1997 Results | Game Coverage
Who: Anaheim Piranhas at Tampa Bay Storm
Kicking Off...It's another must-win game for the Storm as they attempt to solidify position for the playoffs against the struggling Piranhas. However, Tampa Bay may go into the game without OS George LaFrance, who suffered an ankle injury at Texas and has not practiced all week. And did you know that...although Anaheim's offense averages 22.5 fewer yards per game than Tampa Bay's, the Piranhas have scored 9.1 more points per contest.
The Coaches...Anaheim - Mike Hohensee, 2-8 record in first season with the Piranhas, 34-28 in five AFL seasons.
Tampa Bay - Tim Marcum, 33-9 in three seasons with the Storm, 88-21 in nine AFL seasons.
In 1997...Tampa Bay (5-5) - Defeated Arizona 42-30, defeated Florida 38-19, lost to Orlando 43-17, defeated Nashville 42-26, lost to Milwaukee 51-42, lost to Albany 53-31, lost to New Jersey 44-28, defeated New York 27-9, lost to Orlando 54-30, defeated Texas 40-31.
Anaheim (2-8) - Lost to New Jersey 33-32, lost to San Jose 47-27, lost to Arizona 58-26, defeated Florida 62-45, lost to Iowa 63-42, lost to Milwaukee 47-44, lost to Nashville 68-62, lost to Orlando 41-40, defeated Portland 57-48, lost to San Jose 49-35.
Piranhas to Watch...QB John Kaleo - The last time the Storm faced Kaleo, he was the signal-caller for the St. Louis Stampede, and it was April 26 of last year. The Storm won that season opener 57-38, but Kaleo had an outstanding game nonetheless, completing 17 of 33 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns. Kaleo ended up leading the AFL in completions (301) and attempts (490) as he led the Stampede back from an 0-2 start to an 8-6 finish. However, after the Stampede lost to Iowa 52-49 in the first round of last year's playoffs, Kaleo's bizarre adventure began in earnest. First, he was drafted in the expansion draft second overall by New Jersey. Then, on Feb. 25, the Red Dogs traded him to San Jose for lineman Charles Miller, WR/DB Spencer Wray and FB/LB Tom Petithomme. The SaberCats expected Kaleo to be a strong fill-in until incumbent Tony Kimbrough returned from a serious knee injury suffered in San Jose's 36-22 loss to the Storm on June 1 of last year. But things didn't quite work out as planned. The SaberCats struggled out of the blocks and Kaleo took the blame. Finally, with the 'Cats 2-4 and losing at Iowa, Kaleo was yanked in favor of Scott Wood. San Jose won, and, ten days later, Kaleo was a Piranha, acquired in exchange for WR/DB Jai Hill. He has since been wildly inconsistent. He turned in outstanding performances at Orlando and against Portland, completing 29 of 46 passes for 397 yards and eight touchdowns in the two games. But in his return to San Jose last week, he turned in a disastrous showing, throwing four interceptions in the 49-35 loss.
DS Rodney Mazion - One of just a handful of players remaining from the Piranhas' tenure in Las Vegas, Mazion is unquestionably the Piranhas' MVP. He leads the team in tackles (45), unassisted tackles (33), assists (12), kickoff returns (48 for 1,065 yards) and missed field goal returns (nine for 278 yards). He also is second on the team with seven passes defensed and three interceptions. His total return yardage of 1,343 is tops in the league. 315 of those came against Florida on May 24, which set a single-game league record. Such numbers are no novelty for Mazion, though, as he has led the Sting/Piranhas in return yardage in 1995 and 1996. He also had ten interceptions in the first two seasons of his career (95-96). Saturday's game will be special for Mazion, as he'll have a lot of support behind him in the stands. Family and friends galore will be at the Ice Palace cheering on this Hillsborough High graduate.
