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Force pull away in second half

Photo by Ben

Photo by Ben

DULUTH -- One unique feature of an Arena Football is that one small opening is often all it takes to break a game wide open.

Such was the case in the Georgia Force's game with the Pittsburgh Power on Saturday.

A key defensive stop at the end of the first half allowed the Force to maintain a lead heading into halftime, and they took full advantage as Brett Elliott connected on five of his eight touchdown passes in the second half -- including three of Maurice Purify's four scores -- to pull away for a 58-39 victory before 4,093 fans at The Arena at Gwinnett Center.

Elliott finished 20 of 34 for 261 yards and just one interception, while Purify hauled in 10 passes for 90 yards and the four TDs, while C.J. Johnson added eight catches for 140 yards and three scores as the Force improved to 5-2 on the season.

But the third quarter in which they outscored Pittsburgh (3-4) 21-0 proved to be the difference in the game.

"We really concentrated this week on coming out and playing a good second half," Force coach Dean Cokinos said. "Really, the third quarter won the game. I think we played with a little more energy. We played smarter. We didn't beat ourselves."

That third-quarter surge came after the Force managed to hold onto a slim 20-19 lead late in the first half.

It looked like Pittsburgh would seize momentum heading into intermission after holding Georgia on fourth and 4 from its own 22 with 29 seconds left.

But a heavy pass rush forced Pittsburgh quarterback Anthony Morelli into an incompletion, a short completion to Michael Washington and Jeff Littlejohn's second sack of the game.

And after calling timeout with two seconds left, Paul Edinger's 39-yard field goal attempt hit the netting and was pulled down by Johnson, keeping the Force ahead 20-19 at halftime.

The Force then kept that momentum in the second half and never let it go, scoring just three plays and 1:46 into the third quarter when Larry Shipp took advantage of a fallen Pittsburgh corner and waltzed into the end zone after snagging Elliott's pass for a 15-yard score the pushed the lead to 27-19.

A stop on the Power's next possession set the Force up at their own 15-yard line, and it took just five plays for them to cash in as Elliott hit Purify for a 4-yard score the stretched the lead to 34-19 with 6:09 left in the third quarter.

The Force then essentially put the game away by utilizing the walls.

First, Ahmad Hawkins snagged his second interception of the game when a Morelli pass bounced off a sidewall and he returned it to the Georgia 23.

Four plays and a pass interference penalty later, Purify put the Force on the board again with a leaping grab on top of the wall in the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown, making the score 41-19 on the final play of the third quarter.

"We were going for it (in the third quarter)," Purify said. "We weren't settling for definite down plays. We wanted some big chunk plays, and we got them."

Elliott would come up with a few more of those "big chunk" plays in the fourth quarter, connecting with Purify on a 17-yard touchdown with 11:17 remaining, and then hooking up with Johnson on a 44-yard strike with 34 seconds to play to apply the finishing touches.

"We were talking (at halftime) that really, the defense kept us in the game the whole time," Elliott said. "It was nice to be able to put some points on the board and get some separation."