1998 Results | Game Coverage

Storm Guzzles Red Dogs, Drinks Up Trip to ArenaBowl

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

Johnnie Harris
DS Johnnie Harris intercepted two passes and was named Game MVP in the semifinal win over the Red Dogs. Photo by Chris Arnold.
TAMPA, Fla. - In a game of great moments for the Storm, perhaps the most prominent came from their best defensive player, DS Johnnie Harris. It was the second quarter. The Storm had just grabbed their first lead, by a 14-13 count. With New Jersey backed up at its own five-yard-line, the crowd was worked into a frenzy.

With a pass from Red Dog QB Rickey Foggie and a perfect grab by Harris, the game was turned irrevocably. Harris grabbed Foggie's pass, stepping in front of Larry Ray Willis and running it back 14 yards for the touchdown. While New Jersey got within five points after that, the momentum they had built in obtaining a 10-0 lead in the first quarter was lost for good.

The Storm earned their fifth trip to the ArenaBowl, and their second home ArenaBowl in team history, by virtue of a 49-23 whipping of the Red Dogs in front of an announced, raucous throng of 10,051 at the Ice Palace on Friday night. The win gave the Storm its third trip to the big game in the last four years, and, most importantly for the team's fans, the right to host the game.

"It would have been a shame if we'd stumbled along the way," a water-cooler- soaked Storm coach Tim Marcum said after the game.

The Storm did stumble---twice, against a team they won't have to see next week in the Nashville Kats---but never fell. Both the losses came by a combined eight points. Now, the Storm can sit back for a day, savor a great all-around effort, and wait for the opponent to be determined. That will happen at approximately 10:30 p.m. EDT tomorrow, when the game between the Orlando Predators and the Arizona Rattlers concludes.

For now, the ArenaBowl tickets being sold at the Ice Palace and all TicketMaster outlets read, "Tampa Bay Storm vs. TBA." And if Marcum prefers one team over another, he didn't let on in his postgame press conference, instead choosing to give local media a cryptic answer when asked about his choice of opposition.

"I truly would love to play the winner of that game tomorrow night," he said.

The Storm almost didn't get that chance. New Jersey, coming off a 66-point explosion against Albany last week, looked to be just as dominant early, scoring on a 34-yard pass from Foggie to Larry Ray Willis on the second play of the game. After forcing the Storm into a missed field goal on its first possession, the Dogs tacked on a 23-yard field goal by Steve Videtich to take a 10-0 lead. It marked the first time since Week Twelve at Nashville that the Storm trailed by more than one score. When the first quarter ended, the Storm still had the goose egg on the board, enduring a scoreless quarter for just the second time in 1998.

It took less than a minute for the Storm to score in the second quarter, though, as Andre Bowden plunged in for the first of his two touchdowns. That set off a 28-6 Storm run, encompassing two quarters and including Harris' interception return. At the end of it, the Storm led 28-16 just under three minutes into the third quarter and had assumed control of the proceedings.

Included in the run was a scoring pass from Willis to OS George LaFrance, which saw Willis throw a pinpoint strike between two diving Red Dog defenders. Although LaFrance caught the pass---one of his team-leading three touchdowns on the night---the play was originally intended for Stevie Thomas.

"We tried to isolate [Thomas] on the other side, so the [Red Dog] DBs did a good job," Willis said. "I looked back and I saw [LaFrance] and I saw the hole and I threw it in there as hard as I could."

Willis was brutally efficient, completing 19 of 25 passes for 220 yards and four scores. By comparison, Foggie had 289 yards through the air, but took 46 attempts and 25 completions to do so, as the Red Dogs' big-play assault was reduced to a series of dink-and-dunk strikes following the early bomb to Larry Ray Willis. The Red Dogs only had two plays of more than 20 yards---the touchdown to Willis and a 26-yard screen pass to Rob Stanavitch in the third quarter.

The fact that the Storm's defense shut down the Dogs was all the more remarkable considering the team's recent defensive efforts. Since allowing 18 points to Florida in Week Eleven, the Storm had allowed 40 points or more in four consecutive games. But against the Dogs, perhaps the most explosive offense entering the Arena Football playoffs, the Storm allowed the third- fewest points in a playoff game in team history.

With that, the Storm had enough to win. It was just a matter of time until the crowd began to chant "ArenaBowl, ArenaBowl," and that came in the fourth quarter after another Bowden touchdown put the Storm up 42-23. Tickets went on sale immediately following the game, and will be on sale at the Ice Palace box office, at TicketMaster's web site, at all TicketMaster outlets, or by calling (813) 287-8844 or (813) 307-5905.

16 down. One to go---the biggest of them all. Be there, if you can.


Don't Call Him Chicken - Football players often play hurt. But broadcasters? One wouldn't think they'd have to play with injury. But Jason Dixon, program director at WDAE-AM 1250 and Storm radio analyst, was forced to the sidelines at lunchtime on Friday when a piece of chicken was lodged in his throat. Dixon could breathe, but could not swallow, and was forced into the hospital to have the offending bird removed. In a local hospital, he had his esophagus stretched to remove the blockage. Miraculously, he arrived at the Ice Palace in time to analyze the fourth quarter of action, still wearing his hospital identification bracelet. So give a pat on the back, or a thrust of the Heimlich, to Dixon.

Statistically Speaking - The Storm held New Jersey to their lowest point total of 1998, and muzzled them by allowing 43 fewer points than the Albany Firebirds did in losing to New Jersey last week...New Jersey committed 12 penalties for 68 yards; the Storm had just five for 15...Proving that numbers can lie, New Jersey did outgain the Storm, 279 yards to 262, and out-first-downed the Storm 17 to 16...DS Tracey Perkins led all players with 11 total tackles, including ten solo stops. He also broke up four Red Dog passes...New Jersey WR/DB Alvin Ashley put up 221 all-purpose yards on the Storm, posting 150 receiving and 71 on kickoff returns.

Well, It's Some Form of Alcohol, So What's the Difference - Injured OL/DL Sylvester Bembery dunked Bowden and Les Barley with a can of Budweiser beer in the locker room after the game. Referring to the traditional champagne spray that follows championships, he told the FB/LBs, "Next week, the real thing, baby!"

Deactives - The Storm's four deactives for the game with New Jersey were Tony Jones, lineman Keo Coleman, WR/DB Alvoid Mays and OL/DL/FB/LB Nyle Wiren.

Awards - The MVP was Harris and the Tinactin Ironman was Bowden.

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