Only one team has managed to blemish the other flawless record of the Tampa Bay Storm so far this season.
The Storm will get their chance to avenge their lone loss this season when they travel to Philadelphia to take on the defending ArenaBowl champion Soul on Saturday.
Philadelphia capitalized on a multitude of Storm special teams errors in Week 2 of the Arena Football League season to come out of AMALIE Arena with a 56-52 victory. Since then, the Storm have reeled off six victories in a row, their longest win streak since 2010, and are just a game behind the Soul for first place in the league.
Both the Storm and Soul have already wrapped up a spot in the postseason. This Saturday’s matchup could determine who would host a potential matchup in the ArenaBowl should both teams advance to the title game.
“They’re up next,” Storm wide receiver LaMark Brown said. “There’s a next team. There’s a next game. Of course we remember the beginning of the season; it’s the only loss we have and they are the champs. In order to be the champs, you have to beat the champs. Of course everybody’s got this date circled and they’re excited to play these guys.”
In that early season loss to the Soul, the Storm (7-1) battled back from a 12-point deficit to start the fourth quarter and pulled to within three points with 1:19 to go. A pair of failed onside kick attempts, however, kept Tampa Bay from completing the comeback. In the loss, the Storm missed three extra points and had a two-point attempt returned the other way for two points for Philadelphia, accounting for the final margin.
The Storm feel they don’t have to change anything up this go-round against the Soul, just perform up to their abilities.
“It’s just about executing our game plan,” said Storm receiver Joe Hills, who leads the league for receiving touchdowns (23). “We don’t really try to change it for anything. We don’t think in terms of, ‘How can they stop us?’ We think in terms of, ‘How can we attack them?’ That’s about it.”
Tampa Bay head coach Ron James said Philadelphia is the team that most mirrors his own in the league. The Soul do a lot of the same things the Storm do, and they perform at a high level week in and week out.
“It’s because of the fact their head coach [Clint Dolezel] played for me,” James said. “We have a lot of similar philosophies in the things that we do. They’re a well-coached team and they’re a veteran team. They won the ArenaBowl last year. There’s no mistaking that and why that happened, because they’re a disciplined team that plays hard. They’ve got the fewest penalty yards in the league. We know we’re going to be up against a very good team that’s well-disciplined.”
For the first time since the opening meeting between the two teams, the Storm will enter Saturday’s matchup as an underdog, playing the undefeated and defending ArenaBowl champion Soul on their home turf.
The Storm, however, aren’t phased by the challenge.
“We’re always the underdog in our mind,” Hills said. “Yeah, we expect to win, but we’re always the underdog. Philly’s going to come out and they’re going to challenge us, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Storm are coming off a 58-57 win over Washington at AMALIE Arena that came down to the last play. The Storm trailed for most of the game but showed their resiliency yet again, rallying in the fourth quarter and pulling ahead in the final minute.
A goal line stand on Washington’s two-point attempt on the last play of the game secured the one-point victory for the Storm.
Tampa Bay could be forgiven for looking past Washington and ahead to Philadelphia having already defeated the Valor two times previously.
“It wasn’t so much as a trap game as opposed to us playing a good team three times in a five week period,” Brown said. “It’s going to be hard to beat them. I don’t think it was a trap game, it was just a hard game.”
Now, against Philadelphia, the Storm have an opportunity to prove they’re the team to beat in the AFL.
“I think what we’ve done so far already has sent a message to the league that we are one of the teams to beat,” Brown said. “But they’re on the top, and in order for us to be on the top, we’ve got to beat the top dog. That’s what we’re excited about.”