On paper, the Orlando Predators had nothing to play for in last week's regular-season finale vs. the Tampa Bay Storm. The Arena Football League South Division title had already been secured. A first-round home game vs. Jacksonville was already assured.
But paper doesn’t know or understand rivalry. Paper doesn’t have a sense of momentum. And paper certainly doesn’t know the Orlando Predators, who breezed by the Storm 59-40 Saturday and completed a sweep of three “War on I-4” games this season.
“That was a big one for us just to get that momentum to continue going into the playoffs,” quarterback Randy Hippeard said. “To have it be the Tampa Bay Storm and the War on I-4 makes it that much more special.”
One more thing that can’t be measured on paper: the effect of a great home-field advantage.
Amway Center was packed with 15,188 fans for the regular-season finale. It was the biggest home crowd of the season for Orlando and third-largest in the AFL this season. Those 15,000-plus fans saw Hippeard pass for six touchdowns. They saw wide receiver Greg Carr catch 10 balls for 109 yards and two TDs. They saw a defense that created two first-quarter interceptions and two second-half stops on fourth down. Emanuel Cook paced a hard-hitting Predators defense, racking up 11 total tackles, along with an interception and a pass break-up.
“To have the ability to play in front of a home crowd like we have and the support that fans give us each and every night we’re out here, it’s an amazing feeling,” Hippeard said. “We’re just happy to be able to give them (at least) one more game at home.”
That one more game at Amway Center will come this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. when another rival visits The Jungle. Orlando is 2-1 vs. Jacksonville this season, including a 64-50 win at Amway Center back on Aug. 1. Despite their success against Jacksonville this season, the Predators understand the Sharks are dangerous.
“It’s kind of hard because they change it up every time we play them,” wide receiver Brandon Thompkins said. “This will be the fourth time we play them, so you never know what they can come with. We (have to) go out there and keep competing and playing to win, and everything will come together.”
Hippeard expects both teams to be at their best on Saturday.
“Jacksonville is a great team,” he said. “They have former MVP Tommy Grady. They have a defensive player of the year, Sykes, on the (defensive) line, and they have a great secondary behind that line. I think at our best we’re a team to be dealt with as well.”
For his part, Orlando head coach Rob Keefe is doing everything he can to assure his team is rested, ready and prepared.
“We’re sleeping properly, we’re eating properly and we are doing everything that is only dedicated to beating Jacksonville,” Keefe said. “There’s going to be no wasted energy, no wasted movement and no wasted meetings. Everybody on the field is going to be completely dedicated to getting the most efficiency out of our team possible.”
ABOUT THE ORLANDO PREDATORS
The 2015 South Division Champion Orlando Predators are in their 24th season as Central Florida’s most exciting and innovative professional sports franchise. Proud members of the Arena Football League, the Predators have achieved unprecedented success on the field. Orlando has advanced to the AFL playoffs a league-leading 22 times in their history while securing seven conference championships, including two ArenaBowl Championship victories in 1998 and 2000.
Article provided and written by the Orlando Predators.