1997 Results | Game Coverage
Preds Slaughter Storm, 43-17By Andrew Mason
TAMPA, Fla. - The Storm's first game at the Ice Palace last week was one fans will want to remember. One week later, the Storm gave fans one that they'll want to forget.
Tampa Bay's Arena Football history has been filled with explosive successes. So one would figure that a complete disaster was due at some point, just to balance things out. Saturday night, it happened. This was the Storm's Chernobyl---a pigskin meltdown in every sense of the metaphor.
In front of 14,179 fans, most of whom sat in a state of shock, the Predators never trailed, bolting out to a 27-3 second quarter lead and coasting to a 43-17 win at the Ice Palace. The devastation was not just evident in the score, but in a litany of negative statistics.
Tampa Bay's 17 points were a franchise-low, beating out the 21 points scored in losses to Arizona (48-21, 7/30/94) and in the playoffs to Orlando (24-21, 8/15/92)...
...The Storm averaged a paltry 3.2 yards per play; meanwhile, the Predators chugged out 5.9 yards per snap...
...The 26-point deficit was the largest for the Storm at home, and the worst in a game since the 48-21 loss to Arizona in 1994...
...Tampa Bay turned the ball over five times; the Predators none...
...Storm quarterback Peter Tom Willis personally accounted for three fumbled snaps and four interceptions...
...Orlando had four sacks of Willis; the Storm has yet to record a sack all season.
On the plus side, the Storm did allow fewer pass attempts than ever before in team history, as the Preds threw just 16 times. But Preds rookie quarterback Scott Semptimphelter was brutally efficient, averaging 8.25 yards per attempt and 16.5 yards for his eight completions. The Storm also outgained Orlando, 186 yards to 178, but when one considers that the Storm took 55 snaps to gain their yardage while the Preds only had 27 plays, the statistic has little significance.
The Storm wasted no time in spinning towards disaster. On the first play from scrimmage, Willis fired a pass for a wide-open Barry Wagner. Unfortunately, Wagner still plays for the Predators. He scampered 14 yards for a touchdown and a quick-as-lightning 6-0 lead. All this before Orlando's offense, led by rookie quarterback Scott Semptimphelter, even took to the field.
"It just took a load off my mind," Semptimphelter said. The rookie from Lehigh, starting his first game as a professional, was playing his first regular-season game since 1993, his senior year in college.
But back to the interception. On the play, Willis was attempting to throw into a crease for Tracey Perkins, who was cutting across at the 20-yard line. But Wagner, who was playing in a zone just behind the line of scrimmage, stepped in front of the pass---which was a bullet-style throw with no arc---reached up, and took off.
"I put us behind the eight ball early," Willis said. "I didn't catch him out of the corner of my eye, and he picked it."
For the Storm, proceedings generally got worse as the night progressed. For Wagner, they got better, as he showed why he is perhaps the greatest two-way player in Arena Football history. The Storm muzzled him in the teams' last meeting on July 19 of last year, as he had only three catches for 29 yards and no touchdowns, and only token contributions on defense.
Compare that effort to his final numbers from Saturday's game: Five receptions for 110 yards and four touchdowns, five yards rushing, two interceptions for 14 yards in returns, an interception return for a touchdown, seven tackles and four passes defensed.
"I was in the zone, and when Barry Wagner's in the zone, ain't nobody can stop me," a proud Wagner said of himself. "I'm focused and I'm on top of my game."
Predator coach Perry Moss agreed.
"When he played against Tampa last he didn't have a good ballgame," Moss said. "Any time he gets ready to play, he's really a force in the football game."
On offense, he victimized defensive specialist Johnnie Harris, the man who shut him down so brilliantly in last year's clash. Harris, who was slowed by a pulled groin, could not keep up with Wagner, leaving him open. On the defensive side, Wagner was equally detrimental to Willis.
The former Florida State star had a wonderful first two weeks of Arena Football, going 41-of-69 for 250 yards and eight touchdowns with just two interceptions. But like his passing pocket against the Preds, it collapsed on Saturday night. He completed 16 of 42 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns, but tossed four interceptions. Fittingly, his night began and ended with passes to Wagner.
Willis kept his cool during the postgame media interrogation, but struggled to find answers to the invariable question of what happened.
"I just didn't have a good game, I don't know any other way to put it," he said, shaking his head.
Offering needed long-term perspective on Saturday's disaster was WR/DB Lawrence Samuels, who had one catch for nine yards and added two tackles.
"We've got a lot of new people who are still learning the concept of the game," he said. "We don't look at it as a real devastating loss, because it's a long season."
As frustrating as the game was, the Storm never packed it in. Although his efforts were in vain, Willis kept throwing deep to the bitter end, looking for the one big strike that could turn the game around or, by the fourth quarter, bring some scoreboard respectability to the Storm.
"I'm proud of myself because I kept fighting the whole game," Willis said. "It was tough, but I'm just going to work hard and get ready for next week."
Speaking of next week, the Storm travels to Nashville to take on the Kats, who are blessed with quite a few old friends. Former Storm players Pat Sperduto and Jay Gruden are Nashville's offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively. There are also Tampa Bay alums on the roster, including kicker Jorge Cimadevilla and linemen Willie Fears and Joe March. Kickoff will be at 8:30 p.m. EDT Friday night in the Nashville Arena.
Thunderclaps...Proving There's No Such Thing As a Dull Extra Point in the AFL - After Wagner's fifth touchdown pushed the score to 40-10, the snap on Franco Grilla's extra point try sailed high and bounced down the field. Grilla ran after it, finally picking it up at the Preds' 20-yard line. He ran three yards and was slowed down by Johnnie Harris before he ran into Lawrence Samuels. Samuels picked Grilla up with a little help from Harris and threw him to the turf. At this point, all hell broke loose. Wagner, upset at the way Grilla was tossed to the ground, looked as if he wanted to take on the whole Storm team. "[Storm FB/LB] Les Barley blocked me, and [Storm lineman Michael Kerr]...jumped on me, speared me with his helmet," Wagner said. "I get mad, I let them get mad."
Semptimphelter's Debut - Lost in the shuffle was the performance of the Preds' Scott Semptimphelter, making his pro football debut. "I thought he did everything that was asked of him," Moss said. "He got a guy open, he threw the ball to him, so I thought for a rookie he did about as well as any guy I've seen." Wagner, who caught five of Semptimphelter's passes, agreed. "I take my hat off to Scott. To play that well---nobody expects that."
Raves for the Ice Palace - The Predators may not like anything about the Storm, but they had nothing but good feelings for Tampa Bay's new home. "To me this is the classiest place we've been in in the league," Moss said. "I thought it was a beautiful place and everything about it was first class." Predator safety Corris Ervin, who played seven games for the Storm last year, concurred. "It's a great place," he said. "I love it. [It has a] great atmosphere."
Awards - The Player of the Game and Ironman of the Game as voted on by the media in the press box were one and the same: Wagner.
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