1998 Results | Game Coverage
Who: Tampa Bay Storm at New Jersey Red Dogs
Kicking Off...The Storm carries two weeks worth of momentum into a crucial non-division matchup with the Red Dogs. They'll start howling at the moon at 7:40 p.m. EDT at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Saturday night.
Tampa Bay moved to 3-1 and a tie for second place in the Southern Division last weekend with a resounding 44-29 win over the Florida Bobcats in West Palm Beach. Tampa Bay surged to a 38-15 halftime lead on the strength of four touchdown passes by Peter Tom Willis and a 54-yard missed field goal return by George LaFrance with no time left in the first half.
New Jersey comes into this weekend's encounter with a 2-2 record on the heels of a nailbiting 60-56 win at Milwaukee last Friday night. The Red Dogs rallied from a 49-40 deficit entering the fourth quarter, and took the lead for good on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Garcia to Alvin Ashley with 12 seconds remaining in the contest. New Jersey had bolted out to a 34-14 lead at the start of the game before the Mustangs turned the tables, outscoring New Jersey 35-6 to gain the nine-point lead going into the final period.
For the Red Dogs, the win eased the pain of a heartbreaking 46-42 loss at Nashville one week earlier that saw the Kats score two touchdowns in the final minute of the game to crush New Jersey's hopes. However, dating back to last season, New Jersey has lost seven of their last ten games. They began 8-1 before losing four of five to end the regular season and falling in the first round of the playoffs at Orlando, 45-37.
The Coaches...Tampa Bay - Tim Marcum, 40-12 in his fourth season with the Storm, 95-24 in ten AFL seasons.
New Jersey - John Hufnagel, 11-8 in his first season with the New Jersey, 11-8 in seven AFL seasons.
In 1998...Tampa Bay (3-1) - Defeated San Jose, 45-23, lost to Nashville 54-52, defeated Houston 56-25, defeated Florida 44-29.
New Jersey (2-2) - Defeated New York, 53-34, lost to Albany 52-38, lost to Nashville 46-42, defeated Milwaukee 60-56.
Red Dogs to Watch...QB Aaron Garcia - The Cal State-Sacramento product began 1997 as the first starting signal caller in Red Dog history, and threw for 16 scores and 950 yards on 76-of-138 passing. However, his starting tenure that year was limited to four games, not because of a lack of success---the Dogs went 3-1 with Garcia in the lineup---but due to a broken collarbone suffered against the New York CityHawks in the season's fourth game. He won the starter's job back from replacement Rickey Foggie in the preseason and has come through, standing as the fourth-rated quarterback in the league so far this year. He has completed 82 of 125 passes for 1,009 yards and 2115 touchdowns with five interceptions. Although he brings four seasons' worth of experience in the league into tonight's game, he has never faced the Storm. He spent all of 1995 and part of 1996 with Arizona before being traded to the Connecticut Coyotes, with whom he was the franchise's final starting quarterback.
OS Larry Ray Willis - Although he is one of the league's elders at 34 years old, he is in just his third Arena Football season, having hopscotched through the Canadian Football League from 1985 to 1993, with stops in Calgary, Edmonton and British Columbia along the way. Thus far in 1998, he ranks eighth in the league in touchdowns with nine and is fifth in receiving yardage, having caught 28 passes for 505 yards in four games. Last season, he joined the Red Dogs before Week Two after having spent the offseason in limbo as an unwanted refugee from the defunct Connecticut Coyotes. The castoff ended up finishing sixth in the league in catches (93), fourth in receiving yardage (1,366) and third in touchdowns (32). In one game against the Storm---the Red Dogs' 44-28 win last year---he caught nine passes for 99 yards and two scores, including a 17-yard touchdown catch that gave the Dogs the lead for good in the third quarter.
His best seasons north of the border came in the late 1980s. In '87, while playing for the Calgary Stampeders, he set career highs in yards per catch (20.0) and yardage (1,477), hauling in 74 catches and ten scores. He recorded 1,000-yard season with the Stamps in 1988, catching 73 passes for 1,328 yards and nine touchdowns, and in 1989 again caught 73 passes, this time for 1,451 yards and ten scores. In 1990 he split time with the B.C. Lions and the Edmonton Eskimos, but had his fourth straight 1,000-yard campaign.
WR/DB Alvin Ashley - At just 140 pounds, he is the league's lightest player; however, it's no stretch to say that he plays like a heavyweight in the league. He is New Jersey's primary possession receiver, with 279 yards on a team-leading 29 catches and seven touchdowns. Two of his scores came in the final minutes of last week's 60-56 win, including the winning score with 15 seconds left. He was named Ironman of the Game for that, and also received that honor in his last game against the Storm, when he caught five passes for 63 yards and a touchdown, accounted for 82 yards on three kick returns and picked off two Dan White passes. Ashley's other game against the Storm, when he was with the Minnesota Fighting Pike in 1996, was less successful. The Pike lost 41-16, but Ashley did do well, catching 11 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown, and adding 88 yards on five kick returns.
