1997 Results | Game Coverage

Rabid Dogs Bite Storm, 44-28

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

Sylvester Bembery
Sylvester Bembery, shown here lining up in a 1996 game, broke through for the Storm's second sack of the season and the first since Week Four. Photo by Chris Arnold.
TAMPA, Fla. - It's hard to see the positive out of the Storm's 44-28 loss to the New Jersey Red Dogs (6-1) at the Ice Palace on Saturday night. For one thing, the Storm dropped to 3-4, marking the latest point in the season that the team has had a losing record. For another, the loss was the third in a row; that's the first such streak in Storm history and in coach Tim Marcum's eight-year Arena Football League career. It also was the Storm's third home loss in a row, which means that it has taken the Storm just half a season in the Ice Palace to do something it took them two and a half years to do in the Dome: lose three games.

To top it off, QB Peter Tom Willis aggravated the rib injury suffered last week against Albany and missed the fourth quarter. Replacement Dan White floundered in his stead as he led the Storm into Red Dog territory three times but never produced a score.

However, there are seven games remaining in the season, and Marcum managed to remain optimistic about not just his club's chances, but his starting quarterback's health.

"We're gonna be all right," he said. "We're gonna be good. P.T. Willis will take us to the place we need to go. He's our quarterback. When he's well---well, you saw the kind of performance he had in the first half."

And what a performance it was. Willis completed just one of his first four passes to start the game but then went on a tear, completing ten of 14 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. FB/LB Les Barley also scored twice in the first half as the Storm scored on four straight possessions to end the first half.

The problem was that the scrappy yet talented Dogs managed to keep pace, mostly thanks to the kick returns of WR/DB Alvin Ashley and DS Adrian Lunsford. The two combined on five returns for 166 yards, including a 56-yard return by Lunsford early in the second quarter that served as a swift response to a 46-yard touchdown pass from Willis to WR/DB Lawrence Samuels.

"I think that's probably [because of] poor effort," Marcum said when asked about the returns. "Maybe some poor effort, not doing it in practice, not covering in practice. We need to get better at that."

The returns, along with a passel of short-to-medium range passes from New Jersey quarterback Rickey Foggie to Ashley and OS Larry Ray Willis, allowed the Dogs to respond to every Storm strike. A last-second 39-yard field goal by Steve Videtich pulled New Jersey within one point at the half and capped off one of the wildest quarters in Storm history.

The second quarter saw the Red Dogs outscore the Storm 24-21. It was the highest scoring quarters in team history. In a particularly wild stretch of the late first and early second quarter, the Storm and Dogs scored 35 points in 7:56 of elapsed time, including a 2:11 stretch that saw three scores, all coming from 35 yards or longer. As a result, New Jersey coach John Hufnagel was perturbed with his defense's effort.

"I kind of got on the defense to start playing some team defense," he said. "Some individuals were jumping offsides too many times. You don't want to give a team like Tampa Bay a whole lot of opportunities."

In the second half, things completely changed, as it was the Red Dogs taking advantage of opportunities. On the third play of the half, Samuels took a five-yard screen from Willis and fumbled. Lunsford quickly picked up the ball, and New Jersey scored four plays later to take a 33-28 lead that they would never relinquish.

"The turnover right after the half just killed us," Marcum said.

Things generally got worse after that, and frustration in the Ice Palace rose. As a result, the faithful in the stands---11,488 of whom were said to be at the proceedings---are even losing a bit of their faith, booing Willis after he threw incompletions on his first two passes. To the fans' credit, though, they tried to inspire the team with chants of "Defense! Defense!" in the fourth quarter. The cheers worked, as the Red Dogs only managed a field goal in the final period.

But while the defense turned in a solid effort, limiting the Dogs to just 175 total yards and only 59 in the second half---the offense gave away numerous chances to score. Four of the Storm's six second half drives ended in turnovers, and the other two had miscues of their own---a missed field goal and a fumble on 4th-and-eight that was recovered by White but still netted a loss of five yards.

"It's the same music, different dance," Marcum said. "We turned the ball over, and when you do that you're not going to win in this game, period."

