1998 Results | Game Coverage
Storm Thunders Past Bears
By Andrew Mason
HOUSTON - A funny thing happened on the way to the Storm's eighth straight win, ninth of the season and fifth in a row over the Texas Terror/Houston ThunderBears---they made a couple of mistakes.
These mistakes---namely two first quarter fumbles, one on a kickoff return and the other on a fumbled snap---put Tampa Bay behind the eight-ball early. Houston bolted to leads of 10-0, 17-7 and 24-14 as late as the 11:12 mark of the second quarter. The deficits were the greatest for the Storm since a Week Two loss to Nashville, the Storm's last setback. Could it be that Tampa Bay might be upset by these 'Bears?
Not on this night.
With the ball and a 24-14 deficit, QB Peter Tom Willis found George LaFrance for a 14-yard touchdown pass, pulling the Storm within 24-21 with 1:10 left in the first quarter. It was the first score for LaFrance on the evening; up until that point in the game, he had been silent after scoring seven times in the teams' May 16 meeting at the Ice Palace.
Then, the Storm's defense took control. Bolstered by Les Barley's first sack of the game, Tampa Bay forced Houston into a three-and-out. With brutal efficiency, the Storm scored for the second time in less than a minute, and did so in the same manner---on a pass from Willis to LaFrance. As a result, Tampa Bay grabbed their eighth straight halftime lead and went on to a convincing 62-46 win in front of 3,691 pocket protectors at the Compaq Center on Thursday night.
LaFrance's two scores were followed in the second half by scoring runs on the part of Andre Bowden and Barley.
The only time Houston threatened the Storm's lead was when Bernard Holmes stepped in front of Peter Tom Willis pass and returned it 17 yards for a score with 3:34 left in the third quarter. The score was the first that the Storm has allowed on a return in 1998. But the momentum that Houston might have gained died on the next series, as the Storm quickly marched 36 yards to another score---Barley's third touchdown run of the night.
The Storm was paced by a ground attack that turned in its best performance of the season. Collectively, the team ran for 50 yards, paced by 27 from Bowden and 22 from Barley. Bowden came in with just 45 yards in eight games played---he exceeded his per-game average of 5.3 by more than 500 percent with his Houston effort.
Willis was no slouch on the passing side of things, either, connecting on 23 of 29 passes for 301 yards and five scores. In the first half he hit 12 of 13 passes, which wasn't too bad for a man who did not see any action until nearly seven minutes had passed in the game due to a long Houston scoring drive on their opening possession and a misplayed return on the ensuing kickoff that allowed Houston to grab the ball and a goal-to-go situation four minutes into the contest.
But by the second half, the early woes were just a memory, and were so far away that they weren't just a blur to a man who is euphemistically described as wacky, radio play-by-play man Jack Harris, but to the listening audience and those in attendance, as well.
Tampa Bay will attempt to continue its winning ways on Sunday, July 12 when the peripatetic pussycats, a.k.a. the Florida Bobcats, come a- calling to the Ice Palace for the Storm's first-ever Sunday home game and first-ever afternoon home game. The game is being played at the unique hour of 2:30 p.m. because of coverage by ESPN. However, the game is much better in person than on television, so we encourage you to get tickets for the game. Seats from just $5 are available at all Florida TicketMaster outlets and the Ice Palace box office, or by calling the Storm ticket office at (813) 307-5905 or TicketMaster at (813) 287-8844.
Thunderclaps...Playoff Scenarios - With the win at Houston, the Storm clinched a postseason berth. Tampa Bay had already practically clinched a spot, as since the league expanded to an eight team postseason in 1993, no team with eight wins has ever missed the playoffs. As of right now, the lowest seed the Storm can possibly be is seventh, due to a head-to-head tiebreaker advantage the club would hold over Houston (5-5) and because there are already six teams with six or more losses (New York, Portland, Iowa, Florida, Grand Rapids, Milwaukee).
Tampa Bay can clinch the top seed in the playoffs by closing the season 3-1 or 4-0. With one loss, they could finish tied with Arizona at 12-2 if the Rattlers win their remaining four games (at Albany, vs. New York, at New Jersey, vs. Nashville). However, the Storm would win the tiebreaker based on a higher winning percentage against common opponents; under that scenario, the Storm's common opponent record would be 12-2, while the Rattlers' would be 10-2. (All of the Storm's opponents are on Arizona's schedule, while the Rattlers had two games with Portland this year, a team that is not on Tampa Bay's docket.)
In addition, if the postseason began today, the ThunderBears would be the eighth seed. And within a half hour of the Storm's qualification for the postseason, Arizona joined them. The Rattlers had defeated Grand Rapids earlier in the evening but had to wait on officially joining the postseason party until Milwaukee lost their sixth game of the season. The Mustangs fell to Nashville 62-61 in overtime, thus sending Arizona to the playoffs.
Harris Is in the History Books - DS Johnnie Harris broke up five passes against the ThunderBears, boosting his season total to 26. That moved him into the top spot in Arena Football history in single season passes defensed. Last year, Orlando DS Chris Barber broke up 26 passes over the course of the 14-game season. For good measure, Harris also intercepted two Clint Dolezel passes, boosting his team- leading season total to nine.
Barley for Ironman - Barry Wagner has fostered a stranglehold on the league's Tincatin Ironman of the Year Award. Since entering the league in 1992, Wagner has never failed to walk away with the trophy. But this year, he has some serious competition from Barley, the Storm's most veteran of FB/LBs. After running for 22 yards on four carries, Barley now stands at 147 yards for the season. His three rushing touchdowns against the T-Bears gave him 12 for the season, good for the league's lead in that department. The 12 scores also stand as a career high. But Barley is also making a strong mark on defense, as well. With two sacks of Dolezel, he pushed his team- leading season total to five. Three other Storm players have been named the league's Ironman of the Week this year---Bowden, Lawrence Samuels and Lynn Rowland.
Awards - The Wilson MVP was LaFrance and the Tinactin Ironman was Barley.
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