up in superhero costumes for the opportunity to win tickets to their remaining home games, among other prizes. For me the best part of the day is the posters being sold out front by Marvel Comics artist Ron Frenz (special thanks to Lisa Jordan as well for the assist on capturing this image):
Meanwhile, first-edition Avengers comic books are being given away to fans. I hope Tribune-Review columnist Dejan Kovacevic is reading this…
Anyway, we’ll have updates from CONSOL Energy Center all night, so keep reading.
7:43 – The Force take the field, with Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time” (don’t mind if I do) over the loudspeakers. It appears R.J. Archer, who was knocked out of last week’s game, may get the nod at QB, contrary to previous reports 30-year-old Kevin Eakin would back him up again. Archer spent last year with the Milwaukee Mustangs, one of the Power’s East Division rivals.
7:46 – The Power are moments away from taking the field, but we do know Pitt product Oderick Turner is expected to get a lot of playing time with Mike Washington and P.J. “Superman” Berry tonight. Washington won AFL Playmaker of the Week for his 13 catches, 170 yards, and three scores last Saturday. We also know former Cleveland DB Davion Mitchell has replaced Jerrett Sanderson in the Power’s secondary.
7:48 – Turner will be making his first appearance since the season opener due to an earlier (undisclosed) injury. Meanwhile, Tyre Young is back in at fullback tonight, and he is out there for pregame introductions. Mike Lucian is out with an undisclosed injury, and Greg Niland is replacing him on the offensive line. Bryan Randall, once again, will start at QB after throwing for 309 yards, 5 TD, and 2 INT last Saturday.
7:52 – By the way, PSU alum Colin Wagner is out, and Raymond “Trey” Kramer, an AFL rookie, is in as the Power’s new kicker. More on him later. Oh…he went to Transylvania University. And no, he was not an extra in “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
7:55 – Local country music star Sarah Marince sings the National Anthem. I remember being privy to her performances back in the day when I would go on location with the “other” KDKA.
7:57 – One other lineup change for the Power I should note: Kyle Wilson, who, like Davion Mitchell, also spent some time with the Gladiators, will line up on Pittsburgh’s defensive front. John Green moved to starting jack linebacker, Anthony DeGrate stays at mac linebacker.
8:00 – We’re about to witness the coin toss…generally it looks like about the same size crowd as the last couple home games…
8:02 – The Power win the toss and defer. Georgia will take the ball and move left to right on your computer screen or mobile device to begin tonight’s game.
8:05 – Kramer, wearing No. 28 for Pittsburgh, has the ball teed up with C.J. Johnson deep to receive. Johnson takes it to his own 14, with Turner, fittingly, making the game’s first tackle.
8:07 – Mitchell with good man-to-man coverage on Larry Shipp on a deep ball. 3rd and long for the Force…and Mitchell again provides blanket coverage to set up 4th down.
8:08 – The Power, who lead the AFL in total yardage allowed, force a 4-and-out. Pittsburgh ball at the Georgia 15.
8:11 – Power catch a break with a defensive holding call, as Randy Hymes was tied up over the middle on Randall’s quick toss.
Touchdown Power! Berry finishes the drive with a 3-yard sweep around left tackle, just getting in for his 3rd rush TD of the year. Kramer converts to give the Power a 7-0 lead with 9:51 left in the 1st quarter.
8:13 – Okay, a little background on Trey Kramer:
Before the Marion Blue Racers of the Ultimate Indoor Football League picked him up, he had no football experience at all. But he was a lifelong soccer player, and the Blue Racers needed a kicker at the time. All he did was boot a game-winning 55-yard field goal to earn a Special Teams Player of the Week award, and he hasn’t looked back.
8:14 – Kramer prevents a TD with a tackle on Johnson near midfield. Johnson averaging over 20 yards per return.
8:17 – Nice pump fake by Archer to shake a blitz, and he hits Shipp in the right flat. Shipp does the rest for his team-leading 16th TD of the year. 29th TD pass this season for Archer. Carlos Martinez clangs the extra point off the right goalpost, his 7th miss of the season, so the Power still lead, 7-6, with 7:28 left.
That 18-yard score makes Shipp the sixth receiver in the AFL to top the 800-yard mark this year.
8:21 – Touchdown Power! Turner with his first AFL TD catch, getting it over the middle, cutting to his left, and using a stiff arm to break free up the near sideline for a 30-yard score. 6th TD pass of the year for Randall, though the Force catch a break with Kramer’s extra point miss off the left upright. Power up 13-6 with five minutes left in the 1st quarter.
8:24 – Nice kickoff by Kramer, but coverage is awful, and Johnson is, uh…fast. He takes it to the Power 20.
8:26 – Illegal defense (“jack out of the box”) called against the Power on an incomplete pass into the Pittsburgh bench. Power did well minimizing penalties the first couple games this season, but it’s been more of a problem lately.
