1997 Results | Game Coverage

Firebirds Pummel Battered Storm, 53-31

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

It's safe to say that the 1997 edition of the Tampa Bay Storm is having its share of problems. After six games, the team is hovering at .500 for the first time since they were 3-3 midway through the 1994 season. They've lost three of their last four, the first time that has happened since the end of the 1994 season. They're averaging 35.2 points per game this year, more than two touchdowns less than their average last season.

Oh, and by the way, the starting quarterback was taken out of the game on a stretcher.

The game was pretty much a wash after quarterback Peter Tom Willis was sent to the turf after a borderline late hit from Albany's Leroy Thompson. The shoulder pad-shot to Willis chest resulted in severely bruised ribs, a diagnosis confirmed at an Albany hospital where he was taken after the hit. Rookie Dan White came in, and, befitting a man taking his first snaps as a professional, he struggled mightily. Two of his first three drives ended in turnovers. Eventually, he found his way to 154 yards through the air and three touchdown passes. His efforts were futile, though. By the time White entered the game, the Firebirds already led 17-13. Albany had scored 3:20 into the game and never trailed after that, cruising to a 53-31 win over Tampa Bay in front of 9,384 at the Pepsi Arena on Saturday night.

Dan White
Dan White, shown here throwing a pass in the preseason, took his first regular season snaps in Saturday's loss to Albany. Photo by Chris Arnold.
White did his best, given the circumstances. The Storm never got a sound offensive attack going thanks to mistakes that included botched snaps from center, dropped passes (including two uncharacteristic drops by George LaFrance), numerous costly penalties (ten for 73 yards) and a sieve-like defense that allowed Albany a whopping 8.1 yards per play.

The Firebirds' offense struggled earlier this season as they got used to new quarterback Mike Pawlawski, but after six weeks, everything looks to be okay. He was brutally efficient, averaging 8.2 yards per attempt and throwing no interceptions. Ten of his passes and 161 of his yards went to Eddie Brown, who had arguably his best game against the Storm. Brown even threw a touchdown pass in the third quarter to Charlie Davidson on an option pass that looked suspiciously like a play Orlando used on a crucial two-point conversion try with no time left in last year's Storm at Orlando game.

In general, the statistics of the game were fairly even. Tampa Bay had fewer yards than Albany, but was only short by 29 yards. The Storm had more first downs (17 to 14), more rushing yardage (41 to 34) and more return yards (130 to 92). But those statistics were countered by the Storm's continued predilection for turnovers. Tampa Bay had three to Albany's one, pushing the season total to 17 turnovers and a minus-nine turnover margin.

There were two areas in particular where the Storm failed miserably while the Firebirds found consistent success.

1. Pass Rush

For the second straight game and the fifth time in six weeks, the Storm did not record a sack. FB/LB Les Barley came close on one play in the second quarter, but Pawlawski tossed the pass into the stands and connected for an 11-yard touchdown pass to Greg Hopkins on the next play. Pawlawski often seemed to have all day to throw, a fact which frustrated Storm players and may have led to an odd series of penalties late in the third quarter. First, lineman Kent Wells was whistled for offsides on first-and-ten from the Albany six-yard-line. Then, on first-and-seven, FB/LB Les Barley barreled over a lineman and nearly ran over Pawlawski. He was whistled for a personal foul, giving the Firebirds first-and-ten at their 17.

It was the Albany pass rush that not only knocked Willis out of the game, but battered White on nearly every play. Anxious to give him a rude AFL welcome, they came after White relentlessly on every play. To White's credit, he managed to get up time and again, but he did sustain some damage. On an 11-yard completion to Stevie Thomas in the fourth quarter, White was nailed and knocked to the turf. Blood streamed profusely from his chin. However, after a timeout, he got back on the field and continued. He probably wished he hadn't. One play later, he was knocked to the ground again, the play after that he never got the snap from Terry Beauford, forcing a fumble that the Firebirds recovered, and on the Storm's last possession, he was sacked once and nailed after the pass once again.

2. Kicking Game:

For the Storm, it can be summed up in one word, and that word is hideous. Kicker Terry Belden missed four of five extra points and both of his field goal attempts. Granted, one of his field goal attempts was from 56 yards, but the other was from 27 yards, a makeable distance. To top it off, he personally accounted for 40 yards of penalties by virtue of sailing two first quarter kickoffs out of bounds, giving the Firebirds first-and-ten at their 20-yard-line. Over the entire game, only one of Belden's six kickoffs managed to even reach the rebound nets.

Belden's showing looks even worse when compared with that of his Firebird counterpart, Pete Elezovic. Elezovic will be signed by the Washington Redskins tomorrow, meaning this was his last AFL game of 1997. And judging by his performance on Saturday night, his NFL invitation is well-deserved. He hit five of six extra points and connected on two of three field goals, hitting from 37 and 42 yards out. In addition, none of his kickoffs went out of bounds.

So there are two primary problem areas---the line on both sides of the ball and the kicking game. Coach Tim Marcum tried to address the problems on the line with the signings of Michael Thornton and Wilky Bazile in the past week; perhaps the next move may be to address the kicking game, which has been a problem area since Bjorn Nittmo skipped out of training camp to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With a 3-3 record, the Storm can only hope they won't play like dogs next week when the team with the league's best record, the 5-1 New Jersey Red Dogs come to the Ice Palace to face Tampa Bay for the first time. Kickoff will be at 7:40 p.m. Fans in the Northeast can watch the game live on SportsChannel New England, SportsChannel New York or SportsChannel Philadelphia. The game will be live on all systems. Time Warner Communications will offer the game on tape delay in Tampa Bay at various times during the week.


Barley Finally Gets the Record - Most expected Tampa Bay FB/LB Les Barley to break the league's all-time rushing record in last week's game against Milwaukee. Needing ten yards to break Major Harris' record of 837 yards, he got just five. With five minutes left in the first quarter, Barley had yet to see the football. Then, with the Storm perched on the Albany 23-yard-line for a first-and-ten situation, Willis pitched him the pigskin, and he rumbled to the left. Moving forward, he gained a couple of yards before a key block from Flint Fleming sprung him free. With that, he was in the clear, and rambled into the end zone for the Storm's second touchdown of the game. The run was Barley's longest of the year, and the longest of his Storm career (he had a 13-yard run in 1994). Barley now has 251 rushes for 856 yards on his career.

LaFrance's Good and Bad Night - OS George LaFrance had a productive evening, catching nine passes for 100 yards and three touchdowns while adding 130 yards on eight kick returns. However, it could have been much better. Late in the first quarter, he broke open in the secondary. Willis found him deep, and fired away for LaFrance, who was three steps beyond the nearest Albany defender. However, the well-thrown ball bounced off his face mask and onto the turf for an uncharacteristic drop, robbing the Storm of a sure touchdown. LaFrance also dropped a relatively easy catch across the middle with just over three minutes left in the second quarter.

New Faces - Three players signed to the Storm's active roster in the past nine days dressed out for Tampa Bay for the first time in their careers. OL/DLs Wilky Bazile and Michael Thornton, each of whom reported to the team this week, saw some decent playing time. Thornton started and played on the first few series of the game, but didn't record a tackle. Bazile made an impact by recovering a Tony Bowick fumble late in the third quarter to set up a Storm drive.

Awards - The Wilson Game MVP was Pawlawski, and the Riddell Ironman of the Game was Dukes.

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