1998 Results | Game Coverage
Storm Silences Any Doubters, Shoots Down 'Birds
By Andrew Mason
A trip to Tampa Bay brings a lot of sunshine, a game against a pretty good football team, and a chance to play in front of a loud crowd, be it at the Ice Palace or the ThunderDome. Oh, yeah, and Stevie Thomas breaking their hearts.
As he did in games in 1992, 1995 and 1996, Thomas scored against the Firebirds early and often. But this time, he wasn't asked to turn in last-second heroics as he did in 1995 and 1996. In spite of the fact that the Storm led by a commanding 56-42 lead with seven seconds left, he still obviously felt he needed to score in the last minute. With that, he recovered a Pete Elezovic onside kick and scampered four yards into the end zone to pour the final ounces of water on the dousing of the Firebirds.
The score was his fifth of the night, setting a new career high. He caught nine passes for 128 yards and four receiving touchdowns, setting personal season highs.
"He's an excellent player," Albany coach Mike Dailey said. "He's competed in this league a long time. I've competed against him since the first day he was in the league. He's a great player."
For Thomas, the motivation didn't necessarily come from merely playing the Firebirds, but in the purported presence of some yakking.
"I heard Eddie Brown talking about Johnnie [Harris] and that made me want to play above him," Thomas said.
Thomas was the main beneficiary of a fantastic night by Storm QB Peter Tom Willis, who turned in perhaps the best night of his career. He completed his first 11 passes in a row, and ended the night completing 21 of 29 attempts for 274 yards and six scores. In addition to the four that went to Thomas, one went to Lawrence Samuels, and one went to George LaFrance, who had an uncharacteristically quiet night, catching just two passes for 13 yards.
Defensively, the Storm allowed Mike Pawlawski to complete 22 passes for 282 yards and five scores. However, he was consistently pressured and was sacked twice, fumbling both times; however, Albany recovered both. In addition, the Firebirds had two other fumbles that the Storm recovered, but both plays were ruled dead before the ball came loose. Replays appeared to show that both of the non-Pawlawski fumbles should have been allowed to stand. After both would-be turnovers, Albany went on to score.
Had the game been close, the calls would have been an issue. But the Storm pounded Albany, scoring more points on Albany than anyone else has. Tampa Bay also placed the worst loss of the season on the Firebirds, and recorded their most convincing win the series since the Storm won 48-26 at the ThunderDome in 1993.
For the Storm, this was a crucial win in that it was their second in a row over a team with a winning record, after they'd gone through the first six games of the season losing to the only winning team they played, Nashville.
"We had an exuberant locker room," Storm coach Tim Marcum sad. "Most of the time these guys don't get too excited when they win; it may even be a big one. But this time everybody was loud, whooping and hollering. It was a big win; we still have a long trek ahead of us. But it was a nice step."
The Storm will attempt to extend their six-game winning streak next Saturday night in front of a friendly crowd, something they will need given the fact that their opponents are the hated and eternally dangerous Orlando Predators. Kickoff for the game will come on Saturday, June 27 at 7:40 p.m. Tickets are available by calling the Storm ticket office at (813) 307-5905 or by contacting TicketMaster at (813) 287-8844. Or, you can walk right up to the Ice Palace box office. If you can't attend the game, Sunshine Network will broadcast the game live, with the voice of tbe Buccaneers, Gene Deckerhoff, providing play-by-play and former Storm coach Fran Curci providing the commentary.
Thunderclaps...That Was Then, This Is Now - Willis' progress is even more evident in the fact that he equaled his 1997 season touchdown total against Albany. That's 41 touchdowns in 14 games last year and just eight games in 1998. He is on pace to break Jay Gruden's season record of 70 touchdowns set in 1996. In addition, Willis threw 19 interceptions last year, or an average of 1.4 per game. This year, the former Seminole has thrown just 0.75 picks per game.
Bad News for Bem - With 11:26 left in the second quarter, Storm lineman Sylvester Bembery, while moving in for a tackle on Albany FB/LB Chad Dukes, went down on the AstroTurf and didn't get up. After Storm trainers worked on him, he attempted to put weight on his right leg, but couldn't and had to be helped off the field. "The prognosis is an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) which is a very tough injury, a season-ending injury." An official diagnosis will come in the next few days, but it does appear that the Storm will lose the services of the league's all-time leading sacker.
Harassing Harris - Storm DS Johnnie Harris continues on his league record-shattering pace for passes defensed. Harris broke up a season- high five passes against Albany, pushing his total to 20. He is just six breakups away from breaking the league record of 26, set by Orlando's Chris Barber last season.
Is the Hot Seat Cooling? - Storm kicker Bjorn Nittmo came into the game under a publicly known "microscope," according to Marcum after the Orlando game of June 12. He was placed and mounted for the microscope after missing two extra points and being inconsistent on kickoffs in the win over the Predators. Against Albany, he hit six of eight extra points, but also nailed a 40-yard field goal and did not fail to reach the end zone on any kickoffs. "[I was] a little happier," Marcum said. "He did a pretty good job all night, getting it to the net, or at least high." His kickoffs, and the coverage of them, helped keep Dukes, Albany's primary kick returner, from breaking forth for any touchdowns---a welcome statistic given that Dukes rode the General Lee to three scores against the Bobcats last week.
Awards - The Wilson MVP was Thomas and the Tinactin Ironman was Samuels.
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