The Tampa Bay Storm (6-9, 2-2) heads to Jacksonville to take on the Sharks (8-7, 1-3) this Saturday, July 25 at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. A win will break the Storm’s current three-game losing streak and keep its playoff hopes alive. Fans can listen to Jack Harris and Darek Sharp make the call for 1250 AM WHNZ and also listen live on the Lightning Power Play which can be found on the iHeartRadio app or TBLPowerPlay.com. The game will also be nationally televised on ESPNEWS. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. EST.
This will be the third and final game of a three-game regular season series versus the Sharks. The Storm won the last two matchups, both on the Storm’s home turf. Overall, it will be the 14th meeting between the Storm and the Sharks, and seventh in Jacksonville. The Sharks lead the series 9-4, but the Storm is currently riding a three-game winning streak versus its South Division rivals. Tampa Bay will have a tough battle on the road, having gone 0-6 when facing the Sharks in the “Shark Tank.”
The Storm enters the weekend looking for answers. Currently the Storm is on a three-game losing streak, which included lasts week’s 53-65 loss to the New Orleans VooDoo. If it wants to keep its playoff dreams alive the Storm must defeat the Sharks. Doing so will require the defense to turn up the heat on Jacksonville. In the past three losses, the Storm has given up an average of over 60 points per game, and over the course of the season the team has allowed 62.1 points per game when losing. In comparison, the Storm has allowed just an average of 38.7 points per game in wins. Look for the Storm to get back to basics and rely heavily on its defense to stop a high-powered offense that includes receivers Joe Hills and Tiger Jones.
Offensively, the Storm will have to protect the ball better and avoid costly turnovers. This will be easier said than done when going up against one of the top pass rushers in the League in Sharks defensive lineman, Joe Sykes. Sykes has 16.0 sacks on the season and is looking to break the AFL single-season sack record with his 17th. The key to victory for the Sharks will be to put the pressure on Storm quarterback Jason Boltus. The Sharks pass rush is ranked fourth in the League with 25 sacks, but it has had trouble getting to Boltus. If the Storm wants to win offensively, the offensive line must protect Boltus the entire game so he can get the ball to his receiving corps.
Like so many other arena football games, the matchup may come down to special teams and the return game. The Storm has a pair of returners in rookie Kendrick Ings and veteran Emery Sammons who both have the ability to put up big numbers on kickoff returns and can rip off 100+ kickoff return yards at any given moment. Rookie of the year candidate Ings already has six games with 100 or more kickoff return yards and has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns this season. Last time he faced Jacksonville he finished the night with six returns for 157 yards and a touchdown. He would also finish the night with a 1-yard net recovery for a touchdown on kickoff.
For both teams this is a huge matchup with playoff implications. A win for the Sharks helps its chances of winning the South Division, while a win for the Storm will keep it in the playoff hunt, giving the team a 3-2 South Division record. Look for both teams to put on a show for their fans in order to prove they belong on the road to the ArenaBowl.