Force falls to 0-2 with loss at Tampa

TAMPA - The Arena Football League season has just begun, but the Georgia Force already badly needed a victory.

The Tampa Bay Storm didn't cooperate, however.

Playing their home opener, the five-time Arena Bowl champions took advantage of Georgia's numerous mistakes and used Brett Dietz's seven touchdown passes for a 69-48 victory Friday night.

The Force went 14-2 in the regular season last year while playing at Atlanta's Philips Arena, winning the Southern Division title. But the relocated team lost its opener at the Arena in Gwinnett Center against Dallas last Saturday and turned in an even more sloppy performance against the Storm.

Georgia quarterback Chris Greisen had two fumbles and two interceptions, the Force committed 14 penalties for 108 yards and a special-teams misadventure resulted in a Tampa Bay touchdown.

With defensive leader David Crocker out of the lineup and other injuries, the Force couldn't stop Tampa Bay and Dietz, who was 21 of 34 for 190 yards in a highly efficient effort.

As a result, the Storm broke a three-game losing streak against Georgia and is back atop the Southern Division at 2-0.

Meanwhile, the Force must dig out of the early hole it has put itself in with the Los Angeles Avengers coming to the Gwinnett Arena a week fromtonight.

"Too many mistakes again," Georgia coach Doug Plank said. "We weren't disciplined enough."

Force newcomer Willie Marshall returned the opening kickoff to the Storm's 9-yardline, seemingly getting Georgia off to a great start. But Greisen fumbled the snap on the second play and Traco Rachal recovered for Tampa Bay at the 3.

"I think the game would have been completely different if we could have scored on the first drive," Plank said.

"We don't have much margin of error. We aren't that good right now. You can't put the ball on the ground, especially when you are on the road."

Aided by two offsides penalties aganst the Force, Tampa Bay marched down the field and scored on a 5-yard swing pass from Dietz to Sedrick Robinson. The Force was able to tie the game on a fourth-down 5-yard pass from Greisen to Troy Bergeron.

But the Storm went back on top just before the end of the first quarter on an 8-yard pass from Dietz to Terrill Shaw and led the rest of the way.

Greisen was 30 of 42 for 319 yards and five touchdowns.

But he had the fumble and two interceptions, one gift-wrapping a touchdown.

The Force got a quick touchdown in the second quarter, but still trailed because Carlos Martinez's extra-point attempt hit an upright and deflected back.

Seth Marler, a Parkview graduate, kicked a 19-yard field goal for Tampa Bay to make it 24-20 and then contributed to a wild play that was a backbreaker for the Force.

Marler's kickoff hit high off an upright and Tampa Bay special-teams ace Robinson worked his magic. The AFL veteran caught the deflection and raced 7 yards for the Storm touchdown.

The Force scored on a 1-yard sneak by Greisen with 54 seconds left before halftime. But Tampa Bay got the touchdown back on a 9-yard connection from Dietz to Shaw at 43 seconds after an offside penalty against the Force on an attempted on-side kick and then held

Georgia on downs as Greisen's pass fell incomplete.

Down 31-20 at halftime, the Force badly needed a stop to start the second half and almost got it.

But Georgia was called for roughing the passer on a fourth-down play and Dietz made the Force pay, hitting Hank Edwards for a 7-yard touchdown.

Greisen hit Carl Morris with a 30-yard touchdown pass.

But Marler kicked his second field goal and then Tampa Bay opened up a 48-27 lead when Tom Briggs intercepted Greisen's shovel pass at the 1-yard line, scoring easily.

After that, it was just a question of how decisive the final score would be as the Storm fans celebrated at the Force's expense.