Harris' Heroics

Sam Sez

Sam Wolfson
Contributing Editor

August 9, 1996

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - It is not often that an entire crowd of 13,021 can agree upon the MVP of an Arena Football Playoff game. But, on Friday night, it was no contest. And Johnnie Harris has the game ball to prove it after the Storm's 30-16 defeat of the Anaheim Piranhas in the first round of the playoffs. Harris had an outstanding night defensively, racking up 6 tackles, 1 assist, 4 passes defensed, and one interception. But, more importantly, it was his two fourth quarter touchdown s that made him the standout in an otherwise unremarkable game.

The 46 total points in the game was the second lowest total score in Arena Football League playoff history. Ironically, the lowest scoring game was a 24-21 overtime defeat of the Storm by arch-rivals Orlando Predators. Storm QB Jay Gruden had an unusually ineffective night. He was held to only 2 TDs, and also threw 2 INT's under constant pressure by the Piranha defensive line. Stevie Thomas had a big night with 7 catches for 116 yards and an incredible 32 yard TD near the end of the first half. The ground game did not provide any help rushing for a franchise low -3 yards.

"I coached the defense tonight," Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "I don't know who was coaching the offense."

But, despite the Storm's offensive inefficiency, Anaheim was even worse. They only scored one TD. Almost unheard of from a playoff caliber team in this league. QB Troy Kopp was ineffective, passing for only 101 yards. Scooter Molander, whose job Kopp took three games ago, didn't fare any better when he replaced Kopp in the fourth quarter. Throughout the game, the Piranhas looked like they were suffering from extreme jet lag on offense, twice not even being able to line up right. One of those illegal formation penalties cost them a touchdown. If not for the incredible leg of former Houston Oiler kicker Ian Howfield, Anaheim might have been limited to 7 points. His strong kickoffs kept the Storm pinned deep in their own territory all game.

Harris' heroics came with the Storm clinging to a one point lead with less than 7 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Anaheim took possession at their own 1 yard line. After moving it out to the 14, Molander was called for intentional grounding at his own three, trying to avoid a heavy rush by Cedric McKinnon and Jerald Jeffcoat. Two plays later, Molander overthrew his intended receiver on 3rd down, and Harris was there to make the interception. He then weaved 22 yards through the Piranha offense and dove into the endzone for the touchdown, giving the Storm a safer 7 point lead.

Harris was at it again two plays later. After a good kickoff return by Rodney Mazion and a 9 yard pass, the Piranhas faced 2nd and 1 at the 25 yard line. They tried to run. Big mistake. Lawrence Samuels and Jerald Jeffcoat stripped fullback Darren Williams. Harris picked up the loose ball, and ran untouched into the end zone for the second time, sealing the win for the Storm.

"When I saw that loose ball, I couldn't believe it," Harris said, "They say that when it rains it pours. It was pouring out there tonight."

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