By Matt Popchock


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We are live from CONSOL Energy Center as the Pittsburgh Power (1-2) take on the Iowa Barnstormers (1-2) on what the home team has dubbed “Military Appreciation Night!” Hopefully the Power will be able to camouflage their inconsistencies on offense, which have really hurt them in back-to-back losses to division rivals Philadelphia and Milwaukee, and get back on the left side of the ledger tonight.

Kurt Warner

(Photo credit: Arena Football League)

The Barnstormers are also coming off back-to-back losses, including a one-point overtime loss to the Chicago Rush that came down to a missed extra point. Kurt Warner’s former team is coached by Mike Hohensee, the original quarterback of the Pittsburgh Gladiators. The Gladiators were one of the AFL’s seminal franchises, later becoming the Tampa Bay Storm.

We’ll have periodic updates throughout tonight’s game, so stay logged on…

7:07 – Early impressions of the camouflage jerseys: I love how this franchise honors the men and women who served our country, but yellow numbers on camo clothing, from a journalist’s point of view, are a pain in the butt to decipher.

7:10 – Speaking of jerseys, I really wish I had Post-Gazette “Empty Netters” blogger Seth Rorabaugh’s prowess with a phone camera. Number one, I had a pic of a guy at the arena last year wearing a Kurt Warner Barnstormers home jersey. I think I lost that one when my old phone died. Number two, I saw a guy outside the media entrance, today, wearing a black t-shirt with a picture of a yellow Atari joystick in the middle, with the word “Joystick!” underneath. Gotta love it.

Mick Walsh

(Photo credit: Pittsburgh Power Football)

7:12 – As the Barnstormers prepare to take the field, I see a jersey that makes us all smile–that of “Mick” Walsh. Mick, an Upper St. Clair native, was the Make-A-Wish kid the Power sponsored last year, and for what it’s worth, he seemed to be a good-luck charm too…

7:20 – The Power take the field and are introduced by our own Bubba Snider (“The Bubba Show,” Star 100.7). Probable starters: Andrico Hines at QB, Washington, Berry, and Perry Baker at WR, Tyre Young at FB; Mike Lucian, Beau Elliott, Moqut Ruffins up front. Look for Jason Jones to debut on the O-line at some point tonight, so I’ve been told. No DeWalt due to a hamstring injury, though I’m also hearing rumors of a personal dispute between him and head coach Chris Siegfried. Still, there is no official word on DeWalt’s rumored departure.

Probables on defense are LaRico Stevenson, Chris LeFlore, and Bryan Williams at DB; Justin Parrish and John Green at LB; Dominie Pittman, Terrance Taylor, and Neil Purvis up front.

7:25 – Sgt. Ashley Tack of the National Guard with the National Anthem.

7:27 – Iowa’s QB will be J.J. Raterink, a 3-year veteran who spent last year with Chicago and the Kansas City Command. Probables on offense at Marco Thomas, Chris Matthews, and Jesse Schmidt at WR; Rodney Filer, another journeyman, at fullback; Ale Linnenkohl, B.J. Cabbell, and Cornelius Lewis up front. Schmidt has caught 10 TD passes.

7:28 – A rope-climbing demonstration is taking place as Military Appreciation Night activities continue. A 130-foot descent from the roof of CONSOL Energy Center…yikes. Meanwhile, Iowa probables on defense are: Alfred Peterson, Justin Mincey, and Rodney Gnat up front; John Mohring and Will Patterson at LB; Derrick Pegues, Jason Simpson, and Cameron McGlenn at DB.

7:32 – Coin toss. Power win, defer to second half. Kicking right to left.

7:33 – PSU kicker Collin Wagner, who was challenged in practice this week, will kick for the Power. By AFL standards, looks like a low turnout…

7:35 – Kickoff goes into the stands, and bounces back out. Touchback to the 5 yard line. Heck, if I’m that fan, I make more of a play for the ball…

7:41 – The Power’s defense digs in, and forces a 4-and-out at their own 5. LaRico Stevenson with nice coverage on a pass intended for Jesse Schmidt to force a turnover on downs.

A call for illegal defense that would have gone against the Power was nullified.

7:43 – First down Power inside the Iowa 10. Hines missed Berry deep (and open), but found Randy Hymes for big yardage.

7:45 – TV timeout with 7:07 left in a scoreless 1st quarter.

7:47 – Hines, with time, overshoots Hymes in the back of the end zone. Takes a bad bounce off the wall, intercepted by Antoine Thompson, who takes it to the Iowa 20. An all-too-familiar sight: missed opportunities.