8:29 – On 4th and goal Archer throws his 30th TD pass of the year to an open Michael Johnson for his first TD of the season. Martinez, this time, converts the P.A.T. as time expires. Power and Georgia tied at 13.
Davion Mitchell has been Pittsburgh’s best player defensively. Hasn’t missed a step in pass coverage, and is exploding into the backfield.
8:33 – Berry hasn’t made it out of the end zone yet. He entered the weekend leading the AFL in kick return yards.
8:34 – Washington with what appeared to be an unforced fumble along the far sideline, giving the Force the ball inside the Power 10. Typical Pittsburgh Power turnover.
Not surprisingly, Johnson stumbles into the end zone moments later for his 17th TD of the season. 31st TD pass of the year for Archer. Martinez converts the extra point to give Georgia its first lead, 20-13, with 12:51 left in the half.
This is where the Power would normally fold like a cheap tent. Very important to answer back with a score on this next drive.
8:38 – Berry takes it to his own 13. Turner back out on the field after having to be restrained following the turnover. Was barking at one of the Georgia DB’s, it looked like.
Siegfried doesn’t like what he sees and calls the Power’s first timeout. I’m sensing a case of not everyone in the huddle being on the same page. 12:21 left in the half, same score.
8:42 – Randall matriculating the ball into Georgia territory with passes to Hymes and Young, and a beautiful sideline grab by Turner.
Touchdown Power! Turner gets open in the corner for a 10-yard score, his second TD of the game. 7th TD pass of the year for Randall and second of the night, but Kramer misses again, and misses the nets on the kickoff, giving Georgia a free 20 yards.
8:47 – Power’s defense hanging tough so far, down 20-19. Meanwhile, I’m still not totally fathoming why Wagner was cut. Yes, he had a tough game in New Orleans a couple weeks back, but he couldn’t have done much worse than Kramer so far.
8:49 – A holding call against Mykel Benson, Georgia’s fullback, nullifies an easy C.J. Johnson TD. 3rd and long for the Force at their own 18.
Timeout taken by the Force, their first. They lead 20-19, facing 4th and inches in Pittsburgh territory with 6:31 left in the half.
8:52 – Georgia converts on an option pass from Shipp to C.J. Johnson, though Shipp had room to run where Johnson landed…
8:54 – Shipp gets in front of Chris LeFlore for his second of the night, and the 32nd TD pass of the year for Archer, who looks no worse for the wear after last week. Martinez makes it 27-19 Georgia with 4:18 left in the half.
As usual, a kicker develops ice water in his veins when he plays the Power…
8:57 – Turner gives the Power first-down yardage into the plus side of the field. Having a monster game so far.
8:58 – Mac linebacker Matt Marcorelle called offside, setting up 3rd and 5 for the Power at the 1-minute warning, same score. Randall overthrew Turner and Berry on his two previous attempts.
9:02 – Touchdown Power! Hymes shakes the coverage of Marrio Norman, and scores for the 10th time this year. Third of the game for Randall, and 8th of the season. Kramer redeems himself, so he and the former “Dirty Bird” have cut Georgia’s lead to 27-26 with 54 seconds left.
The last minute of a half can be the craziest in an arena football game. Let’s see what happens…
9:06 – Benson stuffed to set up 2nd and goal after Georgia recovered an onside kick. Your percentages of scoring inside the 10, in theory, actually go down, because there’s less room for the offense to maneuver.
9:08 – Georgia calls its second charged timeout with 33 seconds left. They have one left, while the Power have none.
Moments later, Michael Johnson is overthrown. Not a good toss by Archer, who seemed to have him open. Field goal unit on…
9:10 – …and Martinez misses wide right! Recovered in the back of the end zone by Bryan Williams and returned to his own 11. Moments later, Berry is shouldered on an incomplete pass. Obvious interference not called.
Power can’t score before the end of the half, which ends with Georgia ahead 27-26. Oh well, at least they got a bounce on special teams for a change.
9:25 – 1st half QB comparison:
Archer: 11/18, 65 yds, 4 TD
Randall: 11/16, 138 yds, 3 TD
Both doing a good job protecting the pigskin, considering each team has a lot of talent in their secondary. Power to receive and move right to left to begin the second half.
9:28 – Power begin at their own 3-yard line after Berry’s return. Georgia could teach this team a thing or two about kick coverage.
9:31 – Touchdown Power! A catch to the 20 by Turner sets up a 29-yard dart from Randall to a wide-open Washington down the left post for his team-leading 15th TD reception of the year. Randall now has 9 TD passes on the season, but the extra point is blocked (and unsuccessfully returned by Kramer’s teammates), so the Power’s lead stays at 32-27. We have 12:24 left in the 3rd quarter.
9:34 – Michael Johnson shaken up after John Green stopped him on a kick return out to his own 19 up the far sideline.
