1998 Results | Game Coverage

Storm Makes Late Surge Past Rampage, 55-44

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

Les Barley
Les Barley made a case for being named Ironman of the Year on Saturday night, scoring two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 18 seconds left, and gaining 43 yards on eight carries, for an average of 5.4 yards per rush. Photo by Chris Arnold.
This is the type of game of which letdowns are made. The Storm, playing just to finish the regular season and avoid injury, with home-field advantage wrapped up, faced a struggling expansion team, playing merely for pride, in front of a juiced and boisterous home crowd of 10,121 at the Van Andel Arena.

For most of the game, the Storm lived down to that description. Tampa Bay suffered, among other foibles, a blocked field goal that was recovered for a score and a muffed kickoff return by Wayne Williams that was recovered for six points. In addition, DS Tracey Perkins, FB/LB Andre Bowden and WR/DB TRONG>Antoine Worthman all left the game with various injuries, though all but Perkins returned.

In addition, QB Peter Tom Willis endured one of the coldest stretches of his career, completing just nine of his first 28 passes. The cold snap, which stemmed from mistimed routes, a consistent Grand Rapids pass rush and dropped balls, endured into the fourth quarter.

Then, with a 41-36 deficit and 11:07 left, Willis got hot in a hurry. He completed four straight passes on a drive that culminated in a four-yard scoring pass from Willis to Stevie Thomas that gave the Storm a 42-41 edge on the Rampage. However, when Remy Hamilton struck back for the Rampage with a 25-yard field goal with 2:42 left, it placed the Storm in a position it hadn't faced in 1998---having possession of the football and needing just one score to win.

Meaningless game? Not at this point---this was the Storm's chance to pull off something it hadn't done since beating Albany on July 12, 1996---to make a late-game comeback.

With that, Willis strode under center, to begin the drive at the Storm's 14-yard-line. Right away, Williams broke open down the left side of the field. Willis threw a perfect strike between the "2" and the "1" adorning the front of Williams' jersey---and the ball caromed off his chest and onto the ground. So much for the quick drive. Undaunted, Willis dashed off shorter passes to Williams and George LaFrance, giving the Storm the ball at the Rampage's 16-yard-line with one minute remaining.

Two rushes by Barley gained just one yard. With fourth down and one, and with 33 seconds left, Storm coach Tim Marcum decided to roll the dice one more time and put the ball in the hands of the man who may replace Barry Wagner as the league's Ironman of the Year.

He came up double-sixes.

Using key blocks from LaFrance and Lawrence Samuels, himself an Ironman candidate in his own right, Barley slammed down the left side line, rambling to the Rampage's six-yard-line. Barley took it the rest of the way on the next two plays, first for two yards and then for the remaining four as the Storm grabbed the lead with 18 seconds on the clock.

Celebration was premature, though. One week earlier, the Rampage had been in a similar situation at Milwaukee and had come achingly close to success. Two touchdowns in the final eight seconds were wiped off the scoreboard---one for a penalty and the other because Grand Rapids' scrambling, improvising and gray-hair-inducing quarterback, Corey Pullig, had stepped on the sideline as he threw. Most of the fans in attendance knew this, and stuck around to the end.

But there was no magic...not even anything close, this time. The second play of the Rampage's final drive was a pass that was intercepted by Samuels---himself a viable Ironman of the Year candidate---and returned 20 yards for a score. That brought the final score to 55-44, a deceptively large margin given how close the Rampage kept proceedings.

Both teams were prone to mistakes, keeping the game on an even level. Samuels' touchdown was just one of two the Storm scored off Grand Rapids turnovers---the other came in the second quarter when Lynn Rowland recovered a Pullig fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. Grand Rapids turned the ball over four times---two on those scores and two more on interceptions by Johnnie Harris, who forged a tie for the league lead in interceptions for the year with Nashville's Corey Johnson at 11.

But standing above the fray were Barley---as mentioned earlier---and LaFrance and Thomas. Thomas scored two touchdown and caught 58 passes on six receptions. LaFrance had his second consecutive 100-yard game, catching five passes for 113 yards and two scores, adding to his franchise-record total of 34 heading in. Leading the way for Grand Rapids was WR/DB Thomas Bailey, who scored three touchdowns and tallied 83 yards on seven catches, as well as nine yards on two rushes.

It turned out to be a necessary tune-up for the Storm. Winning---and doing so in the clutch, in a hostile environment---should give the Storm a boost of confidence headed into next Saturday night's first-round playoff with the San Jose SaberCats. Kickoff will come at 8:05 p.m. in the Ice Palace for the first-ever postseason game of any kind in the Ice Palace. Tickets are available by contacting TicketMaster at (813) 287-8844, by visiting the Ice Palace box office or by calling the Storm's ticket office at (813) 276-7300.


For the Record Books - Barley's two touchdowns gave him 15 for the season, tying a franchise record...Willis' four touchdown passes also tied a season team record of 70, previously set by Jay Gruden in 1996; he would have had 71 if Williams had not dropped a pass in the end zone with 2:00 left...Of course, if Williams had hung onto the ball, Barley may not have gotten the chance to etch his place in the Storm's record book.

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

Copyright © 1996 - 1999 by Gale Force Design. All rights reserved.