For a first game it does not get much harder than a team playing the reigning AFL MVP, but the Pittsburgh Power had to do just that and lost 64-33 to the Utah Blaze in front of 8,390 fans.
“This was not the result we were looking for as a team,” Head Coach Derek Stingley said. “We truly felt that we wouldn’t somewhat self-destruct the way that we did. We had too many unforced errors, some turnovers here and there and our kicking got off to a slow start. Those are things I have to correct as the head coach and we will get those things corrected. This team will be much better than what you saw out there today.”
From the start, the Blaze came ready to play as Brandon Thompkins returning the opening kickoff 46 yards to the Power nine. When that combined with a jack out of the box and an off-sides penalty, the field became even shorter and fullback Ben Stallings scored the first touchdown of the season from two yards out.
The Power struck back with the combination of quarterback Jordan Jefferson and Mike Washington. They connected on a 22 yard pass to start the drive and ended with a 12 yard pass tying the game.
The Blaze needed three minutes to strike back, and when they did it was AFL MVP Tommy Grady connecting with Mario Urrutia from 35 yards. It was 14-7 Blaze after one quarter.
In the second quarter, the Power having advanced the ball thanks to a pass interference call, squared the game once again when Jefferson found Washington from nine yards out. It really seemed as though the two were in sync the whole game.
“It was just communication,” Mike Washington said. “It’s all about communication and letting him know where I was going to be and how the coverage was going to pan out. It’s all about communicating and that’s why we connected.”
The Blaze held serve again when Grady and Urrutia hooked up for a 17 yard score.
The Power suffered the first set back of the game when they turned the ball over on downs fumbling the ball at their own one. On the very next play, Chase Deadder ran the ball in to open up the lead to 13 points.
Jefferson would then have an issue with a snap forcing another fumble which was recovered by Antwan Marsh of the Blaze at the Power’s own three yard line and returned for a touchdown opening up the game.
Jefferson would try and lead his team back as he found Christian Wise on a 24 yard pass to cut the Blaze lead.
Grady would respond though as L.J. Castile was his next target and the two combined for a touchdown.
Jefferson would find Wise again from 16 yards out to make the score 41-27 at the half in favor of the Blaze.
The Power started the second half with the football but that did not last long as the Power suffered their third turnover of the game, this one an interception to David Hyland. Fortunately for Jefferson, the defense bailed him out as Utah turned the ball over on down.
With the Power driving, Maurice Leggett intercepted a deflected Jefferson pass and returned it 33 yards to the Power 13. Two plays later it was Stallings who scored from a yard out, extending the Blaze lead to 48-27.
The Power turnover woes continued as another Jefferson fumble resulted in a safety.
“Ball security is a must on any level of play,” Stingley said. “If the other team gets more turnovers than we do, then naturally we lose that game unless something crazy happens. In this game, you have to match score for score. We just didn’t do well in the third and fourth quarter.”
On the ensuing kickoff Baker missed a chance to get a touchdown when the ball caromed off the post and instead the Blaze maintained possession. The drive ended when Urrutia caught a third touchdown pass, from nine yards to open up the Blaze lead to 30.
As the game got away from them, the Power players seemed to react differently on the sidelines.
“I think some guy’s heads were still in the game, but coming to realize that we could be shutout in the second half we had to get points on the board,” Washington said. “You can look at some player’s faces and see droopy faces, but some guys were still fighting all the way until the end.”
The Power would get good field position on a P.J. Berry 44 yard kickoff return, but four incomplete passes later, the Blaze took control of the ball once again.
At the very end of the game Grady and Urrutia connected one final time for a seven yard pass adding insult to injury.
Perhaps the biggest thing was that with two seconds left in the second half, the Power had not scored any points. In those last two seconds though, Jefferson found Baker in the end zone to avoid going scoreless for an entire half.
Stingley believed that while the offensive line did not help Jefferson, that his first AFL start and first start since playing at LSU was a mixed bag.
“I think he did some good but there was some bad,” Stingley said. “He picked up this game much quicker than we thought and that’s why he’s the starting quarterback. In my opinion he’s going to be a star in this league. We’ve just got to do a better job protecting him. He’s still a work in progress.”
The Power will next play Friday against the Jacksonville Sharks, a six day turnaround, where they will see a familiar face in former Power quarterback Bernard Morris.
“Quick turnarounds never help,” Washington said. “Everything is compact but you have to adapt in this league. We know what we have to do moving forward. We need to stay optimistic and turn this thing around.”
Pittsburgh Power vs Utah Blaze scoring 3/23/13
Blaze: Stallings 2 yard run [Adrian Trevino kick good] 7-0 11:46
Power: Washington 12 yard pass from Jefferson [Josh Czajkowski kick good] 7-7 5:21
Blaze: Urrutia 35 yard pass from Grady [Trevino kick good] 14-7 2:20
Power: Washington 9 yard pass from Jefferson [Czajkowski kick good] 14-14 14:11
Blaze: Urrutia 17 yard pass from Grady [Trevino kick good] 21-14 12:57
Blaze: Deadder 1 yard run [Trevino kick no good] 27-14 9:06
Blaze: Marsh 3 yard fumble recovery [Trevino kick good] 34-14 7:42
Power: Wise 24 yard pass from Jefferson [Czajkowski kick no good] 34-20 4:02
Blaze: Castile 18 yard pass from Grady [Trevino kick good] 41-20 1:36
Power: Wise 16 yard pass from Jefferson [Czajkowski kick good] 41-27 1:00
Blaze: Stallings 1 yard run [Trevino kick good] 48-27 0:53
Blaze: Safety 50-27 13:53
Blaze: Urrutia 9 yard pass from Grady [Trevino kick good] 57-27 7:48
Blaze: Urrutia 7 yard pass from Grady [Trevino kick good] 64-27 0:03
Power: Baker 14 yard pass from Jefferson 64-33 0:00
Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game- Mario Urrutia Utah
Riddell Defensive Player of the Game- Maurice Leggett Utah
J. Lewis Small Playmaker of the Game- Brandon Thompkins Utah
Cutters Catch of the Game- Pittsburgh’s Christian Wise diving 24-yard touchdown catch in 2nd quarter
AFL Highligh of the Game- Utah’s Antwan Marsh 3-yard fumble return for a touchdown in 2nd quarter