1999 Results | Game Coverage
Furious Storm Rally Falls Short
By Andrew Mason
Unlike in August, though, the Storm rose out of the misery and experienced a flirtation with greatness. From 25 points down, a motley melange of Arena Football rookies and second-stringers pieced together the team's most stirring rally, scoring 25 unanswered points to tie the score at 39-39 with 1:57 left.
Alas, Orlando had one strike left, as the evocatively named Braniff Bonaventure hit WR/LB Ty Law for a touchdown with five seconds left to give the Preds a 45-39 win in front of an announced 8,262 at the Ice Palace. However, the result could not diminish what ultimately became as good a loss as one can hope for.
"It was good entertainment for the fans, even though it got a little sloppy," Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "Still, we got back, tied it up and made a game out of it. We've gotta use this and get better---that's the old coach-speak."
The sloppiness was reflected in the Storm's six turnovers, including three interceptions and three fumbles. The Storm botched three center-snap exchanges (although one was wiped out by an Orlando penalty) and saw WR/LB Lawrence Samuels and WR Charles Wilson each drop easily catchable passes. However, the most butterfingered member of the receiving corps on this evening was the indomitable Pokey Eckford.
Purported to have blazing 4.3 speed, Eckford had never fielded a football off of a tightly strung rebound net before Saturday, as the Storm was unable to practice at the Ice Palace throughout the week leading up to the game. His inexeperience showed on kickoff returns, as he failed to field one successfully off the net. One such mishap late in the first half led to disaster as Orlando's Corey Barlow picked up the loose ball at the five-yard-line and skipped in unimpeded for a touchdown and a 33-14 lead heading into the break.
However, on occasions when the ball did not bounce off the net, he displayed fingers of rubber cement. He caught two passes for 29 yards, returned one first-half kickoff for 23 yards, and ventured forth on a meandering, sideline-to-sideline return of a missed David Cool field goal for 56 yards and a touchdown on the final play of the third quarter.
"It felt good," he said. "I like returning kicks anyway; it's a matter of getting control of the ball."
In the fourth quarter, he did have one chance to field the ball of the nets, on a wild two-point conversion attempt. Trailing 39-34, backup QB Josh Wallwork rolled to the right side, and was unable to find an open receiver. With a strong pass rush bearing down, he tossed the ball off the nets. The ball caromed right into Eckford's hands---and this time, he held on, to the amazement and joy of most in the Ice Palace.
Eckford's conversion helped continue the comeback, which culmimated when K Matt Huerkamp drilled a 26-yard field goal with 1:57 left to tie the game. Huerkamp's field goal was a positive sign, given his status as a rookie kicker hitting his first pressure attempt. However, it was also a disappointment, given the fact that the Storm started the drive at the Orlando 12-yard-line following a Samuels recovery of a fumbled Predator snap. With that change of possession, Marcum benched Wallwork---who had completed nine of ten passes for 107 yards---and inserted third-stringer Willie Taggart, signed on Thursday fresh out of a successful stint as quarterback at Western Kentucky University.
Taggart's last trip to Tampa was quite bountiful, as he led the Hilltoppers to a 31-24 comeback win over South Florida at Raymond James Stadium in October. This time, though, he struggled, throwing three incompletions before the field goal attempt.
The performance of the two new quarterbacks was a metaphor for the crop of rookies as a whole. Some were prone to the spectacular, others to the spectacular error. Eckford, for one, proved amply capable of both. That, though, is the grand point of preseason---to evaulate talent, and see what is present. In particular, Marcum complimented Huerkamp, OL/DL Johnie Church and WR/DBs Jason Dulick and Melvin Cunningham, and generally expressed promise for the potential of some of the 15 newcomers who saw action against Orlando.
For these AFL hopefuls, there exists one more chance to break into the game for real...to perform well in the Storm's final preseason game Friday night against Florida in Sunrise. Kickoff in the National Car Rental Center will be at 7:40 p.m. EDT.
Thunderclaps...No Mo' Nittmo - Thursday, the Storm waived K Bjorn Nittmo, signing Matt Huerkamp in his place. Nittmo had not yet reported to camp, still working as an extra on the set of filmmaker Oliver Stone's glorification of professional football, "On Any Given Sunday." Nittmo worked on the set with FB/LB Les Barley, OL/DL Robert "Pig" Goff and OL/DL Nyle Wiren. According to Marcum, Nittmo will be returning to his hometown of Shreveport, La. following his work on the film, and has signed a contract with the city's Regional Football League franchise. Nittmo also owns a construction business in Shreveport, which caused him to miss practice during every week last season.
The new-found Huerkamp is a 24-year-old AFL rookie from Troy State. Huerkamp made his only field goal attempt, went four-for-four on extra points and hit the net or crossbar on five of seven kickoffs. "I even gave him a name now, instead of calling him 'Kicker,'" Marcum mused afterwards.
Local Boy Makes Good - With a coach from a Hillsborough County high school in Chamberlain High grad Jay Gruden, it only makes sense that he should reach across the bay to find his new quarterback, signing former Pinellas Park High standout Browning Nagle. Perhaps better known for his disappointing NFL career that included stops with the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons, Nagle showed much promise in his AFL debut, completing seven of nine passes for 84 yards and three scores in leading the Preds to scores on all four of their first-half possessions.
"Browning Nagle had a phenomenal first half," an effusive Gruden said. "He made every throw."
Awards - The Storm Shelter MVP was Nagle and the Storm Shelter Ironman was Dulick.
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