1998 Results | Game Coverage
Who: New Jersey Red Dogs at Tampa Bay Storm
Kicking Off...And then there were four...The Storm, making its fourth consecutive semifinal appearance and seventh in the last eight years, hosts the New Jersey Red Dogs in Friday's game at the Ice Palace.
New Jersey enters the game off of a record-setting upset win over the Albany Firebirds last Saturday night. The Dogs bit the Birds 66-59 thanks to a league-playoff-record 446 passing yards and nine touchdowns by QB Rickey Foggie and 17 catches by OS Larry Ray Willis, also for a league record. New Jersey scored on ten consecutive possessions; the only time they did not score came as they ran out the clock at the end of the game. The Dogs' win was their first ever in the postseason; they lost to Orlando 45-37 in their 1997 playoff debut.
Meanwhile, the Storm come in off of a rousing 65-46 first-round spanking of San Jose on Saturday night at the Ice Palace. Tampa Bay was paced by Peter Tom Willis, who tossed six touchdown passes. The Storm bolted out to a 28-7 lead thanks to three George LaFrance scores and a Lawrence Samuels touchdown on a fumble return. From there, Tampa Bay cruised to its twelfth win in the team's last thirteen games.
The Coaches...Tampa Bay - Tim Marcum, 50-13 in his fourth season with the Storm, 105-25 in ten AFL seasons.
New Jersey - John Hufnagel, 18-12 in his second season with New Jersey, 18-12 in two AFL seasons.
In 1998...Tampa Bay (13-2) - Defeated San Jose, 45-23, lost to Nashville 54-52, defeated Houston 56-25, defeated Florida 44-29, defeated New Jersey 81-42, defeated New York 65-33, defeated Orlando 42-34, defeated Albany 63-42, defeated Orlando 56-30, defeated Houston 62-46, defeated Florida 59-18, lost to Nashville 49-43, defeated Iowa 71-44, defeated Grand Rapids 55-44, defeated San Jose 65-46.
New Jersey (9-6) - Defeated New York, 53-34, lost to Albany 52-38, lost to Nashville 46-42, defeated Milwaukee 60-56, lost to Tampa Bay 81-42, defeated Orlando 60-49, lost to San Jose 51-33, defeated Florida 41-34, defeated Albany 55-48, defeated New York 39-32, lost to Milwaukee 49-48, lost to Iowa 58-49, defeated Arizona 64-57, defeated Portland 55-52, defeated Albany 66-59.
Red Dogs to Watch...QB Rickey Foggie - When he took over at quarterback in the second half of the Dogs' 81-42 woofer at the hands of the Storm, it marked the end of New Jersey's two-headed quarterbacking monster. Before the next game, at Orlando, Foggie's competition, Aaron Garcia, was dealt to the Iowa Barnstormers. While the trade helped previously winless Iowa become competitive, it also helped the Dogs find stability at the position. Questions surrounding just who would be taking the snaps had hampered New Jersey in the latter half of 1997 and the first month of 1998. In an 11-game stretch that endured to this year's loss to Tampa Bay, New Jersey went 3-8. But since settling on the former Minnesota Fighting Pike QB, the club has gone 7-3. In Foggie's first game as the man, he led New Jersey to a 60-49 stunner at Orlando. He stepped to the fore last week at Albany, setting league single game playoff records with 446 passing yards and nine touchdowns.
OS Larry Ray Willis - Although he is one of the league's elders at 34 years old, he is in just his third Arena Football season, having hopscotched through the Canadian Football League from 1985 to 1993, with stops in Calgary, Edmonton and British Columbia along the way. Last week at Albany, he set a league postseason record with 17 receptions. Last season, he joined the Red Dogs before Week Two after having spent the offseason in limbo as an unwanted refugee from the defunct Connecticut Coyotes. The castoff ended up finishing sixth in the league in catches (93), fourth in receiving yardage (1,366) and third in touchdowns (32). In one game against the Storm---the Red Dogs' 44-28 win last year---he caught nine passes for 99 yards and two scores, including a 17-yard touchdown catch that gave the Dogs the lead for good in the third quarter.
His best seasons north of the border came in the late 1980s. In '87, while playing for the Calgary Stampeders, he set career highs in yards per catch (20.0) and yardage (1,477), hauling in 74 catches and ten scores. He recorded 1,000-yard season with the Stamps in 1988, catching 73 passes for 1,328 yards and nine touchdowns, and in 1989 again caught 73 passes, this time for 1,451 yards and ten scores. In 1990 he split time with the B.C. Lions and the Edmonton Eskimos, but had his fourth straight 1,000-yard campaign.
WR/DB Alvin Ashley - At just 140 pounds, he is the league's lightest player; however, it's no stretch to say that he plays like a heavyweight in the league. He was named Ironman of the Game in his first Red Dog game against the Storm in 1997, when he caught five passes for 63 yards and a touchdown, accounted for 82 yards on three kick returns and picked off two Dan White passes. Ashley's other game against the Storm, when he was with the Minnesota Fighting Pike in 1996, was less successful. The Pike lost 41-16, but Ashley did do well, catching 11 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown, and adding 88 yards on five kick returns.
