1997 Results | Game Coverage
Storm Boosts Playoff Chances, Pounds Bobcats 48-22By Andrew Mason
TAMPA, Fla. - After last week's 61-38 loss to Iowa, the Storm players, coaches and fans were forced to come face-to-face with a possibility not even conceived of before the season.
The Storm could miss the playoffs.
With one win by Albany, two by Milwaukee and one loss by the Storm, Tampa Bay would be out when the playoffs began. Never before had the Storm gone so late into a season without having clinched a playoff spot, but now the Storm was fighting for its playoff life.
So coach Tim Marcum adopted a simple plan this week: Win the last two games. If they could do that, it wouldn't matter what Albany and Milwaukee did. "Win both, and they can't keep us out," he said often during the week leading up to Saturday's game with the Florida Bobcats.
The Storm moved to 7-6 and clinched a non-losing record for the seventh straight year. The Bobcats---playing their 11th game away from their West Palm Beach home---dropped to 4-9 and were officially eliminated from playoff contention.
"I just think that they outplayed us," Florida coach Babe Parilli said. "We beat ourselves."
The statistics would seem to bear that out. In spite of the point differential, the Storm outgained the Bobcats by the relatively small amount of 38 yards (221 to 183). In addition, the Bobcats actually averaged more yardage per play (5.3 to 4.8) and had as many plays of more than 10 yards (nine). However, the Storm amassed 20 first downs---a season-high five of which came on penalties. The Bobcats also allowed three Storm sacks, two of which led to fumbles by QB Clemente Gordon.
Two of Tampa Bay's sacks came thanks to FB/LB Andre Bowden, who was named the game's Ironman thanks to a superb all-around performance. Bowden added four tackles, an assist, a forced fumble, 16 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. The four scores tied a team record set two weeks ago set by...you guessed it, Bowden.
"I can't take credit for it," Bowden said, pointing to lineman Willie Wyatt while adding, "The guys up front made the holes for me."
Bowden was not the only Storm player to turn in a superlative effort. DS Tracey Perkins intercepted a Gordon pass at the goal line early in the fourth quarter. The pick was his 12th of the season, setting a new Arena Football record.
While Perkins has downplayed the record, his teammates did not.
"I really hadn't thought about the record, but everybody's been bringing it to my attention," he said after being doused with water from a spray bottle by FB/LB Les Barley. Then, ever the team player, he gave credit to his linemen for providing a pass rush that forced Gordon into that hurried throw.
The other Storm player to star was offensive specialist Wayne Walker, who started for the first time in his three-game AFL career. Walker caught six passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns, and added 133 yards on six kick returns for a performance that earned him Game MVP honors.
"That guy's exciting, isn't he?" Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "He's exciting to watch play, he's exciting on the runbacks and so forth."
Significant was the fact that Walker was the offensive specialist because that meant George LaFrance was not. LaFrance has been the Storm's offensive specialist for every game since Marcum took over before the 1995 season. In addition, LaFrance has been Marcum's only offensive specialist since 1988, when the two began their stint together in Detroit.
"Those are tough decisions to be made, but George fully understands it," Marcum said. "It's tough because of the great play that George has given us."
In spite of the personal hurt of being benched---he was listed as a WR/DB but only saw one drive's worth of work per quarter---LaFrance remained a gentleman after the game. He dressed and showered quickly but stopped to sign autographs for a group of kids that stood outside the team's locker room. He paused to say hello to the media on two occasions before leaving the Ice Palace.
The move thrust Walker into the spotlight.
"Coach told me a couple of days in advance that I was going to be the offensive specialist, so it gave me time to prepare," he said. "It did surprise me [though]. I know George is a great player, probably a Hall of Fame player in this league.
The timing of the move seems a bit curious, coming so close to the end of the season. But there is no denying Walker's speed. He had two kickoff returns of 30-plus yards, and his burst of speed makes you hold your breath in the expectation of something spectacular.
His play provided one last bolt of lightning in a home schedule that has seen an equal amount of successes and failures. The eight home games were bookended by wins over the Bobcats. In between, though, the Storm lost four of six, contributing to the team's middling 7-6 record after 13 games. However, in July, the Storm went 3-1---their best record in any one month this year.
"From time to time, we've questioned ourselves throughout the year," Marcum said. "But right now, we know we can do it. We know that everything is there for us."
"We're really jelling and talking more now as a team," Perkins said. "Especially back in the secondary---we know we're key to the success of this team, and we're really playing well now."
They'll need to succeed again next Saturday night in San Jose when the Storm visits the SaberCats for the first time ever. Kickoff at San Jose Arena will be at 10:40 p.m. EDT. The game will not be televised, so the only way for fans to follow the game live will be via a ticket or through radio stations in San Jose (KNBR-AM 680) or Tampa (WDAE-AM 1250). Should Iowa defeat Albany in their game in Des Moines (kickoff: 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday), the Storm will not need a win to make the postseason and will merely be playing for seeding. If Albany wins, though, the Storm must win to make the postseason.
Thunderclaps...New Addition - Thursday, the Storm added WR/LB Jack Kellogg to the roster. Kellogg, who was issued jersey number 8, was deactivated for the Bobcat game. "We're going to play him next week," Marcum said. Also deactivated were OL/DL Wilky Bazile, WR/DB Cornell Parker and FB/LB Les Barley.
Awards - The Wilson MVP was Walker and the Riddell Ironman was Bowden.
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