1998 Results | Game Coverage

Storm Can't Cage Kats, 54-52

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

TAMPA, Fla. - Last year, for most of the season, the Storm was dead last in the league in turnover ratio. The Storm ended up not bringing in the rear in that department, coming in 11th with a minus-seven ratio, but their struggles and their season-ending number still bore evidence of a problem.

It may well be worse this year. After two games, the Storm's ratio is that same minus-seven figure they finished 1997 with. It was minus-four after last week, with what turned out to be a passel of red herring turnovers that only slightly marred a 45-23 thrashing of San Jose. But against Nashville on Saturday night, the Storm's four turnovers proved to be fatal.

Four Storm turnovers led to a total of 17 Nashville points, and with one giveaway coming at the Nashville 10 on a second-quarter fumble by Les Barley, the Storm were stripped of at least three points of their own. In a game pitting two good teams, those miscues proved to be the difference as Nashville won their first game in three tries against the Storm, 54-52 in front of 9.629 at the Ice Palace on Saturday night.

"Mistakes, turning the football over---two interceptions, two fumbles," Storm coach Tim Marcum recalled after the game. "With that, you're not going to get it done against the tough, upper echelon teams like that. We're going to have to do better taking care of the football."

George LaFrance
WR George LaFrance, benched at offensive specialist in favor of Wayne Walker, reassumed the position after Walker's groin injury and led the Storm with three touchdowns and 199 all-purpose yards. Photo by Chris Arnold.
For Storm QB Peter Tom Willis, the turnovers spoiled what otherwise would have been a night to remember. He posted career highs in passing yards with 303 and touchdowns with seven. However, he was intercepted twice and fumbled a snap for the second time this season. The fumbled snap came at the Storm's eight- yard-line on an exchange with Steve Houghton, when Willis pulled away from center without the ball. He never had a firm grasp on it and it fell to the turf, where it was recovered by Kats FB/LB Earnest Fields.

Aside from that, he had an outstanding game, completing three passes of over 40 yards in the fourth quarter, and doing so under constant pressure from the Kats' front line.

I tell you, we've got one tough quarterback," Marcum said. "He just got the crap knocked out of him."

Willis' effort leaned to the spectacular, with the long passes late in the game. Kats QB Andy Kelly had a more consistent performance, with a 46-yard second quarter bomb to Bill Rutledge being the only pass longer than 23 yards. Kelly and Rutledge burned Storm defenders, combining for seven completions, 87 yards and three scores. Also starring for the Kats was defensive back Corey Johnson, who recorded both of the Kats' interceptions.

The only turnover forced by the Storm came in the third quarter, when Tracey Perkins stepped in front of a floating Kelly pass intended for Rutledge and returned it 18 yards to the Nashville eight-yard-line. It was a great play on the ball, but the only such play that worked, as Storm defensive backs, overeager to gain possession, often missed potential tackles by going straight for the interception.

For the Storm, there is some positives to take away. The offense, when asked to, clicked and connected on long passes consistently for the second straight week, bringing the bomb back as a lethal weapon for the first time in two seasons. George LaFrance put together an outstanding evening, gaining 199 all- purpose yards, including a 39-yard kickoff return. But the final outcome puts the Storm one game out of first place in the Southern Division, looking up at the Kats and the Orlando Predators. Not a good place to be when fighting in a group that arguably includes three of the league's four best teams.

"It's a long season. We certainly don't want to give up on what we set out to do. Our goals are still very realistic. We just need to continue to work hard to get this thing right. If someone is not doing the job protecting the quarterback, we need to get somebody in there who will. That's just all there is to it."

The Storm will take what will hopefully be their next step in the right direction on Saturday night against the explosive Houston ThunderBears, led by stat-racking quarterback Clint Dolezel. Kickoff at the Ice Palace for the game will come at 7:40 p.m. Tickets are available at the Ice Palace box office, through the Storm ticket office at (813) 276-7300, and through TicketMaster at (813) 287-8844. In Tampa Bay, the game will air on a tape- delayed basis via Time Warner Communications.


Kats coach Eddie Khayat on beating Marcum: ""I didn't beat him, our players beat their players. It was a great contest and that is an outstanding football team, as you know. They are tough to beat them, any place you play them---their house or our house. That is a great, well-coached team."

Khayat on His Team's Effort: Our guys played well in every phase of the game and kept coming up with it when they had to. In this game it is never over until it is over; it is true in Arenaball. Our guys kept fighting and fighting until the clock had two zeroes on it.

Willie Wyatt on the state of the Storm: "I think we have a good football team, but having a good football team and playing good are two things, and I think that's what we've got to start focusing on next week---just playing better and doing our jobs."


To Go for Two or Settle for One - Marcum made what appeared to be a puzzling decision after LaFrance caught a 45-yard touchdown pass from Willis with 2:55 left to go for an extra point instead of a two-point conversion. A two-pointer would have pulled the Storm within eight points and, thus, one score of the Kats. "It's so hard to get two points in anything," Marcum said. "I felt like as long as we kept it within nine, that was the thing to do. When you're ten down, you kick the extra point; that's what you're supposed to do."

Wayne Walker
WR Wayne Walker, pictured dashing through the Florida Bobcat defense last July, racked up 104 all- purpose yards before badly pulling his groin in the second quarter. Photo by Chris Arnold.
Wayne's World Is a Painful One - Offensive specialist Wayne Walker was having a typically explosive night. In just over a quarter of action, he had accounted for 104 all-purpose yards and a touchdown on a 20-yard pass from Willis. But on his last kickoff return, Walker was flipped up by Nashville kicker Jorge Cimadevilla and landed awkwardly. He ended up with a pulled groin and missed the remainder of the contest; LaFrance replaced him as offensive specialist. "He's a guy that we placed a lot of hope in, calling him our offensive specialist," Marcum said. "It's pulled pretty bad, because he can't lift his leg."

Nittmo's Not Nearly Nifty Night - Although new kicker Bjorn Nittmo was perfect on seven extra points and hit one of two field goals, Marcum did not term his new booter's night a success. On the eight times he kicked deep (his final kickoff was an on-side one), he only hit the net twice. Given that Marcum's primary reason for releasing Rich Fall was the lack of length on kickoffs, Nittmo did not remedy that problem in short order against the Kats. "I thought he had a very poor night kicking the football," Marcum bluntly asserted afterwards. "I'm disappointed in the way he didn't hit the net on kickoffs. Hopefully, he'll settle it down and get better." However, it could be possible that Nittmo is just rusty---he hasn't kicked since an August 9, 1997 preseason game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Atlanta Falcons.

Meanwhile, former Storm kicker Jorge Cimadevilla fired away soccer-style bombs for the Kats, and did so with aplomb. Although he missed one of his seven extra point attempts, he nailed field goals from 36 and 43 yards out and hit the rebound net on a more consistent basis than his Storm counterpart.

Thornton Waived - Lost amid the hubub of Saturday's season opener was the Storm's waiving of OL/DL Michael Thornton. He ends his Storm career with six tackles, dating back to last season, when he was signed by the Storm on June 5, two days before their game with Albany. He was placed on injured reserve on July 10 of last season and did not play in the Week One win at San Jose.

Awards - The Wilson MVP was Kelly and the Tinactin Ironman was Rutledge.

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