By Matt Popchock

7:45 PM – To steal a line from one of my media pals and favorite local bloggers, Post-Gazette “Empty Netters” author Seth Rorabaugh…hey, guess where we are?

Indeed, the above photo speaks the truth; we are live at CONSOL Energy Center as the Pittsburgh Power (3-4) take on the Spokane Shock (3-4), and I’ll be bringing you updates as the night goes on…

7:50 PM – Team is introduced.  Bernard Morris, fresh off IR, back at QB in lieu of Anthony Morelli.  New WR D.J. Hall, also off IR, making his debut.  Mick Walsh, a 10-year-old from Upper St. Clair, representing the Make-A-Wish foundation, runs out with the team and is introduced first to great cheers.  Real classy for the team to make him a part of the family the way they did this week.

8:00 PM – Rousing standing ovation for Clairton P.O. James Guzak, who is wheelchair-bound after being shot in the line of duty.  He’s the guest of honor for the coin toss…which the Power win.  They defer to the second half, kicking right to left.

8:06 PM – Not the start the Power wanted.  DB Terrance Sanders takes the opening kick end to end for a TD.  Second time a kick return TD has been yielded by the Power in three games.  Pretty much followed his blockers, found a seam up the near sideline, and was off to the races.  Extra point by Taylor Rownan clangs off the right upright.  Only the fourth P.A.T. miss of the year by Rownan.  6-0 Spokane, about a minute in.

8:11 PM – TOUCHDOWN POWER!  Bernard Morris rolls to his right and keeps it himself, scrambling 30 yards up the far sideline, almost untouched.  Penalty for illegal defense is declined.  Extra point by Paul Edinger is good.  Morris 1-for-2 on the drive, and his lone completion was good for a first down to Jason Willis.  7-6 Power, 12:04 left, 1st quarter.

8:14 PM – Xavier Lee hanging back in kick coverage to prevent lightning from striking twice.

8:17 PM – After the Power thought they had recovered a fumble that was ruled a dead ball, two players later they do get a turnover, as Lonnell DeWalt picks off a Kyle Rowley pass that was tipped.  Tenth INT of the year by Rowley, the AFL leader in TD passes with 50 (and one of the leaders in pass efficiency).

8:20 PM – Story of the year for the Power at home…most times they catch a break, they can’t seem to take advantage.  Morris overthrows Mike Washington down the middle near midfield, Sanders intercepts and takes the ball all the way to Pittsburgh’s 8 yard line.  Timeout Power, first of the first half.  Still 7-6 Pittsburgh, 9:32 left, 1st quarter.

8:24 PM – You can’t give a good QB like Rowley a second chance.  He finds Raul Vijil against the wall just inside the end zone after top receiver Greg Orton dropped one in the back.  Extra point by Rownan is good.  13-7 Spokane, 8:18 left, 1st quarter.

8:26 PM – Jason Willis returning kicks tonight for the Power…

8:27 PM – …and DJ Hall makes his first-ever catch with Pittsburgh, good for a first down near midfield.

8:28 PM – This time the Power catch a break; Joshua Rue’s knee is ruled down ahead of the first down marker on 2nd-and-1 after fumbling the ball.

8:32 PM – TOUCHDOWN POWER! On 4th-and-goal from the 5, Morris fires a dart to Jason Willis in the back corner.  7th of the year for Willis, who leads the Power in all-purpose yards.  Edinger’s P.A.T. is good, but he is creamed by Khreem Smith.  Tempers heat up, Edinger eventually gets up under his own power after getting medical attention.  Roughing the kicker penalty on Spokane, as tempers heat up.  Power head coach Chris Siegfried visibly angry about that one…can’t say I blame him.  14-13 Power, 2:13 left, 1st quarter.

8:40 PM – End of the 1st quarter, Power lead Spokane 14-13.  Spokane will begin 2nd quarter with the ball on the Pittsburgh 10 yard line.  Tight game, with the Power playing some inspired football on both sides.  And win or lose, they’ve certainly scored a lot of PR points, as previously mentioned.

(By the way, P.O. Guzak was here in honor of “Public Safety Awareness Night.” Sorry for leaving that out earlier.)

8:46 PM – The Power force a turnover on downs as Rowley’s pass to the back corner goes over everyone’s head incomplete on 4th and long from the Pittsburgh 16 yard line.  Good double coverage by Carlos Campbell and DeWalt on that play.  12:19 left, 2nd quarter, 14-13 Power.  Let’s see if the Power can get something off this one…

8:53 PM – Unfortunately Morris throws three incompletions, then loses four yards on a 4th down fumble.  Ball turned back over to Spokane at the Pittsburgh 11 with about ten minutes left in the second quarter.

