Power earn first playoff spot in franchise history

Never one to shy away from a bold statement, Power linebacker James Bryant repeated the same phrase again and again, placing equal emphasis and intensity on each utterance.

"Come get us," he said three times over.

His statement was regarding the way opposing offenses approach his team's defense, but, for the Power, there was a greater meaning to his words.

For a franchise so accustomed to struggles, shortcomings and blowout losses that made it hard to search for silver linings -- things embodied by a 9-27 record the past two seasons -- Friday night represented a breakthrough.

It took four seasons, but, at last, it officially found its way out of mediocrity -- and, as Bryant alluded to, it wants more.

The Power (11-3) scored 22 points in the fourth quarter to pull away from the Iowa Barnstormers, 57-27, at Consol Energy Center, a win that gave the team its first playoff berth.

"We know we're in the playoffs at this point," Power coach Ron James said. "You don't want to think about those things as you're preparing for a game, but once they become a reality, there is a sense of excitement about it."

The team's offseason was dominated by roster-altering moves at key positions, the kind that signaled that the fourth-year franchise at least had the potential to contend.

That talent and promise has been exhibited for large segments of the season, but it was truly exemplified against the Barnstormers (6-8).

Quarterback Tommy Grady completed 24 of 31 passes for 334 yards, his second-highest total this season, and six touchdowns. Four of those touchdowns went to Rodney Wright, who was one of three Power receivers with at least 100 yards.

While helping his team make history, Grady set a personal mark, surpassing current Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden for the 13th-most career passing yards in Arena Football League history.

"It's funny -- I've known him for years and I can tell when he's dialed in," James said about Grady. "When he's dialed in, those passes that are 20 and 30 yards in length are lasers."

For much of the game, there was little separation between the teams, as neither led by more than eight points until the fourth quarter. Then, the Power created the distance it needed.

Facing a 35-27 deficit, Iowa got to the Power 15, moving up the field with relative ease and seemingly in position to continue the game's back-and-forth nature. But on fourth-and-8, a completed pass to Marco Thomas came up one yard short.

Four plays later, Grady connected with Wright in stride for a 31-yard touchdown.

After another defensive stop -- this one an interception in the end zone -- Grady again found Wright in the end zone to give the Power a 49-27 lead with 2:16 remaining, effectively putting the game away.

Iowa, which scored 20 points in the first half, was held to seven in the final 37 minutes.

"That's the kind of football I want to play -- one touchdown, get off the field, you can't stop us, turnovers, turnovers, turnovers," Bryant said.

Defensive back Al Phillips led the defensive effort with 13 tackles, the franchise's single-game record.

While there was genuine and apparent excitement among the Power players, high-profile acquisitions like Grady know they were brought in with bigger plans in mind.

And they hope to follow through.

"Our goal coming into the season was not to make the playoffs, but go deep in the playoffs to give ourselves a shot to win a championship," Grady said.

"Right now, we've given ourselves the chance to be in the playoffs, but I don't think anybody's satisfied at all."

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.

First Published June 20, 2014 10:14 PM

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