Noting the Piranhas...M*A*S*H - No AFL team has as many players on injured reserve as Anaheim. Think the Storm have had a lot of injuries? It may seem that way, but only three players are on Tampa Bay's IR: OL/DL Lynn Rowland and WR/DBs Damacio Green and Walter Sutton. The Piranhas currently have nine players on injured reserve: WR/DB Jerrick Bledsoe (hamstring), WR/DB Anthony Bridges (groin), OL/DL Bryan Driskill (knee), WR/LB Kerry Hayes (internal bleeding), OL/DL A.J. Jenkins (ankle), DS Carlton Johnson (torn ACL), OL/DL Darryl Milburn (ankle), WR/DB Jemone Smith (shoulder) and QB Lee Williamson (concussions).
Fast Start, Dramatic Drop - Anaheim was the league's darling team after seven games last season. They began their Southern California stay with a 7-0 record. But then the Storm came to town and handed the Piranhas a 34-28 loss. At the time, hardly anyone could have foreseen what the next year would bring. Anaheim closed the 1996 season 2-6, including a playoff loss to the Storm. Add in the Piranhas' 2-8 start, and that's a 4-14 record over the last 18 games. Only Portland is worse over that stretch with a 2-16 record dating back to when they were the Memphis Pharaohs. However, nine out of Anaheim's 14 losses have come by a touchdown or less.
Tampa Bay/Anaheim Connections - OL/DL Lynn Rowland, now on injured reserve, played for the Piranhas when they were known as the Las Vegas Sting during their inaugural 1994 season...Piranhas DS Rodney Mazion is a graduate of Chamberlain High in Tampa.
Noting the Storm...Statistically Speaking - Tampa Bay ranks second in scoring defense, giving up 36.1 points per game, and second in total defense, allowing 214.3 yards per game. Orlando ranks ahead of the Storm in both categories...Offensively, Tampa Bay is 13th in scoring offense, putting up just 33.6 points per outing, and is 11th in total offense, averaging 242.9 yards per contest. However, the Storm is sixth in first downs with 159...The Storm is third in the league with 91 penalties. Incidentally, second is Anaheim, with 92...LaFrance is fourth in the league in scoring with 110 points, is fourth in touchdowns with 18, ranks third in receptions (71) and fifth in receiving yardage (843)...Tracey Perkins' seven interceptions are good for first in the league.
Injury Front - OS George LaFrance suffered a right ankle injury against Texas on Saturday. He is questionable for the game Saturday but has not practiced this week. FB/LB Tony Jones also suffered an ankle injury and is also questionable. WR/DB Larry Kennedy missed practice this week to be with his grandmother, who is ill and in a hospital.
From the Mouth of Marcum...On the Improved Kickoff Coverage - "They were allcovering a lot better. But it helps when Rich Fall can get it high off the net, and that's what he's been doing consistently."
Practice Woes - "We're not executing as well as we should in practice right now. It's a little rough out there."
Series History...The Storm and the Piranhas are no strangers to each other, having hooked up five times since 1994. Three of those meetings came when the Piranhas were known as the Las Vegas Sting, and two of those Sting-Storm matchups ended in Vegas victories. Since the Storm lost 38-37 to the Sting at home on June 24, 1995, the Storm has won two straight against this franchise, including a 30-16 first round playoff win last year at the ThunderDome.
08/06/94 - Las Vegas 63, Tampa Bay 58 - Look up "shootout" in the dictionary and you might get a description of this duel in the desert in Week 12 of the 1994 season. Tampa Bay came in at 6-4, expecting to turn things around after a franchise-worst 27-point loss the week before at Arizona. It didn't happen against the 4-6 Sting. James Johnson intercepted two Jay Gruden passes---a team record for the Sting/Piranhas that still stands. Johnson also scored three touchdowns on offense. The teams scored on nearly every possession in the first half, with Las Vegas taking a 44-35 lead into the dressing room. The action calmed down somewhat in the second half, enough for the Storm to score twice in a row for the first time all night to tie the game at 58-58. However, Tracy Bennett's 28-yard field goal with one second left dashed the Storm's hopes. A safety on the final play of the game capped the scoring as the Storm lost their first and only game played on the grounds of a casino---in particular, the Garden at the MGM Grand. Box Score
06/02/95 - Tampa Bay 69, Las Vegas 55 - The Sting moved down the Strip apiece to the Thomas and Mack Center for the 1995 season, and that brought about a better result for the Storm as they improved to 3-0 with the win. As in 1994, it was another shootout, as the team's traded scores on every possession through the first and second quarters. The 69 points were a Storm record. 24 of those came from Stevie Thomas, who scored three times on offense and once on a 13-yard interception return to open the scoring in the first quarter. Although the teams alternated scores for nearly the entire ballgame, the Storm never trailed, pushing the lead to as much as 21 points in the fourth quarter. Box Score
06/24/95 - Las Vegas 38, Tampa Bay 37 - In a shocker at the ThunderDome, the Storm saw their seven-game home winning streak snapped by the Sting.The Storm's offense went to pot in the fourth quarter, going scoreless for the second consecutive week. Meanwhile, Las Vegas cashed in for 13 points, and when James Johnson intercepted Jay Gruden at the goal line on the game's final play, the stunner was complete. Las Vegas improved to 2-4 with the win, while the Storm dropped to 4-2. Two things made this game truly notable: 1. After the last play, the fans bombarded the field with small foam footballs stamped with the Florida Lottery logo as part of a promotion. The referees looked at the messy, littered field and called the game with one second left. 2. The Storm would not lose again for one year and five days. This was the last loss before the Storm went on its league-record 17-game winning streak. Box Score
06/15/96 - Tampa Bay 34, Anaheim 28 - Dubbed ArenaBowl IX 1/2, the league's only two unbeaten teams met in the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim. The Storm turned in a clunker of an offensive performance, gaining a franchise-low six first downs. Anaheim, meanwhile, piled up 23 first downs, the most ever allowed by the Storm. So how did the Storm win? Big plays and return yards. Gruden averaged 13.2 yards per completion while Anaheim's Scooter Molander averaged 10.6. In addition, the Storm gained 46 more yards on kickoff returns than the Piranhas (142-96) and capitalized off three turnovers to take a 34-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. From there, Anaheim rallied back furiously, finally pulling within 34-28 with six seconds left on a touchdown pass from Molander to Nathan Burchette. The ensuing on-side kick failed, though, and the Storm escaped unbeaten. Box Score
08/09/96 - Tampa Bay 30, Anaheim 16 - Considering that these clubs were unbeaten when they met in June, people thought they would meet again. Of course, they probably thought it would be in the ArenaBowl, and not in the first round. But that's how it came out as the Piranhas lost five of their last seven to drop into the No. 7 seed. What ensued was a defensive struggle not seen in the AFL playoffs in eight years. The game was physical, brutal and tight nearly the entire way, as both offenses bumbled under constant defensive pressure. The Piranhas had led 10-7 for most of the second quarter before giving up the first big play of the game, a 32-yard pass from Gruden to Thomas that gave the Storm a 14-10 halftime lead. Three field goals---two by Anaheim and one by the Storm---shrunk the Storm's lead to 17-16 early in the fourth quarter. The score remained that way until DS Johnnie Harris finally made his presence felt. With six minutes left, Harris picked off a Molander pass and ran 22 yards for a touchdown and a 23-16 lead. 2:30 later, Harris struck again, this time recovering a fumble at almost the same spot and sprinting 23 yards for the backbreaking touchdown. It was appropriate that a defensive specialist like Harris made the big plays in what was the Storm's best ever defensive performance in the playoffs. Tampa Bay allowed just nine first downs, three rushing yards, 123 passing yards and 126 total yards. All are Storm playoff records. Box Score
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