A Great Win For the Storm

Sam Sez

Sam Wolfson
Contributing Editor

July 27, 1996

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Tampa Bay Storm took a big step forward Saturday night towards hosting at least two playoff games when they came from behind to defeat the Arizona Rattlers 69-48. Coming into the game, the Rattlers had the league's best record at 11-1. The victory gives the Storm an 11-2 record, equal to that of Arizona. The head to head tiebreaker gives the edge to Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, the Iowa Barnstormers also have an 11-2 record, and hold a tiebreaker edge against the Storm. However, if the Storm wins its last game against the Texas Terror (1-12), it will clinch the right to host the first two rounds of the playoffs.

The Storm got off to a slow start, falling behind 24-6. QB Jay Gruden threw an interception on his first pass, and the Rattlers took advantage. The Storm defense was unable to stop Arizona's potent offense in the early going, giving up long touchdown passes from Arizona quarterback Sherdrick (pronounced Cedric) Bonner to Herb Duncan and Randy Gatewood. But, after falling behind by 18 points with just over 6 minutes gone by in the second quarter, everything turned around for Tampa Bay.

Stevie Thomas scored his first career rushing touchdown to bring the Storm back within 10 points. It looked like the Storm had held the Rattlers late in the quarter and forced a field goal, but Arizona coach Danny White called a fake and backup QB Mike Hold threw for a touchdown with 1:00 remaining in the quarter. But the Storm was not discouraged. Stevie Thomas scored his third touchdown of the game just 19 seconds later, on his way to being named Ironman of the Game. The Storm defense forced another field goal attempt by Arizona. Danny White went to the well once too often. The fake field goal attempt was crushed by Kent Wells, giving the Storm the ball on the Rattler 19 with 12 seconds to go. Gruden found Wayne Williams two plays later for a touchdown. The Storm scored on their first drive of the second half, taking the lead, and making their second biggest comeback in team history, in less than one full quarter.

While that did not decide the game, Arizona was never able to regain control of the game. Their best chance was late in the fourth after a spectacular one handed catch by Hunkie Cooper that brought the Rattlers to within 7, they almost recovered a loose ball in the endzone on the ensuing kickoff. But Storm defensive back Tracey Perkins recovered the ball out of the pile for a harmless touchback.

When asked about what turned around the game, Storm coach Tim Marcum gave all the credit to the pass rush of the defensive line. "When you rush the guy like we rushed tonight, good things are going to happen for you." And they did. Fittingly to end the game, Sylvester Bembery sacked Bonner, causing a fumble that was returned for a TD by FB/LB Ivan Caesar.

Another player that has really made his presence felt on the defensive side of the ball is Johnnie Harris. A week after shutting down the great Barry Wagner of Orlando, he faced Hunkie Cooper. Arizona avoided throwing his way all night. And when they did, they were sorry. He ended up with 5 tackles, 2 assists, 2 passes defensed, and 1 interception. He also caused a fumble on a kick return after a safety had brought the Rattlers to within one point in the fourth quarter. "I like a challenge," Harris said, "I'm just coming in here trying to shut the league's leaders down."

So, the Storm will be able to tune up for the playoffs next week in their regular season finale. The Terror are the first weak team they will have faced in a while, after four big games in a row. The Storm faced the Terror in their home opener back in May, and rolled over them easily. Fans can start anticipating the beginning of the playoffs, and maybe even a possible revenge match against the hated Orlando Predators.

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