9:37 – Pick-six! Green takes a gift from Archer in front of the Georgia bench, gets a block, and takes it to the house from 34 yards out. This time, Kramer makes it work, giving the Power a 39-27 lead with 9:55 left in the 3rd quarter.
Green nearly had a pick-six in the home opener against the Philadelphia Soul Mar. 23, but fumbled four yards short of the end zone.
That’s the Power’s 9th INT as a team, and only the 5th thrown by Archer in 2012.
9:40 – Power catch a break as backup fullback Benji McDowell is called for holding on another nice kickoff return.
9:42 – 3rd and 10 from the Power 10 for the Force. Power defense ramping up the pressure on Archer…
9:44 – Wow. Archer, as he is hit, finds C.J. Johnson, who pulls it in with one hand as his momentum carries him over the wall. Catch-of-the-year material. 7th of the year for Johnson and second of the night. An offside penalty does not deter Martinez, who cuts the Power’s lead to 39-34 with 5:46 left in the 3rd quarter.
9:47 – “Horsehead” from last week is in the stands, and so is head coach Joe Rossi and some of his South Fayette Lions.
9:50 – Tracy Belton, a former Chris Siegfried protege in AF2, now has a league-leading 9 INT’s, and unfortunately for the Power, he also has his first pick-six of the year. Cut off Randy Hymes’ route, and took it up the far sideline from about 20 yards away. Martinez makes it 41-39 Georgia with 3:23 left in the 3rd quarter.
9:53 – The Force are starting to flex their muscles defensively, “forcing” a 3rd and long at the Power 7 yard line. Fortunately Hymes moves the chains along the near sideline.
9:55 – Power will have another 3rd and long, this time at their own 23, at the start of the 4th quarter, same score.
Each game, with the exception of the historic Orlando game, has been a photo negative of the one before it. Power start well but trip over their own two feet before the finish line. Can they finish this time?
9:58 – Nice catch by Hymes, wrestling the ball away from Belton.
4,117 is the attendance I’m being unofficially quoted.
Touchdown Power! Hymes is all alone for his second in as many quarters. Kramer connects to make it 46-41 Power with just 1:12 gone of the final period. 11th of the year for receiver, and 10th of the year for QB Randall.
10:02 – Kramer puts one off the upright, but Georgia still gets possession at its own 11…after Kramer makes the tackle. This kid does it all…
10:06 – C.J. Johnson just made the Power defense, in its entirety, look silly, taking the ball to the Pittsburgh 10 after cutting inside.
10:08 – Benson, Archer’s teammate in Milwaukee, falls forward for his third rush TD of the year. Martinez converts a kick that is nearly blocked by Terrance Taylor to give Georgia a 48-46 lead with 9:30 left in the game.
10:12 – Berry stopped again inside his own 5 yard line. Hard to remember many instances tonight of the Power starting with good field position. Fortunately Washington picks up a first down up the near sideline at his own 20.
10:16 – Touchdown Power! Georgia DL Louis Ellis shaken up, as Randall takes advantage of a blitz to hit a wide-open Moqut Ruffins, lined up as a tight end, for a 6-yard score. Second TD of the year for Ruffins, and Randall now has 11 TD passes since taking over the starting job. But Martinez misses again, leaving the score 52-48 Power with 5:49 left.
10:20 – Archer answers back with a 35-yard dart to C.J. Johnson, who makes a falling (slightly less acrobatic) catch for his third TD of the night. LeFlore was with him, but needed to turn around and never did. Martinez makes it 55-52 Georgia with 3:12 left.
Will the Power go right for the end zone? My money is on them trying to shorten the game and keeping things simple, while denying Georgia a possession.
10:23 – Wow! Hymes with a Lynn Swann one-handed catch of 34 yards up the far side! First down Power.
10:25 – Hymes can’t hang on at the goal line as he’s bumped around, and Rolanda Cole makes what could be a back-breaking interception. Sounds like a broken record by now.
10:27 – Georgia expends its first timeout with 1:05 left, then the 1-minute warning is announced.
10:32 – All things considered, the Power just got jobbed on consecutive pass interference calls. 49 seconds left.
10:34 – After an incomplete pass, another call against Pittsburgh for illegal defense, and this one also looked very suspect. Been a while since I’ve seen Siegfried and DC Derek Stingley this animated.
10:39 – No timeouts left for the Power. Georgia on the Power’s 4 yard line. 3rd and goal. Basically, if they just get forward progress, the game’s over.
And it did. Four missed extra points, other missed opportunities, and 55-52 Georgia is your final. Power travel to San Antonio next week before hosting Kansas City.
Offensive POTG – Turner
Defensive POTG – Green
Ironman of the Game – C.J. Johnson
Playmaker of the Game – Turner
Catch of the Game – Johnson 1-handed TD (also Highlight of the Game)
Game MVP – Oderick Turner
Exciting game, but definitely another loss that could easily have been a win. Shame the zebras had to become a factor in the final minute.
Press conference highlights later.