1998 Results | Game Coverage
Storm Shoots Down 'Hawks, 65-33
By Andrew Mason
TAMPA, Fla. - This was a textbook time for a letdown. After a scintillating, record-setting 81-42 romp over New Jersey last week, and with showdowns against Orlando and Albany looming ominously on the horizon, perhaps the Storm could be excused if they were caught peeping to the games with their two biggest rivals.
"Coach wanted to go for the field goal at first," Storm QB Peter Tom Willis said afterwards. "But we made a statement by going for it and making it, and that picked us up."
FB/LB Les Barley bowled over the left side for the score and a 24-20 halftime lead. From that point on, the Storm never trailed and dominated.
"We had possession coming out after halftime," Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "But at that point, though it wasn't fourth down, it was like a fourth-and- goal, and we just went for it."
CityHawks coach Chuck Shelton saw it differently.
"You just can't give up those kind of points to a team with this ilk," he said.
The score crushed the CityHawks. Tampa Bay ran off 21 consecutive points, building an insurmountable 45-20 lead at the end of the third quarter. All told, the Storm humbled New York by a 41-13 margin in the second half. Tampa Bay opened the second half with a hot streak by Willis, as he completed his first seven passes. One went to OS George LaFrance, giving the Storm a 31-20 lead. The catch was the first of the game for LaFrance, who ended the night with four catches for 74 yards and three scores, all in the second half.
However, the backbreaking play came on the last snap of the third quarter. New York remained within hollering distance at 38-20, and QB Mike Perez had driven the CityHawks to the Storm 18-yard-line. At that point, Perez tossed a pass to the left side that DS Johnnie Harris stepped in front of and ran back 45 yards to a touchdown.
"He's a hell of a player," Marcum said.
Harris sprinted through the tired CityHawks, making a cut at the 15-yard-line and diving into the end zone for the score. The interception was just part of a terrific all around game; he accounted for six total tackles, broke up a pass, forced a Charlie Davidson fumble in the fourth quarter and intercepted a Perez pass in the first half.
Overall, Tampa Bay's defense held Perez to 191 yards on 19-of-39 passing. The CityHawks also gained just 207 yards, keeping the Storm on pace to be the top- ranked defense in the AFL.
"The best. The best," Shelton said. "The rush is everything. They put a lot of pressure...then they just physically wore us out."
Shelton was effusive in his praise of the Storm, who handed the CityHawks their worst loss of the season.
"This is the best football team we've played top to bottom," he said.
For the Storm, the focus now turns to Orlando. Tampa Bay faces their archrival twice in the next three weeks, with a home contest with 5-1 Albany sandwiched in between. Collectively, that's three games against teams with just two losses between them.
"The next three games are very important," Willis said. "If we don't take care of them, the last five don't mean much."
Tampa Bay will get its chance to start taking care of business and proving that they are among the league's elite Friday night in Orlando against the Predators. The Storm will be well-rested compared to Orlando, as the Preds have a Monday night contest against the New Jersey Red Dogs to contend with, shortening their practice schedule. The Storm has not won in Orlando since 1995 and will be looking to turn around their recent misfortune, which includes a three-game losing streak overall. Kickoff for next Friday's clash is at 7:40 p.m. in the O-rena. For tickets, call the Preds' office at (407) 87-ARENA, or, if you're not inclined to entering the Jungle, you can watch the game live on Sunshine Network.
Thunderclaps...Bjorn Net-no - The subject of a St. Petersburg Times feature on Saturday morning, kicker Bjorn Nittmo had his worst game since joining the Storm. Nittmo hit the net on just four of ten kickoffs, and missed two of his eight extra point attempts. Nittmo was one of two on field goal attempts, however, in his defense, one of the attempts was from an impossible 60-yard distance. The game came after a record-setting performance at New Jersey, when he scored 19 points, the second-most for a kicker in Arena Football history.
Halftime Speech? Nah... - Although his team was ahead just 24-20 after a relatively listless 30 minutes, Marcum didn't feel the need to burst forth with any histrionics for the viewing and listening pleasure of his team in the locker room. "I quit giving those 'Win one for the Gipper' speeches a long time ago," he said. "I just need to get the guys I don't have to say that to."
Moving Even Farther from 1,000 - Any chance of Barley losing his 1,000-yard mark disappeared on Saturday night as he gained eight yards on six carries, boosting his career total to 1,014. For Barley, though, the night was historic anyways, as he scored a career-high three times.
Awards - The Wilson MVP was LaFrance and the Tinactin Ironman was Barley.
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