TAMPA — Tampa Bay took advantage of early turnovers last time it faced Orlando, leaving with a 53-35 win April 20. But in tonight's Arena Football League rematch, the Predators will have a new face under center: Aaron Garcia, one of the most decorated quarterbacks in league history.
"Garcia's legit," Storm coach Dave Ewart said. "He's done this forever and knows the game inside and out."
Garcia, 42, is a former ArenaBowl MVP, and he holds league records for passing yards (57,736) and touchdowns (1,254). He was traded from San Jose to Orlando in exchange for former USF and Storm receiver Amarri Jackson on April 24.
"They are a very different football team," Ewart said as Tampa Bay and Orlando renew the "War on I-4" rivalry for the 52nd time. "And, of course, we've got some new guys as well. So it should be interesting. Any time these two teams get together, something always seems to happen. It's always a crazy game."
Tampa Bay, as it turns out, played a large part in Garcia landing in Orlando. QB Kyle Rowley, who struggled during the early part of the season, was picked off twice by the Storm and benched. Backup Chris Dixon gave the Predators a spark but was knocked from the game on a hit by Storm DB Rashad Barksdale. Rowley was subsequently released and Dixon, who separated his shoulder on the play, is on recallable assignment.
Enter Garcia, a two-time AFL offensive player of the year. But despite his 58 passing TDs, he has had a rough season so far, tossing 17 interceptions .
"Garcia is certainly an upgrade," Ewart said. "But the key tonight will be getting pressure on him and upsetting his timing."
Standings: Tampa Bay got a big victory last week over Iowa, winning 65-63 on the final play. That kept the Storm (7-4) one game behind Jacksonville (8-3) in the South Division.
"Wins like that help with chemistry and confidence, and you hope they will pay off sometime down the road," Ewart said. "But it's always about the next one, and tonight's game is a division one, so it's even that much more important."
Ellingson Shining: Former Robinson High and Storm WR Greg Ellingson is turning heads in camp with Hamilton of the Canadian Football League. Ellingson, who signed with the Tiger-Cats on May 30, has made several highlight-reel catches as he battles for a roster spot.
Tampa Bay placed Ellingson on the Other League Exempt list while he is in Hamilton, meaning he can rejoin the Storm if he doesn't make the Tiger-Cats' roster. Hamilton's first preseason game is June 13.