1998 Results | Game Coverage
Storm Slams 'Cats to Turf Again
By Andrew Mason
The lethargic atmosphere continued through the third quarter, as the Storm used a 40-yard drive on the first possession of the quarter and a fumbled Bobcat snap to take a 31-10 lead and grab control of the game. But on the kickoff following a 22-yard field goal by Bjorn Nittmo, the atmosphere livened up.
Storm DS Johnnie Harris---who in the first half had set a league record for passes defensed in a season, breaking up two Fred McNair passes to push his season total to 28---got into a scuffle and pushed an official. Any contact with a referee warrants an automatic ejection, and in spite of the standout defender's protests, Storm coach Tim Marcum knew the truth, telling him, "You're gone."
"Well, the guy jammed his hand down in Johnnie's face," Marcum said. "Johnnie gets up and the guy punches him. This is the way I saw it. Now, the referee steps in front of him. Johnnie had no idea who that was. He was just going after someone, and he pushed the referee. You push the referee, you're out. It was the proper call. There was no question in my mind, Johnnie had no idea who he was pushing."
Harris left the game, but brought the crowd to life. His departure sparked the loudest noise of the afternoon with boos from the crowd. From that point on, the Storm pepped up considerably. Tampa Bay went on to score 28 of the next 36 points, including the last 21 of the game, and destroyed the Bobcats 59-18.
The loud second half crowd plus the national television audience watching on ESPN gave the Storm the external push necessary to browbeat the Bobcats.
"If anything, [the coverage] helped," Marcum said. "You know, you want to play well in front of a national audience. Individually, I think each one of these guys knew that their friends and family across the United States are watching, so it helps them get up."
When all was said and done, the national television audience saw a superlative game, as the Storm turned in a defensive effort for the ages. Tampa Bay set a new franchise record for yards allowed, yielding just 143 yards to the Bobcats. The Storm also held the Bobcats to 18 points---28.3 below their average in 1998---and the fewest allowed by the Storm since giving up just nine to the New York CityHawks on June 21, 1997.
The Storm held the Bobcats to a paltry 3.2 yards per play, microscopic by Arenaball standards. In addition, the Storm coaxed Florida into four turnovers---including fumbles on consecutive fourth quarter kickoffs. One of the fumbles was recovered by Nyle Wiren and led to a touchdown pass from Ron Adams to Lawrence Samuels. On the next kickoff, Samuels punched the pigskin loose from Florida returner Millard Hamilton, sending the ball loose into the end zone. Storm lineman Tony Woods landed on the ball for his first Arena Football touchdown.
Throw in the fact that the Storm posted three sacks---including two by team leader Les Barley---and pressured Bobcat QB Fred McNair numerous times, and there lies the prescription for Bobcat disaster. On seemingly every pass play, Storm linemen and linebackers were parking themselves in the Bobcat backfield, and after a while, it appeared Florida could do nothing to stop the relentless wave of midnight blue jerseys.
"We're having problems," a frustrated Bobcat coach Rick Buffington said afterwards. "We couldn't stop their linebackers from getting through; we couldn't keep them out of our backfield. We didn't have the right combination of linemen and they destroyed us."
Meanwhile, the Storm's offense, which got off to a rough start with just 87 yards in the first half, began firing on all cylinders in the second half. In the end, QB Peter Tom Willis turned in a game MVP performance, completing 22 of 35 passes for 214 yards and six scores. Three of his scores went to Samuels, with two going to Willis and one, a game-long 28-yard strike, to fleet-footed Wayne Walker in the third quarter.
The Storm's offense did what the Bobcats' could not---move the ball with consistency. Willis spread the ball around, as four receivers had more than 35 yards of receptions and eight receivers caught passes. Meanwhile, 136 of McNair's 155 passing yards came on passes to OS Curtis Ceaser and WR/DB Millard Hamilton.
The Storm will attempt to extend their winning streak to ten when the Storm go to the Nashville Arena on Friday night to try and avenge their only loss of the season. Tampa Bay lost to the Kats 54-52, and, as a result, trailed in the Southern Division race until Week Six. With a win, the Storm will clinch the Southern Division title and will move closer to the franchise's best regular season ever. Kickoff at the Nashville Arena will be at 8:30 p.m. EDT, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, we will be on hand to offer our usual coverage. Fans in Florida can watch the game on Sunshine Network, or can listen on WDAE-AM 1250.
Thunderclaps...Start Printing Those Playoff Tickets - Because of losses by the SaberCats and Red Dogs on Saturday night, the Storm entered the game having already clinched the fifth seed in the postseason. With the win, the Storm wrapped up the fourth seed and a first-round home game. This condition is assured because of the fact that nine teams currently stand with five or more losses, and two of the three teams that have four losses---Nashville, Albany and Orlando---all lose tiebreakers with the Storm. Nashville is the only club among the top five teams in the league---including 7-2 and current No. 2 seed Arizona---that would win a tiebreaker with the Storm, based on the Kats' 54-52 win over the Storm in Week Two.
Bjorn Net-mo! - K Bjorn Nittmo went over the 100-point mark for the season---making all eight extra point attempts and a field goal to go to 102 points---and hit the net on a majority of his kickoffs for the first time since May keeping the Bobcats' returners from getting any kind of significant yardage. Nittmo also got help from the coverage team, which forced two fumbles. Afterwards, Marcum---who usually spends at least part of his post- game press conferences laying into the Swede, was unusually ebullient with is praise. "Our kicker did one heck of a job," he said. "Putting that ball on the net and in the soft net. Just a super, super job by Bjorn Nittmo."
Storm Bytes - The game was the first-ever Sunday home game and first-ever afternoon game; the Storm will have the second of both if they host the ArenaBowl on August 23...George LaFrance moved closer to breaking his own franchise touchdown record; his two scores moved him to 29 for the season, just three off his 1996 standard...In backing up Willis, Adams has completed three passes, with two going for scores, one against New York on June 6 and one against the Bobcats...Bowden would have had another sack, but McNair got rid of a pass just as Bowden wrapped the QB up around the ankles, drawing an intentional grounding penalty...Willis threw six touchdown passes; he is now 12 away from tying Jay Gruden's franchise record of 70 set in 1996.
Awards - The Wilson MVP was Willis and the Tinactin Ironman was Samuels.
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