Willis' injury didn't help matters. He hurt himself trying to make a tackle after Samuels' third quarter fumble, and while he tried to play late in the third quarter, he didn't have anything left in the tank. When he threw an interception to former Storm WR/DB Amod Field with 2:25 left in the third quarter, New Jersey lineman Marty Hochertz delivered a haymaker that knocked him out for good.

"I made the tackle on the fumble and after I tackled [Lunsford] I went down and somebody ripped my arm back," Willis said. "It hurts. I couldn't throw after that."

"I flat-out asked him if he could go and he said, 'Coach, I can't throw the ball,'" Marcum said.

Willis' injury effectively killed any chance of a Storm comeback. The Red Dogs, while not proficient on offense, controlled the ball enough and took advantage of two terrible White passes which they intercepted to slam the door shut.

Marcum may have been satisfied with the overall effort, but that didn't mean he was pleased with everything.

"You have to make changes where changes are necessary," he said. "You have to try to inspire where inspiration is necessary, and you have to get tough when getting tough is necessary. I think that a combination of all of those things can get this old ox out of a ditch."

Next Saturday, the Storm will again try and find their way out of that proverbial ditch when they host another team from the New York metropolitan area, but this time it will be the team from across the river, the New York CityHawks. The matchup should be quite intriguing because it will mark the first return to Tampa Bay by CityHawks coach Lary Kuharich since he left the Storm after the 1994 season. Kuharich will bring with him a team that includes former Storm players like WR/DB Eddie Brown and WR/QB Connell Maynor. Kickoff at the Ice Palace next Saturday will be at 7:40 p.m., and tickets are available through TicketMaster or at the Ice Palace box office.


These Dogs Can Bite - For the New Jersey Red Dogs, the win gave them the best start ever for an AFL expansion team as they galloped out of the veritable doghouse at 6-1. But they've done so with a motley melange of players culled mostly from the rosters of the Charlotte Rage, Minnesota Fighting Pike and Connecticut Coyotes, three teams that folded after last year. None finished with a record better than 5-9 last year, but the sum of their former parts has proven to be far better than anything from last season. A lot of the credit is going to first-year AFL coach John Hufnagel, who has instilled a true team concept in the Red Dogs.

"My first correspondence with the team was that we had the makings of a football team with the 20 guys that I selected from the draft," Hufnagel explained. "But our biggest challenge---and our first challenge---was for them to come together as a team. I told them all that if they start thinking in the team concept in the offseason, then when they came to training camp, that they would understand what we wanted from the team and that they would understand that we wanted to place the team first."

That's been the case. The Red Dogs have succeeded, and two of their biggest players on Saturday night were Foggie and OS Larry Ray Willis. Neither was on the Dogs' roster at the start of the season.

"I'm especially proud of the guys we brought in later on, even during the season because of injuries," Hufnagel said. "These guys really bought into the concept we have been trying to establish."

Hufnagel's efforts have earned him the early favorite for the league's coach of the year honors. However, he downplays the talk with a smile.

"I learned things tonight, and I think I'm a much better coach than I was two months ago," he said. "I'm not saying how good I am---I just know that every day, I learn something new. And as for being the coach of the year---the credit all goes to the players, believe me."

Injury Update - Willis' re-injury wasn't the only medical setback to befall the Storm on Saturday night. FB/LB Les Barley suffered a dislocated finger and WR/DB Larry Kennedy strained his knee. As for Willis, he is listed as day-to-day, and his status for next Saturday's game against New York is uncertain.

New Faces, New Numbers - New Storm kicker Rich Fall had a solid debut on Saturday night, hitting all four of his extra point attempts. He missed two field goals, one from 57 yards and another from 48 yards that was blocked by Brian Smith. Lineman Wilky Bazile played his first game in front of the home fans with a new number---# 75. He wore # 99 last week at Albany.

Awards - The Wilson Player of the Game was Foggie, who completed 17 of 24 passes for 192 yards and four touchdowns. The Riddell Ironman of the game was Ashley, who caught five passes for 63 yards and a touchdown, intercepted two passes for 37 yards in returns, gained 82 yards on three kick returns, made three tackles, broke up three passes and forced a fumble.

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