Injured Orlando Had No Prayer

Sam Sez

Sam Wolfson
Contributing Editor

May 18, 1996

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Tampa Bay Storm scored a key early-season victory over their cross-state rivals in the rematch of ArenaBowl IX. New season, same result. This time, the game turned in the Storm's favor for good when Tracey Perkins returned an errant Pat O'Hara pass for a touchdown at the end of the third quarter.

George LaFrance again showed why he is the greatest returner in AFL history, torturing the Predators with a 55-yard kickoff return in the third quarter for a touchdown. His selection as Game MVP was well-deserved, since he tacked on 72 receiving yards.

However, these accomplishments were muted, since Orlando came into the game limping, having lost 1995's league MVP and Ironman of the Year, Barry Wagner, with a broken leg. Add to this the neck injury suffered by WR/DB Alex Shell, and within the space of their game with the Florida Bobcats on May 11, 80 percent of the Prdators' touchdowns vanished.

Their losses killed any chance Orlando had of vanquishing the champs. Backups Charlie Davidson, Eric Wright and Jeff Parker were able to burn the Storm defense for six TDs, but in general, their routes weren't as precise as those of Shell and Wagner, leading to several bad incompletions.

But the Storm allowed six touchdowns to these backups, which is a matter of concern to Storm coach Tim Marcum, who harped on the defensive backs when assessing what went wrong during the game. In particular, the secondary blew coverage on Parker in the third quarter, leading to a 49-yard touchdown from O'Hara. The play was the longest from scrimmage ever allowed by the Storm, and the longest in Orlando history.

Also hindering the defense was a poor pass rush. The lack of pressure was a step backward from the win over Texas the week before. But in all fairness, the Storm was hindered in both games by the losses of Willie Wyatt and Sylvester Bembery, who are hindered by job commitments and have yet to take the field this season.

The offense's skill players made up for it, though. Jay Gruden and Stevie Thomas were in sync, as usual, and FB/LB Cedric McKinnon gained 51 yards on the ground and scored three times, a performance worthy of the game's Ironman award.

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