Pittsburgh Power: After long wait, first playoff game on tap

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Bernard Morris proved himself to be an electrifying dual-threat quarterback in the Power's inaugural season in 2011 when he racked up 2,745 all-purpose yards. He remains the franchise's all-time leader in rushing yards.

Now, though, the current Power must find a way to contain him when they face off against Morris and his Orlando Predators (11-7) in the Arena Football League playoff quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Sunday at CFE Arena in Orlando, Fla.

"You have to make sure that your coverage is strong enough that he can't pick you apart and he has to hold the ball a little bit longer and, when he does tuck it away and runs, you have to account for that with a linebacker or with the defensive line holding the rush lanes," Power coach Ron James said. "It's not an easy thing, and I don't have a pat answer for it."

The Power (15-3) enters its first postseason riding a franchise-record 12-game winning streak. But Orlando nearly interrupted that tear May 24 before quarterback Tommy Grady hit Hank Edwards for a 4-yard touchdown pass with one second remaining to lift the Power to a 62-61 road victory.

It was the most points the Power allowed in their winning streak, and Morris did a lot of damage to a defense that ended the regular season second in the AFL in points allowed (43.2 per game). He completed 16 of 26 passes for 230 yards and five touchdowns and also ran for another 41 yards and three touchdowns.

"With four minutes left in the game, those guys kind of outsmarted us a little bit," Morris said. "It was a good job by Pittsburgh because they executed their game plan to a T, but this time it will be a little bit different scenario."

This time, the stakes will be higher, and the Power will have a slightly different lineup. Defensive back Virgil Gray missed the first meeting between the teams with a high-ankle sprain, but the reigning defensive player of the week will be in the lineup Sunday.

"I'm just happy being in the playoffs and playing the game, but it was hard watching my teammates play without me being on the field," Gray said. "I feel like I can have some type of impact when I'm out there."

Last week in the regular-season finale against Philadelphia, Gray intercepted two passes and finished the year with a team-record 11 takeaways. He also was the defensive player of the game for Arizona when it won Arena Bowl XXVI a year ago.

"Having him back is big for us," James said. "It's always an advantage in the playoffs having a player like Virgil because he's been there before. He's won the championship in this league and understands what big games are like and, having him, should give us the ability to do some things we weren't able to do the last time as far as our coverage and our schemes are involved."

Orlando is also aware that taking Gray out of the game is a virtual impossibility.

"We know that he's going to be 100 percent motivated and, 11 interceptions in 11 games, that's just the caliber of athlete that he is," Predators coach Rob Keefe said. "We're going to try to have to keep the ball away from him ... because that's how good he is."

Orlando will have its hands full trying to limit Grady, who led the AFL in attempts (710) and completions (429) while setting franchise records for yards (4,717) and touchdowns (115), leading an offense that scored 56.4 points per game.

"I think we're coming together as a team," Grady said. "They're a good team with good DBs, and it's going to be a tough one down there. We're definitely going to have to come out with a lot of energy and execute."


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