Predators face division rivals in historic showdown


Danny Morales / Valencia Voice

Head coach Rob Keefe is in his second season with the team sporting a 15-12 overall record.

Few sports rivalries are as important for organizations and are as evenly matched as the Orlando Predators and Tampa Bay Storm rivalry affectionately titled the War On I-4.

The Predators will meet with their division rivals for the 56th time on Saturday on their home turf at the Amway Center at 7 p.m. in Downtown Orlando.

With both teams joining the AFL in 1991, the matchup is the longest existing rivalry in the league with Orlando just barely leading the series 28-27.

“The War On I-4 is tremendous for both organizations,” Predators head coach Rob Keefe said. “I think it’s a great rivalry and that it’s extremely important for Arena Football. It’s great for Central Floridians. It’s been around for so long with so many great players and great coaches, it has become historic and makes for good entertainment.”

Orlando heads into the game on a three-game losing streak with two of the games lost by only one point – both in overtime. The Predators then went on to lose 62-48 to the undefeated Philadelphia Soul that would leave Orlando with a 3-4 record this season.

The Storm have also had a similarly rocky season thus far trading win for loss each week leading them to a 3-3 record heading into this week’s matchup.

With the close losses fresh in their minds, the team has been focused on persistence and proficiency through the entire game. They have been working on being able to finish the win and not lose control late in the game due to careless penalties or botched protection of the quarterback.

“We have a very good team, they just aren’t finishing,” Keefe said. “So the point of emphasis has been on discipline, accountability and toughness. We made some changes to the roster, we felt that they were getting a little comfortable … this was the thing they needed to teach them that they need to work hard to earn the win.”

After losing twice in a row due to a missed two-point conversion, coach Keefe still has no desire to move toward a more conservative play calling by insisting you have to be aggressive to win in the AFL.

“What I’m doing as a head coach by calling two-point conversions is teaching these guys how to be clutch,” Keefe said. “We are looking for our Michael Jordan, our LeBron James [and] our Kobe Bryant. We are looking for the certain players on our team that are gonna step up. I’m not looking for guys who are nervous or anxious and the best way to find those players is to be in those situations. You need to have enough last second shots to feel comfortable in the moment.”

Saturday’s game should be especially exciting for quarterbacks Jason Boltus and Randy Hippeard as the two were traded last offseason with Storm acquiring Boltus and the Predators acquiring Hippeard. The Predators also traded fan favorite T.T. Toliver to the Storm as well.

Toliver, 12-year veteran, has become Tampa Bay’s top receiver, catching 48 passes for 697 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Boltus was the league-leader in passing at one point last season before getting injured. He has been able to make a smooth transition to Tampa this year by throwing for 1,767 yards for 35 touchdowns and running in four more.

Hippeard played for Tampa in the 2013-14 seasons, throwing for 5,716 yards and 117 touchdowns. He then came to Orlando to throw for 1,769 yards and 32 touchdowns in six starts under center before getting injured and missing the start against the Soul in Week 7.

Hippeard will also miss this game against his former team after being placed on the injured reserve list on Thursday, with Morris ready to take the start under center for Orlando.

“I think he is going to do well,” Keefe said on his replacement quarterback. “Honestly, Philadelphia being 7-0 and his first game starting, we had to knock some of the rust and cobwebs off, but being at home and against a team we are familiar with, we were able to prepare a game plan for him. I’m very confident but we are gonna cross our fingers and do the best we can versus a very physical football team.”

Also missing from Orlando’s roster this week is top receiver Greg Carr, who is out with a lower body injury that has been bothering his throughout the season.

With injuries on both sides of the ball, this game will prove who can step up for the win for Orlando and with the midway point of the season approaching fast, this game will be an early test to see who will top the South Division and earn their spot in the playoffs and a chance at the ArenaBowl.

Kickoff is at 7p.m. and tickets can be found at or by calling 407-355-2200