1997 Results | Game Coverage

Storm De-claw Kats, 42-26

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

George LaFrance
George LaFrance, shown here in last year's win over Albany, caught eight passes for 99 yards and four touchdowns in the win over the Kats. Photo by Chris Arnold
For just a little while on Friday night, it looked like the Storm's woes from last week were carrying over into their contest with the Nashville Kats. The Kats scored just 3:28 into the game on their first possession, a drive which saw the Storm whistled for three penalties, including one on the extra point following Khevin Pratt's nine-yard touchdown catch. When the Storm could only gain 12 yards on six plays on their first drive---a drive that included 14 yards' worth of penalties---the Kats had a chanc e to grab Tampa Bay by its collective throat, just as Orlando did a week earlier.

But faced with defending the Kats on a 2nd-and-2 situation at the Storm's 12-yard-line, the defense woke up and turned the game around. A screen pass on second down was stopped for no gain on a solid tackle by Antoine Worthman. One play later, the Storm's pass rushers broke through and put some significant pressure on Kats quarterback Andy Kelly, forcing him to throw a pass into the stands. When Nashville failed to even convert a field goal off the drive, Tampa Bay had the break it had been waiting five quarters for.

The Storm's offense did not waste its chance, taking the momentum of the defense's stand and scoring on three straight possesions to take a 21-10 halftime lead. The Kats pulled within four points midway through the third quarter, but the Storm responded with a touchdown to boost the lead back to 11. From that point, Tampa Bay's lead was never less than eight points as the Storm steadily put more space between them and the Kats, cruising to a solid 42-26 win in front of 11,875 at the Nashville Arena.

The win was huge for the Storm (3-1), who needed to do two things: keep pace with Orlando in the Southern Division race and re-build the team's collective confidence, which was shattered in last week's disastrous 43-17 loss to Orlando. Especially in need of a good game was quarterback Peter Tom Willis, whose performance last week incited boos from the home fans. Willis answered his critics with a solid performance, completing 20 of 33 passes for a career-high 246 yards and four touchdowns. He threw one in terception, but that came in the final minute after the game had been decided.

Four of his touchdown strikes went to George LaFrance, who had his second consecutive eight-catch game. But perhaps most importantly in the long run, Willis found a reliable No. 3 receiver in WR/DB Lawrence Samuels. Primarily a defensive stalwart, Samuels had the best receiving game of his career, catching seven passes for 77 yards. He would have scored on a 29-yard touchdown catch, but as he broke into the open field, the pass was broken up on a fine lunging deflection by the Kats' Mark Ricks.

The Storm made a recommitment to the rushing game, turning in the best performance on the ground in the last two seasons. After gaining 55 yards on 31 carries in the first three games, the Storm more than doubled their season total, gaining 60 yards on 17 carries. Leading the way was FB/LB Les Barley, who gained 37 yards on eight carries. Barley's total pulled him within nine yards of the league's all-time rushing record, held by former Cleveland Thunderbolts quarterback Major Harris, who left the AFL with 837 rushing yards.

As impressive as the Storm's offensive renaissance was, the defense's performance was just as good. Tampa Bay held the league's second-ranked passing offense to 201 yards, 83 below its average. Nashville's offense, also ranked second in the AFL, was held to 203 yards, 104.3 below its average. The Kats could only muster a franchise-low two yards rushing, averaging 0.33 yards per carry.

Most importantly, though, the Storm caged the Kats on the scoreboard. Nashville came into the game averaging 44.3 points per game and had never scored fewer than 42 points in a contest. Against the Storm, they struggled to 26 points on three touchdowns and two Jorge Cimadevilla field goals.

The Kats did pull within 21-17 on Peter Tuffo's one-yard touchdown run with 8:00 left in the third quarter. However, for everything the Kats did in the second half, the Storm had an adequate response. Tampa Bay scored immediately following each Kats score in the second half, allowing them to keep Nashville at arm's length and eventually pull away.

While the outcome was decided with 2:30 to go on LaFrance's fourth touchdown of the game, the game itself did not go gently into that good night. The last minute of play took around 15 actual minutes to complete, as the teams traded possessions five times. Three of the last minute's six drives ended with interceptions---two off of Kelly and one from Willis. Nashville's other drive ended on downs, while two more Storm drives ended in a missed field goal and with the end of the game.

But by the time the interminable game dragged to its conclusion, the result was decisive. The Storm now has seven days to prepare for its next opponent, the Milwaukee Mustangs, who will take a two-game winning streak into next week's battle. Kickoff at the Ice Palace will be on Friday night, May 30, at 7:40 p.m. The game will begin a stretch of three home games over four weeks, with the other home games being against New Jersey and New York and a road game at Albany on June 7. If the Storm wants to keep pace with Orlando for the Southern Division title, then wins may well be vital in all four of the contests leading up to the June 27 rematch between the Preds and Tampa Bay.


Viewing From the Couch - After two weeks in the press box, it was back to the TV for this game, and while the coverage was fairly solid, the couch potatoes of the Storm Shelter do have a couple of complaints. First, someone at Sunshine Network needs to update the opening to Arena Football games. The opening graphics show the AFL logos of all the teams flying across the screen. Problem was, the logos were of the teams in the league last year, including the now-extinct clubs from St. Louis, Charlotte, Connecticut and Minnesota, as well as the relocated Memphis Pharaohs, now in Portland. Second, they need to show the clock after the end of every possession. The coverage is pretty good now; those improvements could make it better. FYI, the next telecast will be on June 7 when the Storm travels to Albany.

Lynn Rowland on the pass rush
OL/DL Lynn Rowland, shown here on the pass rush vs. Texas last year, got the Storm's first sack of 1997 with six seconds left in the first half. Photo by Chris Arnold
Finally, a Sack! - Storm fans who were in the know were getting restless as the game progressed. Tampa Bay's defensive front was getting consistent pressure on Kelly, but they couldn't quite close the deal to get an elusive sack. Finally, with six seconds left in the first half, it happened. Kelly straight-dropped six yards back to his own 13-yard line, where his passing pocket was pulverized by the rush of Storm linemen Sylvester Bembery and Lynn Rowland. Bembery hit Kelly, but it was Rowland who got the takedown, dragging the signal-caller to the Astroturf. Thus, the Storm got its first sack of the 1997 season, a mere 209:54---or just a whisker under three-and-a-half games---into the campaign.

The Contest - Before the season, defensive backs Tracey Perkins and Johnnie Harris decided to turn their quest for interceptions into a competition. The winner gets little more than bragging rights, but that didn't keep Harris from flaunting his early 1-0 lead in the race after he got an interception in the win over Florida two weeks ago. In the last minute of Friday's win, though, the parameters changed, as Perkins picked off Kelly twice on consecutive possessions. That doesn't mean Harris had a bad game, though. Once again, he led the team in unassisted tackles with four.

Awards - The Game MVP as voted on by the Storm Shelter staff was LaFrance. Our Ironman of the Game was Barley.

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