Coming off its first win in five tries, and first on the road this season, the Tampa Bay Storm looks to use the momentum from a 65-61 win at Pittsburgh this past Saturday to finish the 2012 campaign strong.
With two games remaining on the schedule, the Storm is very much alive in the playoff race heading into the home finale this Saturday against South Division-rival New Orleans.
The Voodoo, however, are in a similar spot as Tampa Bay as far as the postseason is concerned, as they enter the contest with a record of 8-8, locked in a three-way tie for first place atop the division. That said, Saturday’s contest is just as important for New Orleans as it is for Tampa Bay.
Should the Storm win and Voodoo lose, the two clubs would enter the final week of the regular season with matching 8-9 records. Also in the mix are the Georgia Force and Jacksonville Sharks (each currently 8-8), so depending how this upcoming weekend shakes out, there could potentially be four teams in the South Division, which includes Tampa Bay, competing for just one division title.
While that provides the backstory for the contest, the more pressing news is that the Storm will be without starting quarterback Nick Hill, who went down with an ankle injury against the Power and did not return.
Stephen Wasil, therefore, will take the snaps under center, and despite coming in under pressure-packed circumstances last week at Pittsburgh, Wasil feels confident in his abilities to lead the Storm to a second consecutive victory.
“They teach you at a young age to always be prepared and know what the game plan is, because you never know when you’re going to have to go in,” Wasil said. “Last week I didn’t even have time to process all of that going on with Nick going out, so I just went in and made some early completions, and luckily our receivers ran some hard routes and made some plays. We’re looking for that same type of performance this week. The plan is to compete hard, take one play at a time, and get an important victory.”
Had the Storm lost last week at Pittsburgh, the team’s playoff hopes would have been over. But Wasil stepped up, completing 16-of-24 passes for 162 yards and five touchdowns, a performance that was nicely complemented by a brilliant display of defense resulting in two key third-quarter interceptions.
Wasil, though, has not been the only player to fill some big shoes.
Still with Amarri Jackson out and Prechae Rodriguez not at full strength, receiver Joe Hills has emerged as the team’s leading playmaker the last few weeks.
Hills said he has had no trouble transitioning to the Storm, as his play clearly shows, which was a sentiment echoed by both Wasil and head coach Dave Ewart.
“He’s done a heck of a job,” Ewart said regarding Hills. “It’s always about next guy up, and it’s been that way since the beginning of the year, so he’s done that. He’s stepped up and has played pretty good.”
Ewart added that he was proud of the team following last week’s victory, especially considering the circumstances involving losing Hill and a playoff spot still on the line.
Now, with a newfound sense of confidence and with their season still alive, albeit hanging in the balance, the Storm look ahead to sending off the home fans with one last regular season victory at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
“New Orleans is a better football team since we played them last,” Ewart said. “They’ve added some depth, so we’ll have to generate some stops and try to put 60 or 70 points on the board. It’s our last game at home, so we’d like to go out with a win.”
INSIDE THE SERIES
This is the 12th meeting between Tampa Bay and New Orleans, and the sixth to be played in Tampa Bay…The Storm lead the overall series at 6-5…Storm head coach Dave Ewart is 1-2 against the VooDoo...The Storm is 4-1 against the VooDoo at the Tampa Bay Times Forum...This will be VooDoo head coach Pat O’Hara’s second time coaching against the Storm on the VooDoo sidelines, but he has faced the Storm the previous two seasons as the Orlando Predators head coach, with his record against the Storm coming in at 3-2...The VooDoo have outscored the Storm by a margin of 31 points over the course of the 11 game series.
SCOUTING THE VOODOO
Unlike previous opponents throughout the season, New Orleans does not come in too high or too low in any category, but rather is somewhat even across the board in terms of rank on both offense and defense…The VooDoo rank 10th on scoring offense, putting up an average of 53.4 points per game, while allowing just under that, at 53.9 opposing points per game, which is good for ninth in the AFL…One thing New Orleans does do relatively well is pass the ball and pick it off, as the club averages 286.3 yards per game through the air, the fifth-best mark in the league and lead the AFL with 35 interceptions…They also come in sixth in total offense per game, averaging 300.6 yards per game.
STORM AGAINST THE VOODOO
DB Riley Swanson will appear in his third game against the VooDoo after recording four tackles and a pass break-up in the previous two contests…WR Joe Hills played against New Orleans earlier this season as a member of the Spokane Shock and had eight receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown…WR Prechae Rodriguez, despite being knocked of the game after a shot to the head versus New Orleans earlier this season caught nine passes for 121 yards and four touchdowns.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
If Storm QB Stephen Wasil can repeat a solid outing last week, although this time as the starter…The continued emergence of Storm wide receiver Joe Hills…How Tampa Bay comes out in its final regular season game at home, where it has had much success this season…How the Storm defense contains New Orleans’ trio of receivers…Can the young and relatively new defensive backs step up and make the necessary plays.
Week 16 vs. San Antonio: L, 71-56
Week 17 vs. Philadelphia: L, 83-79
Week 18 at Pittsburgh: W, 65-61