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By: Phil Tesar
08/19/2010 9:11 AM - (story courtesy of

The Tampa Bay Storm (12-5) will attempt to capture their sixth Arena Bowl championship this Friday, August 20, in Spokane, Washington as they take on the National Conference champion Spokane Shock (13-3) at 8 p.m. The contest marks the eighth Arena Bowl appearance for Tampa Bay, and its first since 2003 when they went all the way to earn the franchise’s most recent title.

Arena Bowl XXIII’s most interesting matchups will center around how each team’s defense responds to the other’s offense. Both teams are very strong on both sides of the ball, with Tampa Bay and Spokane both ranked in the top five in total offense and passing offense, as well as scoring defense.

Brett Dietz will lead his team’s third-ranked offense, averaging 315.7 yards per game, against Spokane’s, led by quarterback Kyle Rowley. Dietz and Rowley both put up similar numbers in each of their respective conference championship games last week, as each threw seven touchdowns despite Rowley throwing for over 300 yards.

Dietz has succeeded in previous weeks by spreading the ball around to a variety of receivers including Tyrone Timmons, Hank Edwards and DeAndrew Rubin, creating the most efficient offensive strategy for the Storm. Tampa Bay will look to utilize all three receivers this Friday in the Arena Bowl to maximize point production, and also will utilize Terrence Royal as an additional threat in the backfield. Royal rushed for a pair of scores against Orlando and adds depth to an already-potent offense, allowing the Storm to remain unpredictable with the ball by mixing it up through the running game.

Spokane also has equally-threatening weapons as receiver Huey Whittaker ranks among AFL leaders in receptions per game and receiving yards per game. Teammate Markee White also provides depth for the Shock passing game, as he comes in averaging 92.5 yards per game.

The primary key to the game for Tampa Bay’s defense will be to hold the lead if and when it has it. The Storm’s offense took care of business against Orlando by going up by 21 points in the second half, but the comfortable margin gradually slipped away at a crucial stage in the game, despite the defensive unit being sharp in the first half as it forced and recovered two fumbles. Tampa Bay’s front line must apply pressure up the middle to disrupt Rowley’s passing game and not allow the passer to find open receivers down field.

The Storm secondary, led by Brandon Hefflin and Daryon Brutley, also must remain tight in man coverage to register pass break-ups and create interceptions. Tampa Bay received excellent special teams play against Orlando, especially from Michael Hawthorne, as the squad pinned the Predators back near its own endzone on more than one occasion. If the Storm can repeat the performance against the Shock, the good field position could greatly assist Tampa Bay’s defense in preventing Spokane to march down the field into the opposite endzone.

Spokane’s defense is led by defensive backs Antwan Marsh and Travis Williams who will look to disrupt Dietz in the pocket. Marsh and Williams have a combined 10 interceptions on the year, so Dietz must be cautious before attempting any down-field pass. To avoid turnovers, it will be crucial for the Storm signal caller to make good decisions and not force any errant throws, much like the one picked off by Dion Bynum of the Predators with four minutes left in the fourth quarter last weekend. Dietz will have to rely on his offensive line up front to protect him from the Shock’s Ben McCombs and Jerry Turner, who are capable of recording numerous sacks and tackles around the line of scrimmage.

Tampa Bay is making a run for an unprecedented sixth Arena Bowl championship, while Spokane will try to earn its first in the AFL. Prior to joining the Arena League this season, the Shock claimed two Arena Cups in 2006 and 2009 as members of af2.

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