8:55 PM – Rowley sneaks one in to Orton along the wall on 4th and goal.  19th TD of the year for Orton, one of the most productive receivers in the league this season.  Rownan extra point is good.  20-14 Spokane, 7:07 left, 2nd quarter.

9:04 PM – One-minute warning.  20-14 Spokane.  Power have driven to the Spokane 10 yard line, facing 3rd-and-9.  Drive fueled by a couple keepers by Morris and a check-down to lineman/eligible receiver Nick Zeck that put Pittsburgh deep into Spokane territory.  One timeout left for Power, the Shock have all three.

9:07 PM – Josh Rue can’t make a difficult catch on a timing pattern in the end zone.  Turnover on downs.  Spokane ball at their own 10.  0:52 left, 2nd quarter.

9:10 PM – With nine seconds left in the half, Shaun Kauleinamoku catches one down the middle for an 11-yard TD strike.  53rd of the year for Rowley.  11th touchdown of the year for Kauleinamoku (try typing that three times fast…).  Extra point by Rownan good.  27-14 Spokane.

9:15 PM – Halftime…27-14 Spokane.  Emotions still running high; one of the Spokane special teams players has been ejected after a personal foul…looks to be unlisted wide receiver Chas Gessner.  Power will get the ball to begin the 2nd half.  Once again, defensively, the Power are playing hard against another talented QB in Rowley (this is the second straight home game Chris Siegfried has had to face his QB from another coaching job).  But offensively, they’re getting out-executed, and missed opportunities continue to dog them.

1st half QB comparison…Rowley 10-for-20, one INT, 106 yards, 3 TD…Morris 8-for-20 for 71 yards, one INT, one TD, sacked twice.  Gotta keep it in context with the rust factor, but that’s just not going to cut it…and his receivers have dropped a couple.  On the plus side, the Power’s defense has Rowley a bit off his usual pace.  Hopefully that trend continues in the second half.

Jason Willis (Pittsburgh) and Greg Orton (Spokane) each lead their respective teams with four catches.  Orton with 53 yards and one TD, Willis with 33 yards and a score.

Power 1-for-1 in red zone (in arena football, inside the 10 yard line) efficiency, but that’s a bit deceiving.  This team, with its revolving door of healthy QB’s, is struggling to use the short field–again.

Time of possession: Power 17:08, Shock 12:52.  Power are shortening the game, like they seemingly want to, but again, gotta come away with points…

9:34 PM – Weirdest special teams play of the year…ball takes a wild bounce off the hard net (all kickoffs are live balls in arena football), but takes a very lucky bounce off a couple bodies and right to an up man, LaRico Stevenson of the Power, who almost takes it all the way.  Face mask against the Shock gives Power 1st-and-goal from the 5.

9:35 PM – TOUCHDOWN POWER! Morris shakes off a would-be sack by Lance Witherspoon, then takes off to his right for an easy 5-yard score.  Second of the night for Morris.  Paul Edinger, no worse for the wear, converts the P.A.T.  Power cut the deficit to 27-21, 13:17 left, 3rd quarter.

9:40 PM – Davon Benson’s sack is nullified by an encroachment penalty.  Third time the Power have done that, if memory serves.

9:42 PM – Rowley threads the needle to Raul Vijil for a 10-yard touchdown.  Carlos Campbell barely missed a pass deflection, maybe a shot at an INT too.  Extra point by Rownan is good.  Second of the night for Vijil, 14th of the 2011 campaign.  34-21 Spokane, 9:10 left, 3rd quarter.

9:47 PM – TOUCHDOWN POWER! An unbelievable one-handed catch by Mike Washington for a 31-yard score! 7th of the year for Washington.  Edinger’s kick is blocked by Khreem Smith…fourth P.A.T. block of the season.  34-27 Spokane, 7:17 left, 3rd quarter.  Crowd was really fired up on that one.  Can the “D” build off that energy?

9:55 PM – Yes they did.  Turnover on downs at the Pittsburgh 4 yard line.  Big play of the drive was Davon Benson’s 2nd down sack, his second in as many games.  Moments later, Morris is victimized by a coverage sack…third Spokane sack of the night.

9:58 PM – TOUCHDOWN POWER! Morris, after a defensive offside penalty to Terrance Taylor that gave Pittsburgh a first down, hits Washington wide open down the middle for a 34-yard catch-and-run.  Second of the quarter for “The Joystick,” 8th TD catch of the season.  Edinger’s extra point ties the game 34-34…54 seconds left, 3rd quarter.

10:00 PM – We’ve got us a tooth-and-nail ballgame at the end of the 3rd quarter…Pittsburgh Power 34, Spokane Shock 34.  Could we be one quarter away from a big statement win?