7:51 – Filer scores falling forward from 2 yards out. Back of his jersey is gashed, not sure why. Craig Camay’s extra point is good. (Mike Scanlone missed the extra point that cost them last week’s game.) 7-0 Iowa, 4:38 left, 1st quarter.

7:54 – Power catch a break as the ensuing kickoff avoids the hard nets, or so they say. That’s a penalty, and it’s Power ball at their own 20.

7:55 – Touchdown Power! P.J. Berry, completely trapped, reverses his field, follows a couple blocks, and outraces the secondary for a 30-yard score! Instant classic. They don’t call him “Superman” for nothing. 7th TD pass of the year for Hines, extra point is good. 7-7 with 3:24 left in the 1st.

Upon further review, 8th of the year for Hines. 2nd TD catch of the year for Berry.

8:00 – Raterink working the sidelines, using Thomas a lot. Power defense showing good pursuit.

8:01 – 7-7 at the end of the 1st quarter. Iowa will begin the 2nd with first and goal. Thomas has shown some nice moves, and Schmidt has been strangely quiet. I don’t know whether to be worried about that, or to simply complement the Power’s secondary on doing a nice job against a good receiver.

8:06 – Power open the 2nd quarter with an impressive red-zone stand. Once again, Stevenson wins the one-on-one battle with Schmidt, and the line is actually getting through to the QB. Power ball at their own 8 yard line.

8:08 – Baker drops one in the back corner of the end zone. Classic Limas Sweed moment. But yes, ladies and gentlemen, he can run.

8:12 – Power matriculating the ball instead of going for the quick strike. With a backup QB, simplicity makes sense.

8:14 – Now Pittsburgh does take its first timeout of the half, and it comes with 8:33 to the break. Power face 4th down and 6 from the Iowa 14. A couple of incomplete attempts in the end zone; Washington looked like he might have been interfered with on the first, and Hymes got tied up on the second.

8:16 – Touchdown Power! Hines finds Hymes (say that three times fast) over the middle on a slant, and Hymes walks unmolested into the end zone. 9th of the year for the QB, 3rd TD catch of the year for the former Baltimore Birdie. Wagner, despite a pre-snap penalty, converts the extra point. 14-7 Power, 7:55 left, 2nd quarter.

8:20 – Jason Simpson has started the year really well as Iowa’s kick returner, and he bursts up the middle to the Iowa 20.

8:25 – Thomas sneaks in for a 2-yard rush TD right before his knee hit the ground. That was set up by a pass interference penalty on Stevenson in the end zone while covering Schmidt. Camay converts, and it’s 14-14 with 3:22 left in the half.

It seems apologetic to say this right after a score, but I like the way the defensive line is playing for the Power tonight. Neil Purvis having a strong game, and they’re doing a good job stringing plays out.

8:28 – John Mohring scores off a net recovery. Ricocheted off the bottom rung. Washington, the up-man, should’ve had that ball. Camay misses wide right, so that at least softens the blow. 20-14 Iowa with 2:30 left in the half.

8:30 – I just said, two seconds ago, now would be a good time for Berry to take one to the house. And guess what happened? Touchdown Power! Berry redeems himself with his 1st KR TD of the year, cutting right to left up the far sideline, and Wagner makes it 21-20 Power, just like that. 1:35 till the break.

8:34 – Iowa recovers an onside kick at the Power 13, and Bryan Williams just misses an interception in the end zone…

8:38 – Power looked like they had a 4th down stop, but a controversial call for illegal defense (jack linebacker was outside the box) goes against them. Not sure about that one; QB was scrambling, which should nullify that infraction. Siegfried appears to be challenging, at the very least, the spot of the ball for the next play…

8:41 – The challenge produced nothing. Crowd getting into it, as Iowa lines up at the Power 7 with :41 left.

8:43 – Filer crosses for his 2nd rush TD of the night, 4th of the year with :31 left. Camay makes the extra point for a 27-21 Iowa lead.

8:47 – 1st down Power, who take their 2nd timeout with 14 seconds left. Ball at their own 13.

8:49 – Touchdown Power! After a heady catch-and-run by Washington to establish field position and stop the clock, Berry outraces the coverage and scores with 3 seconds left. Wagner’s kick makes it 28-27 moments before halftime. 10th TD pass of the year, 3rd of the game for Hines. Berry has now scored three times. 4th TD reception this year.

8:51 – Halftime, with the Power up 28-27. Definitely playing more inspired football, in all three phases, than last Thursday.

