1997 Results | Game Coverage
Who: Tampa Bay Storm at Orlando Predators
Kicking Off...For the 17th time, the Arena Football League's two most bitter rivals will be at each other's throats when the Storm spins its way 85 miles northeast on Interstate 4 to the O-rena to face off with their long-time nemeses, the Orlando Predators. The Storm trail the Predators by two games in the race for the Southern Division crown and must win to have any chance at catching them. Orlando has won three straraight, including two at home, but is still just 2-2 at home this season.
The Coaches...Orlando - Perry Moss, 62-28 record in seventh season with the Predators, 81-32-1 record in nine AFL seasons.
Tampa Bay - Tim Marcum, 32-8 in three seasons with the Storm, 87-20 in nine AFL seasons.
In 1997...Orlando (6-2) - Defeated New York 50-42, lost to Arizona 32-31, defeated Tampa Bay 43-17, defeated Portland 40-9, lost to Nashville 46-36, defeated Texas 40-34 (OT), defeated Florida 62-39, defeated Anaheim 41-40.
Tampa Bay (4-4) - Defeated Arizona 42-30, defeated Florida 38-19, lost to Orlando 43-17, defeated Nashville 42-26, lost to Milwaukee 52-41, lost to Albany 53-31, lost to New Jersey 44-28, defeated New York 27-9.
Predators to Watch...WR/DB Barry Wagner - It's obvious to say he's a player to watch---after all, the Predators' media guide devotes over six full pages to his exploits. But is there any denying his impact on any game the Predators play? With injuries reducing his 1996 season to just nine full games, he still accounted for 1,338 total offensive yards, 34 touchdowns, 33 tackles and five interceptions. He's still at it again in 1997, with 942 total offensive yards, 91 more yards on returns and a league-leading 27 touchdowns. He also leads the AFL with six interceptions.
Tampa Bay was the only team to muffle Wagner in 1996. He didn't play in the Preds' 63-42 loss at Tampa Bay (5/18), but he was fully healthy for the return match at the O-rena on July 19. He never got into the flow of the game, though, thanks to a superhuman performance by Storm defensive specialist Johnnie Harris, who was assigned to shadow Wagner throughout the game. To put Harris' performance into perspective, consider that Wagner played in nine full games during the regular season of 1996. In eight of those games, he broke the 100-yard barrier in receiving yards and scored at least one touchdown. His averages for those eight games were 10.9 catches, 156.1 yards and three touchdowns. Against Harris and the Storm, he caught just three passes for 29 yards and no touchdowns as he never managed to break open.
But when Wagner faced the Storm on May 17, Harris had a pulled groin, and Wagner was simply unstoppable. He scored five touchdowns, including four on passes from Scott Semptimphelter. However, the most damaging score of all came on the first play from scrimmage, when he stepped in front of a Peter Tom Willis pass and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown. He personally accounted for 115 of Orlando's 178 offensive yards in the win.
QB Scott Semptimphelter - After Pat O'Hara went down in Week Two, Semptimphelter was chosen to make his AFL debut against Tampa Bay on May 17. The former Dallas Cowboy reject didn't disappoint, but then again he didn't have to do much. He took only 27 snaps (by comparison, the Storm had 55 offensive plays) and completed eight of 16 passes for 132 yards and four touchdowns, all to Wagner. Doubts surfaced two weeks later in a May 30 loss to Nashville, and as a result, O'Hara saw action in relief. But when O'Hara failed to move the team against the Kats and one week later against Texas, Semptimphelter stepped in and led the Predators from behind, firing a touchdown pass to Alex Shell to win the game for Orlando. The Preds have won their last two since Semptimphelter took over for good.
OS Mac Cody - Signed last week after a CFL career, he played in his first AFL game last Friday against Anaheim, and gained 157 total yards, including 106 yards on six returns. He also caught four passes for 51 yards as he took over the offensive specialist's role from Jeff Parker, who had held the position since taking over for Pred legend Herkie Walls in 1996. Parker had disappointed in 1997, catching 31 passes for 358 yards and only two touchdowns.
