1997 Results | Game Coverage
Final Minutes Doom Storm, 61-38By Andrew Mason
TAMPA, Fla. - For just about 57 minutes Saturday night, the Storm went tit-for-tat with the Iowa Barnstormers. It was back-and-forth, evenly matched, evenly fought and fiercely battled football, the kind of game that deserved the national television exposure granted by ESPN2.
But unfortunately for the Storm, football is a 60 minute game. Each half is 30 minutes in length. On Saturday, Tampa Bay wished those halves were 28 and a half minutes long.
In the last 1:30 of each half, the Barnstormers outscored the Storm 26-0, including a 16-0 spurt to close the game. Those 26 points proved to be the difference between a win and a loss for Iowa (9-3) as they vanquished Tampa Bay 61-38 in front of 11,818 at the Ice Palace.
The Storm are now 6-6 with two weeks to play. Tampa Bay controls its own destiny thanks to the fact that they play fellow playoff contender San Jose to close the season. But the game is in San Jose, and winning will be a difficult challenge at best, what with the SaberCats having won five of their last seven games. One thing that is certain is that if the postseason started today, Tampa Bay would be the ninth seed, and would therefore be out of the playoff party.
As it is, the loss to Iowa eliminated what little chance the Storm had of getting a home game in the first round. The Storm can also be seeded no higher than fifth, and gaining even that modest standing would require a scenario so convoluted (put it this way---it requires Portland and Anaheim, both 2-10, to each win at least once) that its chances of occurring are virtually incalculable to anyone without a master's degree. (And if you can calculate it, please E-mail us ASAP.)
"I truly believe [that] if we win one game and we're 7-7, then we'll be in the playoffs," head coach Tim Marcum said. "It's the mathematical situation, and we've got the tiebreaker on a couple of teams."
But here's the problem...in order for the Storm to have a tiebreaker advantage on San Jose, currently 7-5, Tampa Bay must beat them in two weeks. The two teams that the Storm is currently tied at 6-6 with, Albany and Milwaukee, both hold tiebreak advantages over the Storm thanks to wins earlier this season.
So that's the Storm's situation as of now. The question is, how did the Storm force themselves into must-win situations in their final two games? Well, the answer started to take shape with 1:30 left in the second quarter. Tampa Bay held a 22-21 lead and had led for all but 6:57 of the first half. Tampa Bay was tooling down the field, looking for another score, when disaster struck.
It came on a screen pass for Les Barley. QB Peter Tom Willis was pressured by four Iowa defenders. They came down hard on Willis, forcing an errant throw that Iowa WR/DB Leonard Conley stepped in front of and ran 32 yards for a touchdown and a 28-22 lead. Iowa never trailed after that. However, the worst was yet to come.
The Storm got the ball back and promptly moved down the field again. With 12 seconds left and second-and-six from the Iowa eight-yard-line, Willis fumbled the snap, and the ball bounced into the backfield. Willis appeared to have a good look on the ball and position on any Iowa players who would try to recover. Then, Iowa lineman Gary Howe wrapped his arms around Willis' legs and tackled him while the ball was still free and unclaimed. Howe was not in a position to get the ball and there's no possible way the officials could have considered his actions one of a man going after the football. That's a defensive holding call in any man's league, but not in the AFL, where prudent officiating appears to have taken a holiday in the 1997 season.
"It is not legal," Marcum said. "The only guy who can tackle the quarterback is the guy who recovers the ball. If someone else tackles the quarterback and the other guy recovers the ball, that's defensive holding and the play should be re-played."
The story at the end of the second half was Iowa completing a long drive and then forcing the Storm into desperate mistakes. Leading 45-38 through most of the fourth quarter, the Barnstormers finally scored with just over a minute to play when QB Kurt Warner found Conley for a one-yard touchdown on third-and-goal. On the Storm's ensuing possession, Willis was promptly intercepted on a deep route by John Anderson, resulting in another Warner-to-Conley touchdown connection one play later. Iowa closed the scoring on a safety by Steve Houghton with 29 seconds left.
While the final minutes of each half were flooded with Storm mistakes, the rest of the game was defined by Warner.
"He's a guy who is something special in this league," Marcum said. "He stands tall, takes that punishment. He's as close to a Jay Gruden as anyone I've ever seen."
Iowa coach John Gregory, Warner's only AFL coach, expounded on Warner's greatness.
"He's an athlete. He's one of those guys who can be accurate off balance," he said.
With Warner, Iowa's playoff penetrations have gotten deeper each year he has been there. In 1995, they went to the semifinals. Last year, it was a trip to the ArenaBowl. The team's goal is a championship this year, and a late surge that could well have begun last week against Orlando should continue into the postseason if they can hold off Texas and Albany.
"We want to get that homefield," Gregory said. "That's our No. 1 challenge at this point in time."
For the Storm, the goal is to merely make the playoffs, and a win next week would go a long way to making that happen. The opposition will be the Florida Bobcats, who will make their second Ice Palace appearance this year. Kickoff will be next Saturday at 7:40. Tickets are available at the Ice Palace box office and at all TicketMaster outlets. The game will also be televised on Sunshine Network in Florida.
Stats and Stuff... - The 61 points were the most surrendered by the Storm all season...Warner's 27 completions were the most against the Storm in 1997...His completion percentage of 69.2 percent was also the best against the Storm this year, as were his seven touchdowns...OS George LaFrance caught seven passes for 82 yards and a touchdown; he now has 1,004 yards this season on 82 receptions...Lineman Willie Wyatt blocked a field goal and recorded his first sack since June 22 of last year...In just two games with the Storm, WR/DB Wayne Walker has turned into a big-play threat. Counting his 30-yard touchdown catch against Iowa (his only catch of the game) he has four catches for 109 yards and two scores. That's an average of 27.3 yards per catch and a score on every other reception. Perhaps the Storm needs to find a way to get him the ball more often.
No Jacox? No Problem - Left home in Des Moines for Saturday's game was Barnstormers offensive specialist Willis Jacox, who injured his shoulder in last week's 60-56 win over Orlando. "We missed Jacox," Gregory said "But everybody pulled their bootstraps up to make up for it." Warner used a balanced attack to defeat the Storm, hitting passes to six receivers and tossing touchdowns to five of them. One receiver who really stepped up was Mike Horacek, who entered the game with one catch four six yards and no touchdowns in four games' worth of work. Against the Storm he had three catches for 23 yards and his first score of the season. Awards - The Wilson Game MVP was Warner and the Riddell Ironman of the Game was Conley.
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