1st half stats:

Hines 13/18, 152 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT

Raterink 11/22, 137 yds

Filer 5 rush 17 yds 2 TD

Berry 4 catches, 50 yds, 2 TD; 2 KR, 67 yds, TD

Williams 5.0 tackles (4 solo)

Frankly, if the Power can come out and score on this first drive of the half, and just stay the course, they should be all right. Historically, though, we all know that’s a big “if.”

9:04 – Play is about to resume. Iowa kicking left to right.

9:05 – Kick takes a lousy bounce, but Berry handles it well–so well he takes it all the way inside the Iowa 15. Power in business right off the hop…

9:08 – Hymes gets lit up in the left flat, and Simpson picks it off. Tough break for Hines on that play. Tyre Young stops Simpson at the Power 17.

9:11 – Chris Matthews harballs his way into the end zone from about ten yards out. 5th of the year for him, 1st TD pass of the night for Raterink. That’s Raterink’s 18th TD pass of the season. Camay puts it through, and it’s 34-28 Iowa. 11:43 left, 3rd quarter.

9:15 – Pass interference on Derrick Pegues, covering Berry one-on-one. Ten bonus yards and a much needed 1st down. Ball on Power 16.

9:16 – Berry blatantly interfered with again, this time by Cam McGlenn, but no call this time. Don’t know how they missed that one.

9:18 – Hymes lets one sail through his hands, and it’s picked off by Simpson again. He runs it back to the Power 14. Not good…

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9:20 – Raterink sneaks one in from inside the five. Like I said earlier, history not on the Power’s side. Camay converts for a 41-28 Iowa lead with 5:55 left in the 3rd, their biggest advantage of the game. 2nd rush TD of the year for him.

In the brief history of this franchise, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen the Power play well in the 3rd quarter. This is not one of them.

9:28 – Another nice shake and bake by Berry. He looks determined not to let this thing get out of hand.

9:30 – Berry on the bench after being hit up high on a running play a couple plays back…until now. He’s out there for a crucial 4th down.

9:31 – Touchdown Power! T.G.I.J. (Thank God it’s Joystick.) Washington all alone near side for his first TD of the night as the 3rd quarter expires. Wagner converts, and it’s 41-35 Iowa. Huge answer by the Power after two very preventable turnovers.

Hines has 11 TD passes on the year, and Washington now has 7 TD catches on the year.

9:38 – Matthews hauls one in out in the open, breaks a tackle, and scores standing up. Camay makes it 48-35 Iowa with 11:50 left in the game. The big play has been just out of the reach of the Power’s defense. 6th of the year for Matthews.

The one silver lining at the moment is that P.J. Berry has monopolized my game awards ballot, which I submitted a short while ago. He’s been downright fun to watch in this game.

9:45 – Hymes is overthrown on 4th and goal from the 2. Could’ve been interference, unless they say both were pushing and shoving. In any event, Power defense needs a stop, like, now-ish.

9:47 – I’m told it’s Jason Simpson’s birthday. That would explain a thing or two…

9:49 – Barnstormers move it out near midfield with 6 minutes left. Dan Bylsma spotted outside one of the tunnels. A “Flyers (…)” chant goes up.

9:52 – Horse-collar tackle called on Justin Parrish that nullifies a sack. At the risk of sounding like a sore loser, this crew is in midseason form.

9:54 – Iowa lining up for a short field goal attempt as the Power called their first timeout with 2:28 left, down by 13.

9:57 – They eschew the field goal attempt, but Raterink is denied on a sneak over the right side. Power now need points in a hurry, and a probable onside kick recovery.

Attendance announced at 4,491.

10:00 – Power get an even-up call on a pass interference penalty that occured as the pass was deflected. Two minutes left. Iowa is challenging the penalty call (which wouldn’tnecessarily happen in the NFL or NCAA).

10:02 – Sounds like the call stands.

10:03 – Hines tries to hit Washington deep…Simpson somehow keeps the ball from hitting the ground, and bats it to McGlenn, who runs it deep into Power territory.

This team invents ways to lose; I would argue each interception tonight has not been the fault of the quarterback. Receivers let a couple go, and got a couple bad bounces.

10:06 – Filer scores on a run at the 1-minute warning. At this point, I expect a lot of guys in black and gold to be fighting for jobs starting next week, when the Power host Orlando for a Saturday night game. The Predators have given the Power their only win.

Once again, the team played a much more inspired brand of football tonight, but bottom line, they need to go back to school when it comes to finishing games. Iowa is an improved team this season, but this is definitely one that got out of hand.

10:12 – Hines finds Washington inside the near corner of the end zone for his second TD of the night. Extra point by Wagner is good. 55-42 Iowa with 14 seconds left, so naturally, we wait an onside kick.

