1998 Results | Game Coverage

Storm Dominate 'Cats In Playoff Opener

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

George LaFrance
OS George LaFrance, shown scoring against Florida last month, tallied 186 all-purpose yards, scored three times, and had his third straight 100-yard receiving game with 117 yards on six catches. Photo by Chris Arnold.
TAMPA, Fla. - For a brief time, it looked like this one was going to be a struggle. The Storm had scored on its first possession on a 26-yard-pass from Peter Tom Willis to George LaFrance, but the SaberCats had responded with surprising swiftness on a 33-yard pass from Ron Lopez to Kyle Gary. LaFrance's touchdown on the following possession gave growing evidence that this one was going to turn into a shootout.

But on the first play of their second possession, with 5:08 left in the first quarter, San Jose's slim chance of victory slipped through their hands, just as the center snap from Curtice Macfarlane to Lopez was dropped to the ground and bounced into the hands of Storm WR/LB Lawrence Samuels. Samuels, lying on the ground, was not touched by a SaberCat player, and ran five yards to the end zone. After deliberation, and with encouragement from Storm coach Tim Marcum, who repeatedly made the touchdown signal, the officials raised their arms in agreement.

When the SaberCats went scoreless on their next drive and LaFrance tacked on his third touchdown of the game, the score was 28-7 in the Storm's favor, and, for all intents and purposes, the highly competitive phase of the game ended and the Storm moved into a mode of sustaining their lead. San Jose played the Storm better than even from that point, outscoring Tampa Bay 39-37. Problem was, playing the Storm anywhere near break-even wasn't going to work. The Storm ended up winning their first-round playoff game 65-46 in front of an announced crowd of 11,001 at the Ice Palace on Saturday night.

"We'll savor this one," Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "San Jose was the kind of team I was worried about, but our guys stepped it up. We played playoff football."

For the Storm, "playoff football" meant scoring points on their first nine possessions. Only on their final possession, when the team ran out the clock, did the Storm not taste any kind of success. Eight of their nine offensive drives ended in touchdowns, including six scoring passes from Willis and two runs by FB/LB Les Barley.

Barley helped key a well-balanced and effective ground attack that accounted for 46 yards overall, with 24 from Barley and 22 from Andre Bowden. In addition, the Storm averaged 5.1 yards per rush, while the frustrated and flustered SaberCats lost two yards on six rushes for the game.

Keeping the SaberCats in contention was the right arm of Lopez, who connected on 20 of 37 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns. Three of his receivers had over 50 yards in receptions. However, most stunningly, none of those receivers was named Steve Papin.

Papin, whose 3,192 all-purpose yards set a league record this season, was held to just 130 all-purpose yards---98 below his 228 yard-per-game average. Only 40 of his yards came on receptions, his lowest total since Week Seven at New Jersey, when he had three catches for 35 yards. Further, his 10.0-yard per catch average was his lowest in 1998, and his 90 yards of returns were his lowest since that Week Seven encounter in the northern New Jersey swamplands.

"One thing I can't say enough about is our coverage teams," Marcum said. "Papin's been killing everybody else on returns. Our guys got downfield, behind the wedge, and made the plays on him."

On defense, the Storm shadowed Papin with two and sometimes three cover men. On one catch, Antoine Worthman, Tracey Perkins and Johnnie Harris converged on Papin within less than one second of his hauling the ball in.

Given the final result, the Storm's strategy of shutting down Papin at all costs proved to be successful. However, it also allowed San Jose WR/DB Kyle Gary to have the best offensive game of his short Arenaball career. Gary set a career high by hauling in 102 yards' worth of receptions on six catches. His three scores, coming on receptions of 33, 19 and 14 yards, tied a career high set in Week Eight against Portland.

The Storm will move on to the second round of the playoffs to face No. 7 seed New Jersey. The Red Dogs, 66-59 upset winners at Albany on Saturday night, will be making their first semifinal appearance in their two-year history. Kickoff for the semifinal showdown will come at 8:00 p.m. EDT on Friday, August 14 at the Ice Palace. Tickets are available by calling TicketMaster at (813) 287-8844, ordering tickets via the Internet at TicketMaster's web site, by calling the Storm ticket office at (813) 307-5905, or by visiting the Ice Palace box office, which will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 10:00 a.m. until after kickoff on Friday night. The game will also be televised on ESPN2, but a good crowd would go a long way to making the night a success for the Storm. After all, the last time the Red Dogs came into the building, they beat the Storm, outscoring Tampa Bay 17-0 in the second half to win 44-28 on June 14, 1997.


Non-Football Doings - The pregame show featured a WWF-esque staged wrestling match between the mascots of San Jose and the Storm...The national anthem was sung in one minute, 48 seconds, the lengthiest of the season...Players remained on the field for about 40 minutes after the game signing autographs for fans, as several hundred spectators stuck around after 11:00 for the autograph session.

In the House - In addition to the ESPN crew of Mike Adamle and Mike Golic, several other luminaries of Arena Football were at the game. Commissioner C. David Baker and his right-hand man, league counsel Ron Kurpiers, were at the game, completing their Central Florida playoff tour that began at the Orlando Arena on Friday night. Baker appeared on the Storm's WDAE-AM 1250 radio broadcast with play-by-play man Jack Harris in the fourth quarter. "Scouting" for the Predators was the Ironman, Barry Wagner, who perhaps was checking out Barley, his primary competition for the league's Ironman of the Year award this season. And one of the league's long-time cornerstones, Florida Bobcat head coach Rick Buffington, was in the building.

The Record Book - The Storm set a franchise playoff record with 65 points, bettering the 56 they put up against Albany in 1995...The 111 points scored by both teams combined were the most ever in a Storm playoff game.

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

Awards - The MVP was LaFrance and the Tinactin Ironman was Barley.

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