10:06 PM – Big 4th down conversion by Spokane all the way down to the Power 11.  Emory Sammons hauls in a pass down the middle, LaRico Stevenson shaken up after making a touchdown-saving tackle, but eventually leaves the field on his own, albeit slowly.

10:10 PM – The Power take over on downs! Incomplete pass by Rowley into the crowd on 4th-and-goal from the 3. Stevenson came right back in and helped break up a pass on 3rd down.

10:13 PM – Jason Willis makes a great over-the-shoulder grab on 3rd-and-10…1st and goal Power at the Spokane 8 yard line.

10:14 PM – TOUCHDOWN POWER! Morris hits D.J. Hall over the middle on a slant for his first TD in a Pittsburgh uniform.  Four TD tosses tonight for Morris…11 now on the season.  What a turnaround for him tonight.  Edinger’s kick is good…41-34 Power, 8:06 left, 4th quarter.

(Charlie Batch in attendance tonight with a couple of the other Steelers, it looks like…just saw them on press row TV’s.)

10:22 PM – OL Clay Harrell rumbles in from the 1-yard-line for a Spokane touchdown.  Big play on the drive was a nice over-the-shoulder grab by Vijil on 4th and short from just inside the Spokane 20 that set up 1st and goal.  Rownan’s extra point ties the game 41-41…3:47 left, 4th quarter.

10:25 PM – Bill Stull, the former Seton-LaSalle/Pitt star, and Rowley’s backup, just made a special teams tackle.  (He seems to have a bunch of family/friends in orange Spokane Shock t-shirts sitting front row behind the Spokane bench, if my eyes do not deceive me…)

10:30 PM – One minute warning.  41-41.  Power with the ball, 2nd and 7, on the Spokane 10.  What a finish…

(By the way, I’ve completed my game awards ballot…among the highlights…Washington was a shoo-in for Catch of the Game and Highlight of the Game.  Voted for Terrance Sanders of the Shock for Ironman of the Game.)

10:32 PM – Timeout Spokane, their first.  Power have all three.  3rd and 3 from the 6.  0:55 left.

10:35 PM – TOUCHDOWN POWER! Morris fires one in there to Willis for his 2nd TD of the game…8th of the year.  Fifth TD toss of the night for Morris.  Edinger converts the all-important extra point with 0:50 left in regulation…48-41 Power.

10:38 PM – Interception by LaRico Stevenson on an overthrown ball!  Power take over, trying to kill clock, 0:32 left.  Still, though, anything can happen in the last minute of arena football…

10:39 PM – Morris gains a yard to keep the clock going, but the Shock call their 2nd timeout…29 seconds left.  2nd and 9.  Then another yard gained…and the Shock call their last timeout with 0:24 left.  3rd and 8 from the Power’s own 20.  Then the refs rule Morris did not gain a yard, so the clock stops, per AFL one-minute-left rules, with 19 seconds left.  4th down…

10:44 PM – The Power try a long field goal…and it’s good!  Amazingly, Edinger gets enough of it for a 44-yard field goal.  Clutch!  51-41 Power.  15 seconds left.

10:50 PM – That’s the ballgame!  Power defeat Spokane 51-41!  Power raise record to 4-4, Shock fall to 3-5.

Offensive Player of the Game – Morris (PIT)

Defensive Player of the Game – DeWalt (PIT)

Ironman of the Game – Sanders (SPO)

Playmaker – Mike Washington (PIT)

Catch of the Game – Washington

Highlight of the Game – Washington

Player of the Game – Washington

More to come…

Post-game press scrum highlights:

Chris Siegfried: Team probably, or at least hopefully, grew up a little bit tonight. Defense played two great halves against a great offense (“Quite frankly, they shouldn’t have scored 41.”). Threw some stuff at Rowley he didn’t expect, like putting DeWalt at jack linebacker. Was pretty sure Morris would start at QB all week long, barring something catastrophic; kept it fairly quiet because he didn’t want Spokane to be fully prepared for Morris. Says it’s tough to understand the nature of his injury; he hadn’t thrown a ball for four or five weeks. Once Morris “got dialed in” in the second half, team took off. DJ Hall, who caught the winning TD, will hopefully become a very integral part of this offense. Team is getting healthier; Neal Purvis is back on the OL/DL, might get Josh Lay back this week. Team feels after a game like this they can beat anybody. Told Edinger he would make final field goal.

Bernard Morris: Team fought through first-half frustrations, not being able to execute “easy routes.” Most noticeable lingering ailment since coming off IR is the simple fact he hasn’t done a lot of running, not even in practice. Thinks this can be a statement game for the team. The two scrambles that led to touchdowns were a simple byproduct of him trying to make plays on the fly. Most impressed by the way the team stayed mentally in the game and competed in the second half. Says he wasn’t surprised Mike Washington made one-handed touchdown catch (“That’s what he’s there for, to make plays.”).

