O’Hara Changes Spark Preds to Crucial Win
Everything about the Orlando Predators game-plan against the Pittsburgh Power on Friday night was camouflaged by head coach Pat O’Hara. The Preds had been in a downward spiral losing their last three contests to division foes Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, and Georgia; so O’Hara decided to make some bold changes to spark his football team.
Quarterback Nick Hill was benched in favor of Collin Drafts after Hill led the Preds offense to a season-low 34 points in the loss to Georgia. The news sent shockwaves through the press box when NFL Network broke the change just prior to kickoff.
The news did not end there however, the league’s All-Time greatest defensive back Kenny “The Glove” McEntyre was also benched by O’Hara reportedly for missing practice time. That story may have to be written another day, but I will hold my comments in by just saying I do not buy his missing any practice having to do with a benching and wonder what is the real story?
As if the Predators had not already been missing enough key components, their first drive ended when Bobby Sippio sustained a concussion and fumbled the football back to Pittsburgh who then took a 14-0 lead. Sippio never returned to the contest and was replaced by Josh Bush and Chris Duvalt.
The Power offense stayed hot the entire first half with quarterback Bernard Morris firing five touchdown passes. The Orlando native celebrated each of his scores by shooting pistols in the direction of Preds fans and a rifle at one fan in particular. Even later in the half Morris taunted the Preds crowd to get up and make noise prior to converting a fourth down play for another touchdown.
After a nearly imperfect first half of play in which they were taunted and battered by Morris and the Power; the Predators somehow managed to trail just 40-27 at halftime. An early third quarter touchdown pass from Drafts to T.T. Toliver brought the Preds to within six at 40-34.
That is when Duvalt and kicker Mark Lewis became a lighter to an M-80 on this Fourth of July weekend battle. Lewis clanked consecutive kickoffs off the right upright that Duvalt recovered for touchdowns giving Orlando a 48-40 lead to cap a 28-0 scoring run.
The consecutive net recovery touchdowns may be an AFL record and definitely is a new record for this AFL version 2.0. Of course we all remember how the now defunct Dallas Desperados could not handle three Peter Martinez kickoffs in the 2007 playoffs that led to one of the biggest upsets in AFL history for the Columbus Destroyers.
Orlando’s sniper-like attack in their camouflage jerseys caught the Power in their mustard-colored flanks off guard. The run seemed to spark Drafts as he became the QB who could not miss as he hit his first 10 passes of the second half. Drafts tossed an eight-yard TD to Bush that ended the third quarter before finding Robert Quiroga from seven yards for the eventual game-winner late in the fourth.
With the game on the line Morris had his guns poised to blaze again before he threw a duck quacking into the end zone and the waiting hands of Preds defensive back Travis Coleman to preserve a 62-54 win for the home team. The result seemed to serve as poetic justice for the Orlando crowd to see Morris completely choke when it mattered the most. His dying quail pass into double-coverage could certainly have been the last nail in the coffin of Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes for 2011.
All that was left to do for Orlando was hand the ball to all 300 and to-be-continued pounds of Jamarr Ward three times and successfully run off the last ticks of the clock.
Well folks, I think AFL Commissioner Jerry Kurz has finally heard our words and will be trying to get us instant replay next season in all regular season games. I agree with this; however I do not agree that it has anything to do with the AFL’s television partners. Our jumbo tron feeds used by NiftyTV have sufficed enough to see just about every mistake the officials have made this season. The rule needs to be whether these games are televised or not everything is in play for review with whatever camera angles may be available to the booth.
Also, it appears we will see six-man officiating crews in the AFL playoffs this season. My opinion on this is summed up pretty quickly, just one more official out there to screw up a call. There is also to be booth reviews in the final minute of each half which I think that is how it should be the entire game.
Coaches in the AFL are mostly limited to bad angles whether in corner bench areas or to the sideline of every play. I believe each review must come from the officials in the booth who have the television monitors right in front of them. Then like the rule is now for coaches, they do get one challenge per half to use at their own discretion. Not two as the Storm were allowed to do a few weeks ago right in front of Mr. Commissioner and the NFL Network audience. Rumor has it that Kurz was so embarrassed by the incident he could be heard on his cell phone in the stands screaming for the firing of that officiating crew in the Tampa-Orlando game.
The only thing I took out of Kurz segment with Anthony Herron explaining these new tweaks to the rules was that it has been an extremely rough year for the officials of our game.
The Predators will fly cross country to face the San Jose SaberCats this week in another game that they must-win. I look for O’Hara to do what he did with Hill last year and stick with the hot-hand as the season comes to a close. The question as to whether we will see Hill or McEntyre back at all this season has yet to be answered. Hill is one of the top passers and rushers in the AFL and I have to wonder what will happen next time Drafts is dug into an early hole as he was against the Power. At 6-9, the Cats are close to being out of the playoffs and QB Mark Grieb’s career seems to be winding to a sad close. After beating the Jacksonville Sharks last week by throwing nine touchdown passes, I look for Grieb to have another good outing against Orlando.
That game is scheduled for a 10:30 eastern start on Saturday night from the HP Pavilion in San Jose where the Preds are 0-2 since last winning on May 26, 2001.
Jason Lucas is a part-time freelance writer based in the Orlando, Florida area. A former director of media relations with the Orlando Predators, Jason is making his return to Arenafan.com after a short stint as a public relations assistant with the UFL‘s Florida Tuskers in 2010. Lucas has followed the AFL since 1992 and began covering the Predators for Arenafan during the 2004 season. He held that position until being picked up by the Preds front office after the 2007 season. Jason‘s knowledge of arena football and love of the game is what drives him to continue covering the sport.