1998 Results | Game Coverage
Storm Makes Easy Prey of Predators
By Andrew Mason
Afterwards, though, the coach was ho-hum. In spite of being dunked with an ice bucket, hugged by injured lineman Sylvester Bembery and presented with a cake honoring the 100th win after the game, he remained true to his credo throughout the week leading up to the game---that whether it was win number one or win number 100, they were all the same. Besides, he has bigger mountains to conquer.
"Truly, 100 percent, honestly, it doesn't matter," the coach said. "All that matters around here is if you win a championship. If we're anything less than a championship team, we've got a bad season. And that's the standard that we've set for ourselves."
That being the goal, the Storm has gone a long way towards accomplishing it. The Storm moved a game and a half over the Arizona Rattlers (who play Sunday night at Portland) for the league's best record, and pushed themselves three games ahead of Orlando and two ahead of Southern Division rival Nashville by thrashing the Predators 56-30 in front of a raucous throng of 14,125 at the Ice Palace on Saturday night.
As the Storm broke ahead of the Predators, outscoring the neighbors to the northeast 20-0 to close the game, the crowd rose to a crescendo not heard in the two years the team has played at the Ice Palace and rarely heard in their six seasons at the cavernous ThunderDome. And with the roar rising, the Storm pushed their play to another level, especially on defense. For the whole game, the Storm held the Predators to just 204 yards.
"The crowd helped us a lot," FB/LB Les Barley said. "We wanted to get the crowd involved. When we get that going, something goes through us. It's like having 18,000 people that are willing to fight on your side. We know that all those people would jump right in and fight side-by-side with us. You can't measure how much that pumps us up."
Barley's effort showed how jacked he was by the crowd. He rambled for 23 yards on three carries, including a six-yard touchdown run with 2:46 left in the game. The score also saw a display of QB Peter Tom Willis' blocking ability, as Barley, making a broken field run, turned an intended sweep to the right into a run around left side when there was no room to run. Willis turned into a blocker, nailing a Predator in the process.
"I don't know who made that block, but I give him much praise," Barley said.
"When a quarterback gets a chance to block, you'd better make it, because you don't get that chance very often," Willis said.
Willis' block capped another outstanding performance. He upped his season touchdown mark to 47 by tossing six scores. He completed 26 of 37 passes for 281 yards. Three of his scores went to Tampa Bay's touchdown machine, OS George LaFrance. His performance was especially sweet, seeing as it came on a night that was dedicated to Predator coach and former Tampa Bay hero Jay Gruden.
Before the game, the Storm showed career highlights of Gruden on the video replay boards that hang above the Ice Palace. Some of the images were flattering, and others were not, but all were of the signal-caller. After the national anthem, the proceedings took a pause to honor Gruden. As his wife Sherry and his two oldest children joined him on the field, Storm owner Woody Kern presented Gruden with his 1996 home jersey, framed and mounted. After that, a sign was unveiled above the south end zone, reading, "Jay Gruden #7."
The Storm retired his jersey, and then retired his team. Orlando, once 3-0, now stands at 5-4 and is reeling after two losses to the Storm, one to Nashville and one to New Jersey. Meanwhile, the Storm came through its rough three-game stretch of Orlando-Albany-Orlando unscathed, and rolls into the final month of the season with the league's best mark.
"I'm just ecstatic that we came out of it with three victories," Willis said. "We beat two good teams in three games."
The Storm will attempt to extend their winning streak to eight when they take on the Houston ThunderBears on Thursday night in a reprise of the team's May 16 meeting. Tampa Bay won that one 56-25 at the Ice Palace, but one should expect this coming game to be closer. The T-Bears won at resurgent Iowa on Saturday 72-65 and have advanced their record to 5-4, their best mark so late in the season in their three-year history. Kickoff comes at 8:40 p.m. EDT in the Compaq Center in Houston. The game will not be televised, but will be broadcast locally on WDAE-AM 1250.
Thunderclaps...It's Never Too Early... - Based on the records of the other teams in the league, as well as the Storm's 8-1 mark, Tampa Bay's magic number to clinch a playoff spot is 1. That can be achieved with either a Storm win or a Milwaukee Mustang loss. Milwaukee fell on Friday night 76-40 to San Jose to drop to 4-5.
The Nittmo Watch - The Bjorn Nittmo watch continues. He missed his first extra point of the night and looked to be in shaky shape after shanking two early kickoffs. However, he recovered to hit his last five extra points and added a 38-yard field goal on the last play of the first half to give the Storm a 22-17 lead going into the dressing room. "Bjorn fell short a couple of times," Marcum said. "That's one of the areas where we've got to improve."
Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting - Every good personal foul deserves another in response, and that was the case tonight as the two I-4 neighborly teams exchanged pleasantries throughout the contest. After LaFrance's first score, in the second quarter, Storm OL/DL Terry Beauford and Predator OL/DL Connell Spain shared stories about their experiences in Tallahassee, where Beauford attended Florida A & M and Spain played at Florida State. Both were whistled for personal fouls. Later, similar offsetting penalties were levied against Storm WR/LB Stevie Thomas and Damon Mason of Orlando, and, in the final minute, noted competitors Johnnie Harris and Orlando WR/DB Barry Wagner saw their mano-a-mano battle bubble over into hostility. Both were promptly thrown out of the game. The incident ended another frustrating night for Wagner, who, for the second straight time against the Storm, was held to just two receptions.
Awards - The Wilson MVP was Willis and the Tinactin Ironman was Barley.
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