Pittsburgh powerless in arena opener

Jerry DiPaola
| Sunday, March 24, 2013, 9:49 p.m.

The worst part of the Power's first game of the season wasn't just the long wait at concession stands for $1 hot dogs.

Or quarterback Jordan Jefferson — an indoor football novice — fumbling three times and throwing two interceptions.

Or the scoreless second half (before the last play) in a league where rules facilitate touchdowns.

It was all those things, plus the opportunity Power management lost to impress and keep its fans.

Intense marketing efforts helped attract a crowd of 8,390 to Consol Energy Center on Saturday night to see a team from Utah light up the scoreboard. It was the franchise's biggest indoor football throng since the Power's first season two years ago and 3,200 over last year's average attendance.

But if the team continues to go 31 minutes without scoring — such as it did in the 64-33 loss — not many people will want to go inside to watch football on warm spring and summer nights.

The indoor game was built on quick strikes that excite the fans and run up the score, but the Power's point total was the smallest in the Arena Football League on its opening weekend.

The Power is no different than other AFL teams, whose destinies are determined by the quarterback. But Jefferson was sacked four times, often appeared uncomfortable in the pocket and averaged only 10.3 yards per completion.

For the Power to experience success, the offensive line needs to protect its quarterback, so he can get the ball to veteran wide receivers Mike Washington, P.J. Berry and Christian Wise.

Coach Derek Stingley said he was encouraged by Jefferson's first game, but he also is smart enough to realize the former LSU quarterback remains “a work in progress.”

“I still say he picked up this game much quicker than we thought,” Stingley said. “He now has an opportunity to have a game under his belt to see how fast things really move.

“In my opinion, he's going to be a star in this league. He's going to make all the throws. We just have to do a much better job of protecting the quarterback.”

Born in 2011, the Power no longer is an expansion team, but only two players — Washington and defensive lineman Neil Purvis — have been with the team all three seasons. Jefferson is the eighth quarterback in that time. Half of the starting lineup wasn't on the roster last season.

Something else: The Power has lost all of its previously formidable Pitt/Penn State/Duquesne presence. Only five players live in Western Pennsylvania.

Stingley was smart to bring back linebacker Gary Butler, a West End guy from Langley High School and California (Pa.), who brought spirit, leadership and fans to the 2011 team. But he is on injured reserve with a concussion and may miss half the season.

Indoor football players are a transient group — the Power brings players together from 14 states — but it's a cross every coach must bear. Good team chemistry and the proper attitude can be difficult to maintain.

“I think some guys' heads were still in the game,” Washington said of the end of the Utah game, “but you never know until those guys look in the mirror themselves.”

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