The More Things Change, the More the War on I-4 Stays the Same
ORLANDO – Contrary to popular belief, the game between the Orlando Predators and the Tampa Bay Storm actually did happen on Friday night, and here at ArenaFan, we don't believe in tape delaying our articles. The game that won't be shown on the NFL Network until 3:00 p.m. (ET) on Saturday was a harsh reminder of the olden days of the Arena Football League when games were tape delayed all the time. However, he more things change, the more that they stay exactly the same. There hasn't been a heck of a lot for the Predators to be happy about this year, but they were able to put smiles on the faces of the 12,441 in attendance at the Amway Center on Friday night with their 64-40 win over their arch rivals from Tampa Bay.
What's going to change this year? The Predators, who improved to 2-11 on the season, aren't going to make the playoffs, breaking a string of 19 straight seasons without a postseason appearance. What's not changing? The War On I-4 is still as tight as ever.
It's proof that the record books can be thrown out when Tampa Bay and Orlando play each other. These two teams have now met 50 times in their history, and the win for the Preds put this series back at 25 wins for each side. The first time around, the Storm absolutely obliterated the Preds, winning 55-31 in a game that was never really all that close. This time around, it was Orlando that was providing the boot, and Tampa Bay that was supplying the butt to get kicked.
More of what's changing? The Preds are finally getting good quarterback play. QB Chris Leak had the best game that an Orlando quarterback has had in quite some time, completing 28-of-36 passes for 293 yards with six TDs with just one relatively meaningless pick in the fourth quarter. More of what's not changing? The Storm can't win a game on the road. The loss dropped Tampa Bay to 0-8 away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum this year. Of course, the squad is still in the race in the Southern Division thanks to a 6-0 record at home, where the Storm have four of their last six games on the season.
Of course, what else did change? The Preds scored more than seven points in the third quarter of a game for the first time this year. They also outscored the Storm 26-13 in the second half, marking the first time that they have beaten a foe in the final 30 minutes of a game since the second game of the year against the Chicago Rush. It also must be noted that Orlando took a 20+ point lead in the third quarter of this one and actually hung on for a victory. It was the fourth game this year in which the Preds led by at least three scores, yet it was the first time that it didn't blow the lead.
It truly was a complete team effort for the Predators. The defense picked up a touchdown and forced four turnovers. The special teams had two net recoveries and recovered an onside kick. The offense put up 64 points, the most that it has scored in a game since July 16th last season, a stretch of 14 straight games (include the playoffs).
WR Glen Fox has made himself a hot commodity for the Preds. He did a lot of the dirty work for the team in this one, catching 16 passes for 138 yards and two TDs. He also had a rushing touchdown in the second half. In his last two games, Fox now has 27 receptions for 263 yards.
The man that flew under the radar for Orlando was WR TT Toliver. It wasn't the best game in the world for Toliver, as he caught four passes for 56 yards and two TDs. However, in the game, he reached the 750-reception plateau for his career, becoming the 14th man to catch at least that many passes in his career. Toliver surpassed WR Gary Compton for 13th place on the all-time AFL receptions list with 752 receptions. He also moved within just 119 yards of becoming the 12th receiver in AFL history to have at least 10,000 receiving yards for a career.
With his two receiving touchdowns, Toliver now has 193, moving into 14th place all-time, surpassing WR Marcus Nash. He is just seven shy of becoming the tenth man to have at least 200 TD receptions in his career. The names that he will pass on the way to 200 include Kevin Swayne (194), George LaFrance (195), Greg Hopkins (196), and Bobby Sippio (199).
Another youngster that came up with a big time game was DB Simeon Castile. Castile, a rookie from Alabama, had a pair of picks and a forced fumble in the game. It hasn't been the greatest year for Castile, but over the course of the last two weeks, he now has four INTs.
For Tampa Bay, there were some massive struggles in the kick return game. WR Amarri Jackson had a fine game as a receiver, catching 12 passes for 220 yards and four TDs, but he really had no clue how take the ball off the nets. Jackson mishandled five kicks off the net and lost two of the five. However, the 220 yards was the second highest in team history and the most by a receiver in a game this year.
In the end, the Storm are just 6-8 and are a game and a half out of first place in the Southern Division. The good news is that they are coming back home next week for a duel with the San Antonio Talons.
For Orlando, it was a rare bright spot in a season that otherwise has been bitterly dismal. If the Predators can't get into the playoffs, at least they can have a hand in perhaps ending the season for their arch rivals.
Perhaps some things never will change.