Familiarity breeds contempt.
While warm exchanges are likely before the game, a burning desire to win, to prove how good they are will take over when the Pittsburgh Power invade New Orleans Arena to face the New Orleans VooDoo Friday night. Game time is 7:30 p.m. and you can watch the game on Cox 4 and listen to it live on Rush Radio 99.5, WRNO and at www.wrno.com.
The VooDoo are 1-2 after getting blasted 76-30 at Jacksonville in a game that was never competitive. New Orleans opened the season with a 51-45 overtime win over Orlando before falling to Iowa 48-34 at home.
The Power have struggled to an 0-3 start under Derek Stingley. The former VooDoo head coach returns to his old stomping grounds, bent on proving himself to the team which once hired him and fired him.
Stingley was hired as head coach of the VooDoo on September 10, 2010, to lead the return of the VooDoo to New Orleans after a two-year hiatus. He was fired on June 26, 2011 after New Orleans had struggled to a 2-12 record.
After being hired by the Power as defensive coordinator, Stingley was promoted to head coach midway through the 2012 season on May 21 after Pittsburgh dismissed Chris Siegfried following a 2-8 start. The Power went 3-5 the rest of the way under Stingley, who still resides in Baton Rouge.
So far, it has been a mighty struggle for Stingley and his Power. Pittsburgh is 0-3. The Power have been outscored 170-82, averaging just 27.3 points per game, last in the AFL, an anemic average for the high scoring Arena League. Pittsburgh has losses to Utah (66-35), Jacksonville (61-35) and Chicago (45-14). It is the first of two meetings between the two teams. The Power will host the VooDoo on June 29.
Former VooDoo star receiver and kick return specialist P.J. Berry returns to play against his former team. Berry was named Ironman of the Year in the AFL in 2011 with the VooDoo, when he amassed an AFL record for yards in a single season. Berry has 16 catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns and 23 kick returns for 392 yards this season, fifth in the league in return yardage. He has a rushing touchdown as well.
Former VooDoo linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson returns home as well. Jackson starred for the VooDoo in 2011 and 2012, leading the AFL in interceptions in 2012 with 14, a franchise record, and led the VooDoo in tackles with 87 in 2011. He was named first-team All-AFL in 2012. Jackson is second on the Power with 17.5 tackles, including a sack and a forced fumble.
Former LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson returns home as well. Jefferson, who led Destrehan High School to the 5A state championship in 2007, went on to start for part of four consecutive seasons at LSU. Jefferson will play in his first game in New Orleans since LSU's 21-0 loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 9, 2012. The St. Rose native has found the transition to the nuances of Arena Football to be quite difficult.
Thus far, Jefferson has completed just 49-of-92 passes (53%) for 506 yards with just eight touchdown passes and five interceptions. He has lost three fumbles. Jefferson is a running threat, the leading rusher for Pittsburgh and second in the AFL with 15 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown. Jefferson has been under constant pressure. He has been sacked 12 times in three games.
Offensive lineman Daverin Geralds of Baton Rouge and Ole Miss returns to face his former team as well. Geralds played for the VooDoo in 2011 and 2012.
Mike Washington is the leading receiver for Pittsburgh with 27 receptions for 270 yards and three touchdowns. Perry Waker has 10 receptions for 120 yards and a score.
Sergio Walker leads the Pittsburgh defense with 18 tackles and one interception.
The matchup features the two worst offenses in the AFL.
New Orleans has struggled offensively as well. The VooDoo have scored 115 points while allowing 169, averaging just 38.3 points per game, second-to-last in the league.
With many new players to work with, Kurt Rocco has struggled to find his rhythm after an outstanding 2012 season. He has completed just 54-of-114 passes (47%) for 651 yards and 10 touchdowns with five interceptions. He has lost two fumbles.
After falling behind 35-0 in a 76-30 loss at Jacksonville last Friday night, VooDoo head coach Pat O' Hara pulled Rocco in the second quarter, giving Zack Eskridge his first playing time of the season. While Eskridge held his own with a pair of touchdown passes and one interception, O' Hara went back to Rocco in the second half and he took a beating throughout but persevered to throw three touchdowns in the second half. The Sharks had four sacks and many hits on Rocco and Eskridge. Rocco completed 13-of-28 for 172 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, while Eskridge went 6-for-9 for 71 yards, two scores and an interception in his debut.
"Our quarterback was on the ground over 30 times," O' Hara said. "That is not his fault. We have to do a better job of protecting our quarterback. We struggled in the kicking game. When you get down early in the first quarter like that in arena football, it can get really ugly. We had to revert to onside kicks and everything went against us. We must move on quickly from it."
The VooDoo failed to convert an extra point, either by kick or through going for two. A missed field goal by normally dependable Gary Cismesia was returned for a touchdown by the Sharks.
Former John F. Kennedy High star Courtney Smith is the leading receiver for the VooDoo with 19 catches for 276 yards and four touchdowns. Smith led New Orleans with eight catches for 150 yards and a score against the Sharks. Former Sarah Reed star Donovan Morgan has caught 14 passes for 139 yards and four touchdowns. Derek Lee has 11 receptions for 136 yards and four scores and Brent Holmes has 11 catches for 130 yards and 21 kick returns for 395 yards, third in the AFL in kick return yardage.
Defensively, Demarcus Robinson leads the team and is eighth in the league with 20.5 tackles while veteran defensive back Eddie Moten has 15 tackles and a team-high two interceptions, tied for fifth in the AFL.
New Orleans has forced four turnovers while Pittsburgh has forced just one. Both the VooDoo and Power have just four sacks on the season. New Orleans has made roster moves this week, placing defensive backs Delvin Breaux of McDonogh 35 and Leslie Majors on injured reserve, signing defensive back Derrick Boyd and bringing in center Natiel Curry.
O' Hara cannot wait to get his team back on the field Friday night.
"Now, let's see how we respond," O' Hara said. "We will not panic. We have enjoyed good practices this week. Everybody is still on board. Pittsburgh will come ready to play. All of their guys coming back to Louisiana will be highly motivated. Jefferson will want to play well. Alvin Ray, P.J., and Daverin want to prove how good they are. Coach Stingley will certainly be motivated. Jon Lyles, who coached for our franchise in Bossier City and Christian Wise, who played for the team in Bossier, will be motivated. We have to get back to basics and perform the basics well. We are staying at it, grinding. We know we have to play well to beat a team desperate for a win as we are."
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