August 10, 2017 - Arena Football League (AFL) - Tampa Bay Storm
TAMPA BAY - The Tampa Bay Storm (10-4) hosts the Cleveland Gladiators (5-9) in the Arena Football League Playoff semi-final this Monday, August 14th at AMALIE Arena. With a win, the Storm would be advancing to its 10th ArenaBowl appearance. The game will be broadcast and streamed live on Twitter. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. ET.
This will be the 25th meeting between Tampa Bay and Cleveland, and 16th at home. The overall series is tied at 12-12, however the Storm leads the playoff series 1-0. The last time these two franchises met in the postseason was in 1998, which saw the Storm defeat the Gladiators, then known as the New Jersey Red Dogs, by a score of 49-23 at home.
The Storm enters the game with a winning regular season record of 3-1 versus the Gladiators. The last time these two teams met was on July 22nd, and the Storm defeated the Gladiators, 57-27. It was the largest margin of victory for the Storm, with the team putting together a complete performance in all phases of the game. However, with the start of the playoffs all teams restart at 0-0, and the Gladiators will be looking to avenge its 1-3 losing record.
Tampa Bay enters the game with League MVP candidate Randy Hippeard leading the way. The Storm signal-caller had a stellar campaign in 2017, leading the League in most passing categories. He will lead an offense that finished the regular season second in scoring, averaging 50.7 points per game. Much of the offensive success is due to a receiving corps that consists of five receivers, each posing a different threat to defenses.
One offensive weapon to keep an eye on is Storm wide receiver Joe Hills. The Palmetto native finds an extra gear in the playoffs, saving some of the season's finest receiving performances for the big games. In six postseason games, Hills has caught 55 passes for 640 yards and 23 touchdowns. His averages are off the charts as well, averaging 106.7 yards per game.
The Storm defense has started to put together some nice showings in the past few weeks. Last time the team played Cleveland, JACK linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson set a team record with four forced turnovers. He had two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He'd also go ahead and return an interception 19 yards for a touchdown. The six-year veteran has been putting on a show as of late, finishing the season with a League-leading five fumble recoveries.
Cleveland enters the game as a threat to the Storm. Quarterback Arvell Nelson can change the course a game with his ability to make plays through the air and on the ground. The Storm will need to play perfectly on defense to contain Nelson. Last time out, Nelson completed 11-of-19 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown versus the Storm. However, he made mistakes with two interceptions, as Tampa Bay continued to apply the pressure all night.
It's win or go home for both teams this week. The Storm will be trying to earn its 10th ArenaBowl appearance, while the Gladiators will look to be the spoiler. Look for both teams to come out firing on all cylinders in front a loud AMALIE Arena crowd.