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Preds Should Hold Heads High in Spite of Defeat in Tampa Bay

Adam Markowitz
Sunday August 15, 2010

TAMPA BAY -- In Week 9, it was the Bumble in the Jungle. Then in Week 18, it was the Snore on I-4. This American Conference Championship Game didn't start very promising either.

It was one of the most boring War on I-4 battles in the history of the most storied rivalry in the AFL... And then the final 17 minutes of the game happened... And never before was there a game between the Orlando Predators and the Tampa Bay Storm that ended quite like this.

The Predators watched their 2010 campaign come to a close on Saturday night at the St. Pete Times Forum with a 63-62 defeat at the hands of their arch rivals from Tampa Bay.

After a wild exchange of scores in the final minute of the game, it was K Carlos Martinez who missed a PAT and what could've been the game-winning field goal from 49 yards away that sunk the Preds' season once and for all.

However, there's no need for Orlando to hang its head for the way the season ended in spite of the fact that the team only ended up at 9-9 overall.

I'll be the first to admit that I've been very hard on this team all season long. However, ever since the debacle with Clint Dolezel potentially becoming the quarterback of the team, Orlando really woke up.

After a shaky start to the season, QB Nick Hill finally looked like this strange thing... a quarterback. In spite of the fact that the team didn't appear to be behind him 100% at times, head coach Pat O'Hara told me earlier in the year that he believed that Hill had the ability, with some grooming, to be one of the best signal callers in the league.

Did Hill round into the next Dolezel? No. But was he good enough to lead this team to a playoff win, far exceeding expectations heading into the second season? Absolutely.

Chew on this: Hill went on the road and knocked off the Jacksonville Sharks, the Southern Division winners and the No. 1 seed in the American Conference, by throwing for 246 yards and six TDs without a pick. His predecessor, Shane Stafford never had a playoff game in which he didn't throw at least one INT, and he only went 1-6 for his career in the postseason.

Now, I'm not bashing on Stafford, but when he was brought to Orlando in 2007, he was supposed to be the man that changed the franchise. Hill never had those types of expectations on his shoulders.

Stafford never went 21-for-35 for 265 yards with a team record nine TDs in a conference championship game either.

The offense in the final three games of the season for the black and red averaged 69.3 points per game. Hill threw 29 TDs and no INTs in his final four games, completing 78-of-121 passes (64.5 percent) for 1,012 yards in that span.

The Predators certainly wore their hearts on their sleeves, coming back from as many as 21 points down in the final game of the season in Tampa Bay, taking the lead at 56-55 with just one minute to play.

Give credit to WR TT Toliver as well. He caught 11 passes for 165 yards and seven scores, also a team record. The final TD was a bit of a miracle, as a fourth down pass bounced off the nets and hit No. 17 right in the hands for the score that gave the Preds their first lead of the game since it was 7-0 in the first quarter.

The better team probably won on this night, as the Storm looked to be the better squad the majority of the way. However, if the Predators can keep this team together for next year, they can be a lethal bunch. Sure, this was a year marred by a fight in the stands, quarterback controversy, some untimely injuries, and some embarrassing defeats early on, but Orlando, when it mattered most, gave everything it had, and that's all that anyone clad in black and red, this writer included, could ever ask for.

Adam Markowitz is an accountant and a freelance sports writer living in Orlando. As a Florida State graduate with degrees in music and history, the garnet and gold will forever be a part of him, but he bleeds the black and red of the Orlando Predators like none other. Adam has been following the AFL since 1991 and has been at well over 200 games, including 16 ArenaBowls. You can follow Adam on Twitter @AFLGuru.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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