Noting the Predators...Guaranteed - After his team's 41-40 win over Anaheim last weekend, Wagner guaranteed an Orlando win over Tampa Bay in Friday night's contest. Owner Will Meris promptly backed it up by making a deal with Papa John's Pizza that stipulates that if the Storm wins, all fans will get a free large one-topping pizza with their ticket stubs. "I like Barry's confidence and I share in it," Meris said. "The organization decided to back Barry's guarantee by buying dinner for our fans if we fail to deliver a victory against the Storm." When asked about the guarantee, Marcum said, "In Snyder, Texas, we've got a saying that says 'Let them sleeping dogs lie...We're not going to let crap like that bother us.'" Okay, so what do fans cheer for? The Preds to win, or for a free dinner? As Jerry Seinfeld's neighbor Newman once said, "It's quite the conundrum."
Familiar Talking Heads - Although the game will be called by Orlando's announcers, they will be familiar to long-time Storm fans. Play-by-play man Gene Deckerhoff not only is the voice of the Tampa Bay Bucs and Florida State Seminoles, but was the Storm's TV play-by-play announcer in 1993 and 1995, and was the color analyst in 1994. Analyst Fran Curci, who has manned Pred games since 1993, was the Storm's coach during the 1991 championship season.
Tampa Bay/Orlando Connections - Orlando QB Pat O'Hara (injured) was a 10th-round draft choice of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1991 and served as backup quarterback throughout the 1991 season...Orlando DS Chris Barber played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1992...Orlando DS Corris Ervin started seven games for the Storm last season before being waived to make room for Johnnie Harris. He was immediately signed by Orlando and started the Preds' last six games...Preds OS Jeff Parker spent 1992 on the Bucs' developmental squad.
Noting the Storm...Statistically Speaking - Tampa Bay ranks third in the league in scoring defense (34.5 points per game) and second in total defense (203.9 yards per game). Orlando is first in both categories, though, allowing 32.4 points and 190.3 yards per contest...The Storm's pass defense ranks first, allowing 180.3 yards per contest. It held Orlando to 132 yards through the air in their May 17 meeting. For the season, the Preds are averaging 209.6 yards per game via the pass, good for 13th in the league...Tampa Bay's offense continues to struggle, ranking tenth in total yards per game with 251.5 and 13th in points with only 33.3 points per game. Only 1-7 Portland has scored fewer points...OS George LaFrance is all over the league leader lists; he's third in scoring (98 points), second in receptions (62), fourth in receiving yardage (750) and first in all-purpose yardage (186.8 yards per game).
Injury Front - Lineman Lynn Rowland returned to Tampa Bay after spending the last month in Georgia while his broken ankle healed. He should be back in one to two weeks. Quarterback Peter Tom Willis practiced in the early-week practice sessions for the first time in three weeks and is feeling better every day.
From the Mouth of Marcum...On Orlando DS and former Storm player Corris Ervin... - "I got Johnnie Harris, Tracy Sanders and Tracey Perkins back. When that happened, I had to put Corris Ervin down."
A Bit of Personal Philosophy... - "You can never win too much. But you can always lose too much."
Series History...The series began on the first weekend of the 1991 season, when the expansion Predators met the relocated Storm, who had spent the previous four seasons in Pittsburgh as the Gladiators. Tampa Bay and Orlando have met twice a year in the regular season since then, and the the Predators hold a 7-6 advantage. However, the Storm has won two of three playoff meetings, meaning the teams enter Friday's game with the overall series tied at 8-8. Tampa Bay has won five of the last six in the series, and has won four straight at home. But home field has been of little significance in the history of the series. In eight games against the Storm at Orlando Arena, the Preds are 4-4. In the eight games in Tampa Bay, the Storm is 4-4.
For a look back at the wild history of the Storm-Predators series, check out our story on the history of the rivalry.
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