In its season home finale, the Tampa Bay Storm (7-9) hosts South Division rival New Orleans VooDoo (8-8) on Amalie Motor Oil Field at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Each team is looking to find a victory to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot in the American Conference.
This is the 12th meeting between the two teams; Tampa Bay leads the all-time series 6-5. However when the two teams last met, April 6 at the ‘Graveyard’ in New Orleans, the VooDoo knocked off the Storm 66-47.
There is much familiarity between the two coaching staffs. The VooDoo is led be head coach Pat O’Hara, who formerly played (2003-06) and coached (2007-08) with the Tampa Bay Storm. Joining him on staff is the longtime former coach of the Storm Tim Marcum (1995-2010). Meanwhile the Storm is led by head coach Dave Ewart who joined the team in 2002 and coached with both O’Hara and Marcum. His offensive assistant coach Lawrence Samuels played with the Storm for the 15 seasons (1994-2000, 2002-2010) and caught the game winning touchdown pass in ArenaBowl XVII from O’Hara.
Meanwhile, Kurt Rocco quarterbacks the VooDoo offense and is having one of the best seasons in franchise history for New Orleans. He has completed 349-of-584 passes for 4,697 yards with 92 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He is on his way to becoming the first VooDoo quarterback to throw for 100 touchdowns. Rocco has three quality receivers, all with more than 90 receptions, 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. L.J Castille leads the group with 98 catches; Josh Bush leads the team with 1,420 yards and 30 touchdowns, while Quorey Payne rounds out the group with 93 catches for 1,264 yards and 23 touchdowns.
The group will test a Storm defense that has had 11 different starting lineups in the defensive backfield with 12 different defensive backs getting starts. Despite that inconsistency, the unit recorded two interceptions this past weekend against the Power catapulting the Storm to victory. The front four has been solid putting pressure on the quarterback. Sack leader Pernell Phillips (seven sacks) leads a group that sacked Rocco twice in the previous game this season as Steve Octavien and Paul Griffin each recorded a sack while Phillips forced a fumble. They should have ample opportunities to get after the VooDoo quarterback as the New Orleans offensive line has allowed 28 sacks, 5th most in the AFL.
On the other side of the ball the Storm offense must overcome losing an offensive star for the second week in a row with both Amarri Jackson and Nick Hill having suffered injuries in back-to-back weeks. After Hill went down, Stephen Wasil returned to the field and guided the Storm to victory over the Power on the heels of a 162 yard, five touchdown performance. Wasil, who started 12 games, was 6-6 prior to Hill stepping in against the Jacksonville Sharks. He has 2,915 yards and 60 touchdowns on the season and will rely upon receivers Prechae Rodriguez, Joe Hills and Michael Lindsey to have big games in the absence of Amarri Jackson. They group must be leery of the VooDoo defense that leads the AFL with 35 interceptions.
The VooDoo is second in the AFL with a +19 turnover margin; largely due to the fact the defense has collected 49 turnovers, second most in the League behind only Philadelphia. Jack linebacker Alvin Jackson leads the group with a team-high 13 interceptions, 62 tackles and two forced fumbles. He is joined in the back-four on the VooDoo defense by hard-hitting Jeremy Kellem’s nine interceptions, 19 pass breakups and team leading 87 tackles. Kellem was penalized in the previous matchup between the two teams for a head shot against Storm receiver Prechae Rodriguez on a crossing pattern. The front four for of the VooDoo defense, second to last in the AFL with 17 sacks, is anchored by Xavier Brown. He leads the team with four sacks and three forced fumbles.
With a win Tampa Bay remains in the American Conference playoff hunt and places a big dent in the VooDoo’s playoff aspirations. However, a VooDoo win would dash any hopes of the Storm making the playoffs and eliminate the Storm.