Iowa recovers at the Pittsburgh 14 yard line.

10:16 – Final: 55-42 Iowa.

Offensive POTG – Berry

Defensive POTG – Simpson

Ironman of the Game – Hymes

Playmaker of the Game – Berry

Catch of the Game – 4th down TD by Berry

Highlight of the Game – Berry KR TD

Game MVP – Berry

Yeesh. Another perfectly winnable home game goes by the wayside.

Press conference highlights to come…

1:45 – Press conference, albeit a relatively short one this time, has been edited. You could cut through the tension with a knife when Siegfried was at the podium, though frankly I suspect it was just as much disbelief as anger or frustration. He’s been around the game of arena football a while, but even he had a tough time figuring out how his team let this one slip away:

Andrico Hines and P.J. Berry, who shared the podium tonight, opened up a little bit more. Berry talked about his own experience being on teams that struggled out of the gate and got their seasons turned around, while Hines was understandably critical of his own game, and talked a lot about the need for team chemistry to continue improving:

Final numbers:

Hines 27/44, 299 yds, 5 TD, 5 INT

Raterink 19/34, 234 yds, 2 TD; 4 rush, 6 yds, TD

Berry 281 all-purpose yds, 2 TD rec., 1 KR TD

Washington 6 catches, 69 yds, 2 TD

Matthews 7 catches, 114 yds, 2 TD

Filer 11 rush, 28 yds, 3 TD

Simpson 130 all-purpose yds, 9.5 tackles (9 solo), 1 tackle for loss, 2 INT

Williams 8.5 tackles (7 solo), 3 pass breakups

Stevenson 5.5 tackles (4 solo), 1 pass breakup

Iowa had 21 first downs to Pittsburgh’s 19, though the Power out-gained the Barnstormers, 294 net yards to 271.

Iowa went 1/4 on 4th down, while Pittsburgh went 2/4.

Iowa possessed the ball about 7:00 longer than Pittsburgh, with the majority of the Power’s possession time coming in the 3rd quarter (once again, the Power didn’t score in that period until right before the horn).

Final thoughts:

First of all, let me preface this by saying I bumped into center and former Highlands great Beau Elliott outside the arena, on my way back to my car. First formal meeting of any kind, and he seems like a stand-up guy through and through. Laughing on the outside, but obviously not on the inside, he just kind of shook his head and said, “I can’t remember the last time I lost three in a row.”

I think that pretty much encapsulates the mood of the team after this one. There was probably some head-shaking on that Power bench, and I think Siegfried reflected that after the game. This started out looking very much like the night the Power were going to turn things around, but ultimately they concocted a way to lose. Chemistry is the ultimate intangible, and it isn’t something you can coach, buy, or trade for. Either it’s there, or it isn’t. I saw more of it out on the field Friday night, but needless to say, there still isn’t enough of it to get the team to play better. I certainly don’t think anybody in that locker room foresaw such a rocky start, even after the unusual events that led directly up to the beginning of the season, and I think it goes back to guys getting caught feeling sorry for themselves.

Having said that, I think guys are more aware they have to discipline themselves in that respect, and I get the impression the players share a common sense of urgency going forward, and that’s a good thing. They pretty much have to, because now is as plausible a time as any for Siegfried to continuing tooling with his roster, and in this very tenuous league, it’s up to them to play at a level that convinces him to maintain status quo.

Despite what the scoreboard says, I think the coaching staff had the right approach to this one. They did a good job taking away Iowa’s bell cow, Jesse Schmidt, and making the rest of that team beat them. Unfortunately, it backfired. Offensively, they appeared to put emphasis on simplicity, rhythm, and ball security. Again, though, the offense accomplished the first two, but failed in the last one there.

So once again, the Pittsburgh Power, united though they stand, are their own worst enemy. Although only four of 18 games are in the books, it’ll be real interesting to hear what guys have to say after film study, and it’ll be equally interesting to see if the Power treat next Saturday like a playoff game, if you will. It seems like the right thing to do.

Special thanks to Justin Gould, Ethan Vickers, Lauren Suchy, and the rest of the Pittsburgh Power Football staff for their help and access Friday, and prior to this week’s game.

Be sure to join me next Saturday–pending the Penguins’ Stanley Cup Playoff schedule–for our next live Pittsburgh Power blog as the home team entertains the Orlando Predators at CONSOL Energy Center for a game slated to kick off at 7:30 that night.

(Follow the Power on Twitter @AFLPittsburgh.)

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(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)