1997 Results | Game Coverage

Storm Play Like Champions, Stun Kats 52-49

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

George LaFrance
George LaFrance, shown here in last year's win over Albany, caught seven passes for 94 yards and three touchdowns in the win over the Kats. Photo by Chris Arnold
Champions overcome adversity. Champions triumph against the odds. Champions play beyond themselves and their abilities. But most importantly, champions never give up.

And the Tampa Bay Storm, while only 9-6 this year, are champions until someone can beat them in the playoffs.

The Storm battled through injuries that kept receiver Wayne Walker from being 100 percent and OS Stevie Thomas and DS Tracey Perkins from playing altogether to defeat the expansion Kats 52-49 in front of 10,214 at the Nashville Arena on Sunday night. With the loss, the Kats ended their first season at 10-5.

In spite of all the injuries, the Storm's low playoff seeding (a franchise-worst sixth) and an unfavorable draw which saw them face perhaps the league's hottest team going into the postseason, the Storm came through. QB Peter Tom Willis led the way, completing 18 of 27 passes for 228 yards and four touchdowns. Three of those scores went to OS George LaFrance, who ended up with seven catches for 94 yards. Benched in favor of Walker two weeks ago, LaFrance has reassumed the offensive specialist position due to Walker's ankle injury. In the last two games, he has accounted for 18 catches, 204 yards and five touchdowns.

Les Barley
FB/LB Les Barley, the league's all-time leading rusher, bowled over the Kats for a season-high 44 yards on eight carries. Photo by Chris Arnold
Helping out the passing game was the running attack, which turned in its best rushing performance in the last two years. The Storm collectively rushed for 72 yards, paced by the efforts of the league's all-time leading rusher, Les Barley. Barley ran for 44 yards on eight carries, including two touchdowns. FB/LB Andre Bowden added 30 yards on six carries, including an eight-yard touchdown run with 29 seconds left in the game that gave the Storm a 52-42 lead and all but wrapped up the contest.

The team's 72 rushing yards were the most for the Storm in the last two years, and were part of a rushing renaissance that has been going on for the last two weeks. Tampa Bay rushed for 64 yards at San Jose and now has 136 rushing yards in the last two contests for an average of 68 per game. In the 13 other games of 1997, the Storm collectively ran for 323 yards, an average of just 24.9 yards per game.

Meanwhile, the Kats struggled on the ground. They were credited with only three rushing attempts, and two of those came because of fumbled snaps. For the game, the Kats lost 11 yards on the ground, giving the Storm a team record for fewest rushing yards allowed in any game, playoff or regular season. The Kats' only called run of the game came with 11:30 remaining on fourth-and-one from their 14-yard-line. Kats QB Andy Kelly handed the ball to WR/DB Joe Campbell on an end around. However, Bowden and lineman Willie Wyatt got to him deep in the backfield and stuck Nashville with a four-yard loss. Two plays later, Barley plowed into the end zone from ten yards out to push the Storm's advantage to 45-28 with 9:52 left in the game.

At this point, the Kats showed that they, too, can rally from adversity. Nashville scored just 1:50 later on a two-play drive of passes from Kelly to WR/DB Darryl Hammond. The Storm got the ball back and managed to chew up 5:50 of the game clock. However, a 25-yard field goal attempt by Rich Fall was no good, and the Kats had the ball with 2:23 left needing two scores to win. They managed to score the touchdown that pulled them within 45-42, but only after taking 1:40 and seven plays. On the ensuing onsides kick, Storm WR/DB Antoine Worthman fell on the ball. Two plays later, Bowden scored on an eight-yard touchdown run that put the game out of reach with 29 seconds left.

All season long, coach Tim Marcum reminded reporters and anyone who would listen, "Wait until the tournament. We'll do it in the tournament." With one round down, the Storm is one-third of the way to fulfilling Marcum's prophecy. If the Storm does go on to win the championship, they will become the lowest playoff seed to do so.

"No matter what you do, never, ever, ever, ever, give up," Fall said on Friday after practice. Well, given the result on Sunday night, Rich, you've got 23 teammates who feel the same way.

That's a great attitude to have going into one of the most daunting tasks any team in any sport can ever face---winning a game in the Snake Pit, also known as America West Arena. That will be the Storm's mission next Saturday night when they head to the Valley of the Sun to face the 13-2 Rattlers. Kickoff at AWA will be at 8:00 p.m. EDT, and the game will be televised nationally by ESPN.


Radio Daze - Something must be said about the quality---or lack thereof---of the Storm's radio broadcasts. When the radio coverage is the only way for fans at home to follow the game, the need for accuracy and knowledge of Arena Football is heightened. Sunday night, play-by-play man Jack Harris showed neither. Fortunately, Storm fans can watch next week's game on ESPN. The ESPN announcing team of Mike Adamle and Mike Golic has been criticized by fans, but at least they have gotten better and learned more about Arena Football as the season has gone on. Frankly, Harris seems to be lost.

Peter Tom Willis Surveys the Defense
QB Peter Tom Willis surveys the Nashville defense in the teams' May meeting. Photo courtesy www.katsfan.com.
Thanks, AFL Fans! - Special thanks go out to all the Arena Football fans who dropped by the AFL java chatroom set up by Andrew Tapolski, creator of the San Jose Sabercats' fan page. It was a lot of work for us, but it was worth it knowing that people were listening and following the game. We did the best we could given the spotty play-by-play provided by Harris, and I'm sure it would have been smoother with a more professional sports broadcaster calling the action.

Special K - In just his second game with the Storm, defensive back Jack Kellogg made his presence known. He picked up the slack for the missing Perkins, leading the Storm with seven total tackles, including six unassisted stops. Unfortunately, he's still not a household name. The stat book compiled by the Nashville Kats' staff referred to Kellogg as injured WR/DB Walter Sutton.

Awards - The Game MVP as voted on by the Storm Shelter staff was LaFrance. Our Ironman of the Game was Barley. Coincidentally, we selected the same two players for those respective honors in the first Kats-Storm clash.

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