The Orlando Predators moved one victory from clinching their first ArenaBowl appearance in eight years on Sunday.
Former Jones High QB Bernard Morris accounted for eight touchdowns — four passing and four rushing — to help the Preds (12-7) to a 56-48 playoff victory against the Pittsburgh Power (15-4) at UCF's CFE Arena. The Preds will travel to face the top-seeded Cleveland Gladiators (18-1) for the American Conference title next weekend at Quicken Loans Arena.
"There's a lot of people who are happy just to get into the playoffs," Predators coach Rob Keefe said. "We're not. The main goal is to win the ArenaBowl. It's obtainable.
"You enjoy this [win] for now, but we'll be wide awake at 7 in the morning, watching film on Cleveland.."
The Preds have not played in an ArenaBowl since 2006, when they lost to the Chicago Rush, and haven't won a championship since 2000. Orlando and Cleveland, which has the Arena Football League's best record, did not meet during the regular season.
"It's just a testament to all the hard work we've put in," Morris said. "It means a lot, considering I'm from Orlando. Just to get have the opportunity to be in that game and to bring that banner back home, it's going to be a blessing to do so."
A 1-yard sneak by Morris for a touchdown gave the Preds a 56-48 lead with 1 minute, 35 seconds to go. Many in the announced crowd of 4,889 jumped to their feet and chanted, "Let's go Preds" when defensive back Tanner Varner recovered the ensuing onside kick.
"What arena football is, is scoring last,'' Keefe said of the decision not to kick the ball deep with an eight-point lead. "You want to be the last team with the ball. Even if they recovered the onside kick and, say, they even took three plays to score and went for the 2-point conversion to tie, there would be enough time that they would have to kick off, and we still have possession last.
"But if we kicked that ball deep, we never would've seen it again [in regulation]."
Morris completed 19 of 38 passes for 221 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Preds wide receiver Greg Carr was selected the offensive player of the game after catching 10 passes for 97 yards and four touchdowns.
A TD receptioni by Carr late in the second quarter tied the score at 28 at halftime, and Morris scored on 4- and 7-yard touchdown runs to put the Preds ahead 42-28. The Power tried to gain momentum with a 34-yard TD pass from Tommy Grady to Prechae Rodriguez, but the extra point was blocked and recovered by Preds defender Tracy Belton.
The Power (15-4) closed the gap midway through the fourth quarter with a perfectly placed 31-yard touchdown pass from Grady to Shaun Kauleinamoku. Grady found Rodriguez for a 2-point conversion, bringing the Power within 49-48.
"It means a lot to come out with a win," Carr said. "We need to continue to work hard and not be satisfied with this one.
"[Cleveland is] 18-1 for a reason, and we've got to respect that and come prepared."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun