1997 Results | Game Coverage

Storm Finally Shakes 'Cats to Win Ice Palace Debut

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

TAMPA - Sometimes it takes time to adjust to a new home.

For the Tampa Bay Storm, their housebreaking lasted for three quarters. In the Ice Palace's Arena Football League baptismal, the Storm could not completely shake the pesky Florida Bobcats, as occasional lapses in execution---especially on offense---allowed Florida to head into the fourth quarter with a measure of hope, trailing the defending AFL champions 18-7.

But when the fourth quarter began, the Storm finally broke loose. Tampa Bay outscored the Bobcats 20-6 in a 10:12 stretch of the fourth quarter to turn an 18-7 margin into a 38-13 rout, and coasted through the last two and a half minutes to defeat Southern Division rival Florida (0-2) 38-19 in front of 11,202 at the Ice Palace.

Willis runs onto the field.
Peter Tom Willis runs onto the field before his home debut against the Bobcats. Photo by Chris Arnold
"It was exciting to play here in the Ice Palace, but I wish we had played a little better offensively," quarterback Peter Tom Willis said. "We did what we needed to do to win the game, but I didn't think we really looked very sharp."

Evidence of this lied in the Storm's continued predilection for drawing penalties. Tampa Bay was whistled for 39 yards' worth of penalties against the Bobcats on nine flags; that followed a ten-penalty game against Arizona. Five of the Storm's penalties against Florida came on offside or encroachment violations.

"We had way too many offsides penalties," Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "That's got to stop."

On offense, the Storm languished through a 27:45 period of the second, third and fourth quarters that saw Tampa Bay score just six points. But the Storm managed to maintain a two-score lead for a good chunk of that time thanks to a sterling performance from the Storm's defense, which held the Bobcats to only a touchdown in that same span.

But the star of the defense, as has seemingly always been the case since he joined the team midway through last season, was defensive specialist Johnnie Harris. He was second on the defense with four tackles, but added an assist, a third quarter interception, two passes defensed and a fourth quarter fumble recovery that set up a touchdown. Harris now has seven interceptions in just nine regular season games as a Storm player, dating back to his first game with the team at Memphis last June 22.

The ballhawking Harris had one interception and had his hands on another in the first quarter. He also dropped a potential pick at Arizona last week and had a last-minute interception against the Rattlers waved off by a penalty.

"He's a hell of a player," Marcum said. "One of these days, that young man will find a place to play in the big leagues."

Harris' first interception of 1997 also meant that a contest between him and wide receiver/defensive back Tracey Perkins was in full swing.

"Me and my man, Tracey Perkins here, got a bet on who's going to have the most interceptions through the whole season," Harris said, gesturing to Perkins, who was seated one cubicle over in the Storm locker room. "I'm on top now; I'm up 1-0."

To which a chuckling Perkins quickly added: "That's temporary."

No matter who gets the picks, the Storm defense has a lot to be proud of. They have held opponents to just 49 points in two games, and held the Bobcats to 179 yards, and, more importantly, only 3.8 yards per play.

There is little time for the Storm to catch their breath. Coming to town next week will be the arch-rival Orlando Predators, who will come in thirsty for blood after falling to Arizona 32-31 on Friday night when the game-tying extra point sailed wide off Charlie Baumann's foot with no time remaining. The Predators will come in without quarterback Pat O'Hara, who tore ankle ligaments in the loss, bu backup Brad Lebo threw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes to lead the Preds back. Lebo also threw the winning touchdown pass in the Predators' 40-39 win over Tampa Bay last year, so he will be ready. Kickoff next Saturday night at the Ice Palace will be at 7:40 p.m. EDT. If you can't get to the game, ESPN2 will broadcast "The War for I-4" on tape delay at 12:30 a.m. EDT Sunday morning.


Stats and Stuff - In the first half, the Storm had the ball for just 10:01 while the Bobcats controlled possession for 19:59. In the second half, there was a total reversal, as the Storm had the ball for 21:57, while the Bobcats' offense was on the field for only 8:03...Florida offensive specialist Cleveland Pratt's 53-yard kickoff return for a score in the fourth quarter marked the second straight year he'd scored a special teams touchdown at Tampa Bay; he scored on a 55-yard kickoff return in a 55-47 loss to the Storm on June 8 of last year...Defensive specialist Grady Ross led the Bobcats with seven tackles...Storm defensive specialist Tracy Sanders went one better, leading the Storm with eight solo tackles...The crowd of 11,202 was the smallest for a regular season game since the Storm's last home game in a new building, when 10,354 watched the Storm lose to Orlando 51-38 in the franchise's inaugural game at the then-Florida Suncoast Dome on June 1, 1991.

Press Box Notes - Kudos to media relations director Chris Lahey for putting together an excellent, visually attractive and informative media guide...Spotted in the Ice Palace press box on Saturday night---Tampa Bay Lightning radio announcer Larry "Yessir, Yessir, Yessir" Hirsch...One edge the Ice Palace press box has on the ThunderDome's? The abundance of televisions. One is never more than six feet from any of the many boob tubes that hang in supports from the ceiling of the press box.

Turn Down That Damn Noise! - One of the strengths of playing Arena Football in the Ice Palace as opposed to the ThunderDome is the relatively low ceiling and intimate configuration of the arena, allowing for the fans' noise to reverberate throughout the building instead of wafting up into the vast space under the ThunderDome's Teflon roof. Evidently, the increase in noise carries over to the music broadcast over the sound system between plays, and when that music lasts too long, there is a consequence. The Storm faced such a consequence when referee Jack Baker took to the microphone after the second play of the second quarter and, like a father disapproving of his child's taste and volume of music, ordered the team to stop the music when the Bobcats broke the huddle. Prior to this point, the music kept going right up until the snap of the ball. "The music must stop when Florida comes out of the huddle," Baker intoned bluntly.

Belden's Blues - New kicker Terry Belden arrived in Tampa just two days before the opening win at Arizona, and performed well in the first game, hitting four of five extra points and hitting the net on all of his kickoffs. Against the Bobcats, though, Belden struggled, missing two of four extra points and failing to reach the net on two kickoffs. "My performance was pretty horrible; I'm not happy with that," Belden said. His night got off on the wrong foot when his first extra point sailed wide left. However, he made an impression on Bobcat offensive specialist and kick returner Cleveland Pratt by slamming him to the turf in a vigorous tackle after Belden miised a 45-yard field goal with 5:17 left in the second quarter. "I figured I had to help out some way---my leg was a little crooked tonight, so I figured I would help out another way," he said.

The Numbers Game - FB/LB Les Barley debuted with a new number---#46. He wore #32 last week and had worn #42 in his previous tour of duty with the Storm (1993-94).

Awards - The Player of the Game as voted on by the Storm Shelter staff was Thomas, whose debut in the Ice Palace resembled so many of his old games, as he caught 11 passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns. His two-game totals are a stellar 16 catches for 206 yards and four touchdowns. The Ironman of the Game was Barley, who rushed for 19 yards on five carries and added a tackle on defense.

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