Noting the Storm...Number Shuffle - Storm WR/DB Corey Dowden will be wearing jersey number 9 this week. He had been wearing number 80 since he returned to the Storm for the Week 14 game at Grand Rapids. Dowden wore No. 9 in his first tour of duty with the Storm, in 1992-93.
Close Game? Advantage Dogs - If the game is tight, the numbers indicate that the edge goes to New Jersey. Seven of the Red Dogs' last eight games have been decided by a touchdown or less. New Jersey has gone 6-1 in those encounters. Overall, the Dogs are 7-2 in games settled by one score, while the Storm is just 1-2, with a win over Orlando in Week Seven and two losses to the Nashville Kats.
The Real Expansion Success Story - While their 1997 expansion brothers, the Nashville Kats, have drawn attention for their success both on and off the field, the Red Dogs have toiled away from the spotlight while the Kats racked up awards and honors. However, after Year Two, when judging on- field success, the Dogs have proven that a bark is more menacing than a purr. Nashville's two-year record of 19-11 is better than the Dogs' 18-12, but the Kats' ledger includes two playoff losses, while the Dogs can show off their win in Albany last week. In addition, New Jersey has shown a propensity to overcome adversity. Case in point: After the Dogs' 49-48 loss to Milwaukee on July 11, the team's leading receiver, OS Larry Ray Willis, was suspended for three games by the league. No matter. After falling at Iowa one week later, the Dogs rallied to stun Arizona 64-57 in overtime, then edged Portland, 55-52, for the No. 7 seed in the postseason.
Lightning Flashes - One week after facing the league's shortest player, San Jose WR/LB Shalon Baker (5-6), the Storm takes on the league's lightest player. Ashley stands at 5-11 and weighs just 150 pounds. But don't let the lack of girth fool you...he's a dangerous weapon. He led the Dogs in receptions (102), touchdowns (32), all-purpose yards (1,534) and ranked among the team leaders in tackles, interceptions and passes defensed...With last week's win, the Storm moved to 12-4 in games broadcast by ESPN, and 8-2 in postseason games shown by the network. Tonight's game will be shown on ESPN2, where the Storm is markedly less successful. Tampa Bay is just 3-3 in games on the Deuce, including two losses at home in 1997, to Iowa and Orlando. However, in postseason games on the network, the Storm is 1-0, with the win being a big one---the 56-49 win over Albany in 1995 where WR/LB Stevie Thomas returned a Firebird kickoff for the winning points in the final seconds of the contest. Intriguingly, the matchup on that evening at the then-ThunderDome was the same as tonight's in terms of seeding, as the Firebirds came in at No. 7, like the Red Dogs, while the Storm were the top seed in the postseason...Tampa Bay's 65 points last week were a franchise postseason record. New Jersey also had a similarly significant performance in their franchise annals, with their 66-point deluge on Albany...Tampa Bay has not hosted a Friday night game since May 31, 1997 against the Milwaukee Mustangs. The Storm lost that one, 52-41...WR/DB Wayne Williams, who did not score a touchdown during the regular season, scored twice last week in the win over the SaberCats...The Red Dogs rank seventh in the league in scoring offense, seventh in scoring defense---a fairly average standing. But they did lead the league in field goals, as Steve Videtich knocked home 16 of 28 field goal attempts. He also connected on 71 of 83 extra points.
We Interrupt This Preview to Bring You This Commercial Message - Be sure and check out the selection of limited edition merchandise at the souvenir stands on the main concourse on the east and west sides of the Ice Palace. Among the items for sale are 1998 postseason t-shirts and the Storm's first ever set of football cards. The $10 set includes 27 cards of your favorite Storm players, and coach Tim Marcum, as well.
Around the Arena League Playoffs - Tomorrow night, tune in to ESPN at 8:00 p.m. EDT to watch the fourth-seeded Orlando Predators take on the third-seeded Arizona Rattlers. The winner of that game will host the ArenaBowl if the Storm loses, or will travel to Tampa Bay if the Storm wins tonight...Arizona, Tampa Bay and Orlando have been involved in the semifinals in each of the last two years. As the fourth team in the final four this year, the Red Dogs replaced Iowa, which fell out of contention and stumbled home to a 5-9 finish, good for a precipitous six-game fall from last year's 11-3 mark...Arizona has made three consecutive semifinal appearances and has been to this round in five of the last six years, only missing in 1995...Orlando has made the semifinals in six of the last seven years; they missed out in 1996 when the Predators lost at Arizona in the first round...New Jersey this year and Tampa Bay last year are the only two teams to qualify for the semifinals with an 8-6 postseason record. In addition, as the No. 7 seed, the Dogs are the lowest seed ever to make the semifinals, sharing that honor with the 1995 Albany Firebirds...Next weekend, the ArenaBowl takes place at 1:00 p.m. EDT and will be televised by ABC, locally at WFTS-Ch. 28.
Injury Front - Remaining on injured reserve are WR/DB Cornell Parker (hamstring), DS Tracy Sanders, OL/DL Sylvester Bembery (knee) and WR/DB Kevin Jackson (broken index finger)...Deactive are OL/DL Keo Coleman, OL/DL/FB/LB Tony Jones, WR/DB Alvoid Mays and OL/DL/FB/LB Nyle Wiren.
Series History...The teams have met twice, with the series knotted at 1-1.
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