Paul Edinger: Says Khreem Smith hit him in the shoulder on blocked extra point. Hardest he’s been hit since taking one as Jacksonville’s kicker against Chicago last season, definitely among the hardest he ever remembers. First worry was about who was going to kick if he couldn’t go back in (he figured Mike Washington would do it, per his past kicking experience at Aliquippa), second worry was about whether the kick was good or not. Took him a little bit to get the feeling back in his hand. Relied upon his history as a clutch kicker to prepare for 44-yard field goal. Good special teams play week to week has been a byproduct of “guys who are hungry.” Locker room was “ecstatic” after the win.

Mike Washington: One-handed catch not the greatest of his career (recalls one he made at Hawaii against Boise State), but it was definitely special to him given the significance of the game, beating a league champion. Defensive coordinator Mo Blanding gave a speech at halftime that everyone took to heart (about being resigned to losing, as opposed to the feeling you get after a win); he’s normally pretty soft-spoken. Not necessarily a statement game to him, but definitely a game the team feels like it can build off. Once they improve their chemistry and cut down on mistakes on offense, he likes where the team is headed. Injuries have definitely disrupted that chemistry; it’s tough to stay healthy in the AFL, because with the shorter field, it’s an even more physical game. Looks up to guys like Willis and Morris for leadership.

In addition, the team marveled at defensive lineman Terrance Carter for playing despite losing his grandmother earlier this week. They talked about how it inspired them and how they came together as a group on this night.

Final numbers:

Morris: 18-of-33, 226 yards, 5 TD, INT, 3 sacks; 8 carries for 66 yards, 2 TD

Washington: 5 receptions, 85 yards, 2 TD

Willis: 7 receptions, 87 yards, 2 TD; led the team with 149 all-purpose yards

DeWalt: shared the team lead with 5.5 tackles (5 solo), one interception, one pass breakup

Stevenson: shared the team lead with 5.5 tackles (5 solo), one fumble recovery, one interception, two pass breakups

Benson: 4.5 tackles (3 solo), 2 sacks

Rowley: 19-for-44, 244 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT, 2 sacks; 4 carries for 24 yards

Vijil: 5 receptions, 61 yards, 2 TD

Orton: 4 receptions, 53 yards, TD

Harrell: 3 carries, 13 yards, TD

Smith: 5.5 tackles (4 solo), 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble, one blocked pass, blocked extra point

Sanders: 5 returns, 126 yards, TD; 4 solo tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery, led team with 147 all-purpose yards

A couple other numbers that stood out to me…the Power outscored Spokane 37-14 in the 2nd half.  Usually it’s the other way around.

Morris was 10-of-13 in the 2nd half for 155 yards.  Rowley was 9-of-24 in the half for 138.

The Power overcame their problems finishing drives and scored on all four red zone trips, and forced three turnovers on downs inside their own red zone (Spokane was 3-for-6).  Pittsburgh scored on all six 2nd half possessions.

Attendance was 6,756.  Unfortunately the smallest crowd of the season–but it didn’t feel that way as the game went on.  There was a definite energy in the building.  Plus, the Pirates were in action across the river, and it was “Fireworks Night”–usually a big draw for them–so I guess you can take that figure with a grain of salt.

Final thoughts:

It was probably a blessing in disguise the way the Power fell behind early.  It seems like the team needed to win a game like this one, coming from behind at home against a respectable opponent.  All year long this team has had trouble finishing games, and maybe a couple weeks ago, they would have conceived ways to lose this one and let it get out of hand.  Maybe this will be a turning point?

For all the praise I typically heap upon the Power’s defense, this is the first time they’ve been able to contain an elite quarterback.  Those who were in attendance saw them at their best, and Stevenson and Benson continued the trend of guys coming into this team this season and not missing a beat.  The decision by Chris Siegfried to be unconventional and put receiver Lonnell DeWalt at jack linebacker simply because he’s a good athlete and a big body turned out to be a good one.

Another decision I hope Chris Siegfried makes–assuming this guy isn’t still sore after this game–is sticking with Bernard Morris.  The team really seemed to respond to him, and we saw more offensive rhythm in the second half than we’ve seen for much of the season.  And like Anthony Morelli, his fearlessness when it comes to scrambling gives the Power options when he’s back there.

We’ll see you next week as the Power take on the San Jose SaberCats, another West Division foe.  They’ll be facing another elite QB in Mark Grieb and will need just the same monster effort they put forth against this veteran team.

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