Power eliminated from AFL playoffs
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ORLANDO, Fla. — The opposing locker rooms in the bowels of the CFE Arena are located next to each other, separated only by a thin, black curtain.
As matters unraveled Sunday in the first round of the Arena Football League playoffs, players from the host Predators and the visiting Power might have been too close.
After the Predators (12-7) upset the 6½-point favorite Power, 56-48, Predators coach Rob Keefe said some Pittsburgh players entered his locker room before the game and later walked through Orlando's pregame drills on the field.
“That was disrespecting us,” Keefe said.
He also circulated some quotes that he said came from Pittsburgh and “agitated” his players.
“I let them soak in,” Keefe said.
Power linebacker James Bryant denied that any Power players were in the Predators locker room before the game.
But he did admit, “It got a little chippy in the hallway. That's the playoffs. That's the way it should be.”
Keefe later said “it was no big deal,” and he said he didn't even mention it to Power coach Ron James before or after the game.
What really mattered was the Power's inability to contain Predators quarterback Bernard Morris, who accounted for eight touchdowns — four passing and four rushing — while throwing for 221 yards.
The most important number: 0. No matter if he was snug in the pocket or running from defenders, Morris never was sacked.
Morris, who was the Power's quarterback in their inaugural season of 2011, will lead his team into the American Conference championship game next Sunday in Cleveland. The loss ended the Power's 12-game winning streak and their season at 15-4.
“(Morris) knows how to put himself where it's tough to get to him,” said Bryant, who said last week that the Pittsburgh defensive line would make running difficult for Morris.
“A lot of times we were fighting through two and three offensive linemen to get our hands on him.”
Neither team gained control of the game until the second half when the Predators scored the first two touchdowns of the third quarter on 4- and 7-yard runs by Morris. Those followed a 10-yard touchdown pass from Morris to Greg Carr on the last play of the first half. Overall, Carr caught 10 passes for 97 yards and four scores.
The Power never led in the second half, although they cut the lead to 49-48 with 8:26 to play when Tommy Grady hit Shaun Kauleinamoku on a 31-yard touchdown pass and Prechae Rodriguez on the two-point conversion.
But the Power offense never touched the ball again, with the Predators recovering an onside kick after Morris' 1-yard touchdown burst that left only a minute on the clock.
“We made a lot of mistakes, and they capitalized on every single one of them,” Bryant said.
Grady threw seven touchdown passes, but James said “a miscommunication” resulted in a pass that was intercepted by the Predators' Eddie Moten on the Orlando 3 on the last play of the third quarter. The Power totaled only 48 points, their second-smallest output of the season.
Next up for James and the Power front office is trying to keep the roster intact, with players such as Bryant and defensive back Virgil Gray closing out one-year contracts.
Gray, who led the team with 11 interceptions while an ankle injury limited him to 11 games, was unsure about returning.
“It's tough to go out like this,” he said. “I have to take some time to think about it. We fought hard, but at the end they were the better team today.”
Bryant also made no promises, but he said he enjoyed his time in Pittsburgh.
“I love Pittsburgh, I love my fans and I most definitely love my teammates,” he said. “This is a championship team. We just have to be more disciplined in the close games.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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