The Tampa Bay Storm are out of the playoff hunt.
The Storm won’t have a chance this season to add to their five ArenaBowl championships, tied with Arizona for most in the AFL.
But there’s still plenty to play for in the final week of the season:
Pride, for one.
And settling a score.
Orlando, which has already wrapped up the South Division championship and second seed in the American Conference for the 2015 playoffs, hosts the Storm on Saturday at Amway Arena (7 p.m. kickoff).
The game means nothing from a standings viewpoint. Orlando can’t improve or decrease its playoff positioning. The Storm will finish as the first team left out of the postseason in the American Conference.
Tampa Bay (7-10), however, will be plenty motivated in the season finale, revenge being foremost on the mind of the Storm against their cross-state rival in the continuation of the no-holds-barred War on I-4 series.
“We owe them one,” Storm wide receiver Kendrick Ings said. “They took two from, they stole two from us, two close games. We’re looking to blow them out this game.”
In Week 8 of the regular season, Tampa Bay led Orlando by 21 points in the fourth quarter but allowed the Predators to tie the game in regulation and win it with a successful touchdown and two-point conversion in overtime.
Eight weeks later on July 11, the Storm were driving for the potential game-tying (or game-winning with a successful two-point conversion) score late at home versus Orlando before a dubious refereeing decision left the Storm with the ball inside the Predators one-yard line but no time remaining on the clock.
A win in either of those games would have made this Saturday’s season finale a potential play-in game for the postseason.
Had the Storm won both, they’d likely already have secured a playoff berth.
“We kind of gave the first one away, and the second one, we just got stopped on the one and had that last call,” Storm quarterback Jason Boltus said. “So, we’re definitely looking to rebound, and it’s the War on I-4. If you can’t get up for this one and be competitive, we shouldn’t be playing football. The guys are definitely up for the challenge, and we’re going to go up there and compete for 60 minutes.”
The Storm snapped a four-game losing streak their last time out, Boltus tossing a 15-yard touchdown pass to T.T. Toliver with 15 seconds left for the game-winning score against the L.A. KISS. The victory wasn’t enough, however, to keep the Storm in the playoff hunt as Cleveland defeated Spokane about 15 minutes prior to the Storm’s victory to wrap up the fourth and final postseason berth.
“We just want to carry over the attitude and the approach [from last week] to this game,” Storm head coach Lawrence Samuels said. “The guys realize this is going to be our final game of the season, but it doesn’t matter. We want to execute, and we want to finish. That’s a big word around here this week is to finish.”
The final game of the regular season will also give Samuels and the rest of his coaching staff one last look at a handful of players who could see an expanded role with the Storm next season.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys, especially on the D-line, that’ll probably get an opportunity to play, so they want to show the organization what they can do,” Samuels said. “I think it’s big for people like (Undra) Hendrix last week who got a chance to run the ball and show some things he can do running the football. Just for younger guys to get an opportunity, they’re really hungry, and they’re looking for an opportunity. Some of the guys will have a chance to show that this weekend.”
Make no mistake, however, the primary motivation for the Storm this week is to send the Predators into the playoffs on a losing note.
“We’re better than Orlando,” Ings said. “We didn’t make it into the playoffs, but we’re still going to finish the year off strong. Every game counts, so it’s for our pride, it’s for our home fans, it’s for us personally that we lost them two games.
“We don’t want to lose anymore to Orlando.”