1998 Results | Game Coverage

Quarterbacks Lead Storm to 50-48 Win over Preds

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

ORLANDO, Fla. - Preseason is all about preparation, discovery and warming up for the coming combat of the games that count. It's not about rivalry, even when you face your arch-rival, in this case, the Orlando Predators.

So throw out the angles about this game being about Pred coach Jay Gruden's first chance to face his old team and coach. Forget about the typical hatred and constant fights between the two teams during their regular season games. What the teams will take from this game is a more coherent view of their new faces.

And for the Storm, that view looks pretty good.

Tampa Bay broke open a 21-19 halftime lead with two straight touchdown drives, led by backup quarterback Bryan Martin. He ended the game a sizzling five-for-five for 64 yards on two touchdowns, and ended the game as Tampa Bay's most efficient quarterback as the Storm broke out to a 35-19 lead and held on for a 50-48 win in front of 10,617 at the Orlando Arena on Thursday night.

Lawrence Samuels
Photo by Chris Arnold.
Martin's performance was followed by another solid showing from fellow rookie Matt Pike, who wasn't perfect but acquitted himself well, completing four-of-six for 72 yards and another two touchdowns in fourth quarter action. All told, the rookies ended the preseason with promising---and similar numbers. But if depth chart location is any measure, Martin has the edge. He has been second on the list the entire preseason and has played second behind starter Peter Tom Willis against both the Florida Bobcats last weekend and the Predators.

By going five-for-five, Martin did not do anything to justify losing his No. 2 spot. The performance of both will likely make for a difficult decision for head coach Tim Marcum this weekend as he must slice the roster to 24 by Monday.

A fellow rookie, FB/LB Nyle Wiren took the spolight as the quarterbacks did, leading the Storm in rushing and posting a tackle for a loss on the defensive side of the ball. Rookies aren't the only ones on the bubble, however---second-year players like WR/DB Cornell Parker, WR/DB Larry Kennedy and WR/DB Damacio Green sat squarely on the bubble entering Thursday night's game. All three made good inpressions, as Parker caught four passes for 33 yards and a touchdown and added two tackles, Kennedy had two tackles, one solo, and Green made three tackles.

Of note, as well, are the players that were not in Orlando on Thursday night. Offensive specialist George LaFrance missed the game due to teaching commitments in Arizona. All-AFL lineman Willie Wyatt and last year's Defensive Player of the Year, Tracey Perkins, missed the game due to personal commitments. And still, the Storm controlled proceedings from the second quarter on, taking a lead they would not relinquish on a 39-yard touchdown catch by Wayne Walker with 35 seconds left in the second quarter.

For Walker, the catch was the second manifestation of his blinding speed. The first came three minutes earlier, when he ran back a David Cool kickoff 54 yards for a touchdown. The score on a return was his second in his last two games---he ran back a kickoff 57 yards for a touchdown in last year's playoff semifinal loss at Arizona.

Even better, though, the Storm got a solid, playmaking night from their linemen. Veteran Sylvester Bembery returned to his hometown and made two tackles, including a sack of Pred starter Scott Semptimphelter with 17 seconds left in the first half. Wilky Bazile, beginning his first full season with the Storm after joining the club last June, caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Willis to commence the Storm's scoring and made a tackle on defense. And newcomer Steve Houghton, acquired via trade from Iowa in the offseason, provided the clinching points in the game by forcing a last-minute fumble by Orlando QB Pat O'Hara in the end zone that the quarterback fell on for a safety. The forced fumble nullified a recovered onside kick and gave the Storm a 50-41 lead with 56 seconds left.

Warmups end and meaningful play begins Friday night when the Storm take their longest trip of 1998, across the continent to take on the San Jose SaberCats. .Kickoff will be at 10:30 p.m. EDT (7:30 PDT) Friday night in the San Jose Arena. Thanks to the game being moved up a day by the NHL playoffs, there will be no television coverage back to Florida. Fans can listen to the game on WDAE-AM 1250 in Tampa Bay, or can follow the game right here on the Storm Shelter with regular updates from beginning to end.


Historical Perspective - Tampa Bay's win gave the Storm its best preseason mark in club history---2-0. The Storm last finished 2-0 in 1994, when they posted wins over the Fort Worth Cavalry---owner Woody Kern's old team---and the Earle Bruce-led Cleveland Thunderbolts. In addition, the win put an end to Orlando's three-game preseason winning streak over the Storm. The Preds posted wins in 1995, 1996 and 1997, including last year's 51-34 romp over Tampa Bay in Lakeland. Tampa Bay has only turned in one winless preseason---last year's, with the loss to Orlando preceeded by a 48-27 setback at Iowa in the Hall of Fame Game.

Comparisons to '97 - Yeah, it's only preseason, but the Storm has managed to turn in passing numbers that were unthinkable last year. In two preseason games, the Storm lit up the skies for 291 yards and 6.5 touchdowns per game. In 1997, those numbers were 224 yards and 3.3 touchdowns. Peter Tom Willis, much-maligned by many fans for most of last season, has been a big part of the preseason success, having fired five of the Storm's 13 touchdowns and 225 of those yards.

Awards - Our game MVP was Walker and our Ironman was...well, the Storm was playing Orlando, so you figure it out. Yep, it was the league's all-time Ironman, Predator superstar Barry Wagner. He caught four passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns, posted 39 yards on two kick returns and intercepted a Willis pass at the Orlando two-yard-line in the first quarter to set up their first touchdown drive.

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