DS Adrian Lunsford - The head woofer among the defensive Dogs, he leads the club in tackles (15 unassisted, 19 overall), and is second in interceptions with one. Lunsford is also the Dogs' primary kick returner, having accounted for 295 yards on 18 kickoff returns and 47 yards on three missed field goal runbacks. He torched the Storm last year, breaking up a pass and returning two kickoffs for 84 yards, including a 56-yard score in the second quarter. Lunsford also holds the distinction of being among the first players in the histories of two franchises. He was the first pick of the Minnesota Fighting Pike before their combination inaugual and curtain call season of 1996, and was the second player claimed by the Red Dogs in their expansion draft which took place in November 1996.
Noting the Storm...A Night to Remember - On back-to-back plays in the second quarter of Saturday's 44-29 win over the Florida Bobcats, OS George LaFrance made his 500th catch and scored his 1,000th point, capping off a late second quarter drive that gave the Storm a 28-9 lead. LaFrance got to keep the ball, and since the same ball was used for both records, he saved the Bobcats an extra $60 for the cost of a league pigskin. But his biggest play was yet to come. With no time left in the half, Florida kicker Derek Schorejs missed a 51-yard field goal attempt. As the ball caromed off the net, the Bobcats penetrated the Storm's five-yard-line before LaFrance caught the ball. A flag came out right away, ensuring that if LaFrance could not score, the Storm would still receive an untimed down and a chance to make a play before halftime. But LaFrance ended the need for the extra play with a twisting, looping dash that measured just 54 yards in length on the scoresheet but was probably close to 75 or 80 including the ground LaFrance covered going east-west across the field.
LaFrance darted around the end zone, catching the ball halfway between the sideboards and darting to the left, before doubling back to the right. By the time he'd gotten to the Storm's five-yard-line, he had put most of the Bobcats in his wake. From there, he sprinted down the sideline with the aid of some blocks to score. Referee R.G. DeTillier's announcement of the declined returner interference penalty was just a formality.
"Only in Arena Football can you go from 'Oh, s---" to 'atta-boy' that quickly," Storm coach Tim Marcum said afterwards.
LaFrance's 54-yard return---though it is, at moment, officially 50 yards due to a glitch in the Bobcats' computer scorekeeping system---is a franchise record. He gained 96 yards on three missed field goal returns, also setting a Storm record. In addition, LaFrance has gained 232 yards on missed field goal returns this year, which is just 56 away from the Storm's single-season record of 288 set by LaFrance himself in 1996.
Bjorn-Again Kicker - LaFrance was joined in the Storm record-breaking spree by kicker Bjorn Nittmo, who set a single-game regular season record by making three field goals from 18, 42 and 37 yards. Nittmo accounted for all of the Storm's scoring in the second half with two field goals and is on pace for a 139-point season. In addition, he has yet to miss an extra point, hitting all 20 attempts. He is also fourth among league kickers in scoring per game, putting up 10.7 points per contest. In addition, he is the only kicker in the league to have hit all of his extra points so far this year.
Running for a Grand - With one minute left in Saturday's game, one milestone was still left unattained. FB/LB Les Barley, the league's all-time leading rusher, had rushed twice for two yards, leaving him three yards short of 1,000 for his career. Both teams knew what was coming; in fact, Storm QB Peter Tom Willis called a timeout before the play after the Bobcats' lineman pointed right at number 46 in white.
With first-and-ten from the Storm's 24-yard-line, Barley ran up the middle for three yards. That gave him his 1,000. As his record was announced to the crowd, his teammates mobbed him at midfield. It proved to be a excellent cap to the Storm's third win of the regular season. "I'm keeping the ball. I think I'll have to put it in a case now," Barley told The Tampa Tribune after the game.
Countdowns - FB/LB Andre Bowden, who was deactivated last week, needs 47 yards to move into fourth place in league history in rushing; he currently has 646 yards on 198 carries...FB/LB Cedric McKinnon needs 92 yards to move into third place in league annals; he saw his first action of the year last week and lost two yards on three carries...Lineman Sylvester Bembery, the league's all-time leading sacker, needs one to get to 40 for his career...Storm coach Tim Marcum is just six wins away from becoming the first Arena Football League coach to reach the century mark in victories.
As We Compare to Others - Tampa Bay ranks sixth in the league in scoring offense (49.3 ppg), first in scoring defense (32.8 ppg), first in scoring margin (plus 16.5 ppg), first in total defense (215.5 ypg), second in passing defense (204.8 ypg) and second in rushing defense (10.8 ypg)...LaFrance is third in the league in touchdowns with 12...LaFrance leads the league with 23.2 yards per missed field goal return and 232 yards on ten returns overall...Barley ranks fourth in the league in rushing with 62 yards...Willis is ninth in passing yardage with 237.3 ypg.
Injury Front - Remaining on injured reserve are WR/DB Cornell Parker (hamstring) and WR/DB Kevin Jackson (broken index finger)...OS Wayne Walker is day-to-day with a pulled groin...As of Thursday, the Storm's deactive players for Saturday are Walker, DS Tracy Sanders, OL/DL Keo Coleman and McKinnon.
Series History...The teams have met once---last year in the Ice Palace. New Jersey holds a 1-0 series edge.
07/26/97 - New Jersey 44, Tampa Bay 28 - Game Coverage
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