Arena Bowl XXX Preview: Tampa Bay Storm at Philadelphia Soul

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After a tumultuous off-season that left many wondering if the 30th season of the Arena Football League would even happen.

Arena Bowl XXX is set to come rolling into our lives Saturday night, and it’s a matchup that many saw coming from the start of the season, as the two best teams in the Tampa Bay Storm and the Philadelphia Soul will square-off for Arena Football’s ultimate crown.

The Storm (11-4) come in looking for their sixth championship in franchise history, which would break the tie they currently have with the Arizona Rattlers for most in league history. While the Soul (14-1) are looking for back-to-back titles and their third in team history.

Arena Bowl XXX: #2 Tampa Bay Storm (11-4) at #1 Philadelphia Soul (14-1), 7 p.m. EST
Betting Line: Soul -11
Broadcast: ArenaFootball.com or afl.twitter.com (both free)

This will be the third meeting of the year between the two longest running teams in the AFL, with the Soul sweeping the regular season series between the two teams. The average score of the three regular season games was 53-40 in favor of the Soul. Two of the three games in the regular season were played in Philadelphia.

The Storm held off the Cleveland Gladiators two weeks ago 73-59 to punch its ticket to the Arena Bowl, with quarterback Randy Hippeard throwing for 313 yards and seven touchdowns. He also added two rushing scores, for a total of nine touchdowns in the playoff win.

Hippeard had been well-discussed after leading the league in passing yards during the regular season, racking up 3,506 yards on the season, almost 400 more than the next-closest QB. Hippeard was second in the league with 80 TD passes this year, against just eight interceptions.

His top target is Joe Hills, who led the league in receiving yards (1,353), catches (129, 31 more than the next closest guy), and TD catches (36), and was named the AFL’s Wide Receiver of the Year. Hills hauled in four TD passes in the win over Cleveland, while receivers LaMark Brown and Kendrick Ings combined for 16 catches and three touchdowns in that playoff win. Ings was awarded the league’s Playmaker of the Year award for his special teams work.

The Soul come in off a nice 69-54 win over the expansion Baltimore Brigade in the other playoff game.

The Soul rolled through the regular season, boasting the league’s highest scoring offense at 58.4 points per game, nearly 8 points per game better than the next closest team. They also had the league’s best defense, giving up just 42.1 points per game, five points better than the next closest team.

Philadelphia quarterback Dan Raudabaugh led the AFL in touchdown passes with 82 this season, and had the highest QB rating in the league at 122.0. Raudabaugh tossed NINE TD passes in the win over Baltimore. The Soul also boast three wide receivers who were among the Top-6 in TD receptions this season, Darius Reynolds, Shaun Kauleinamoku, and Ryan McDanial, all catching at least 20 TD passes. Reynolds had six TD’s in the playoff win.

The Soul also have two weapons on defense and special teams, with defensive back Dwayne Hollis winning Defensive Back of the Year after leading the league with seven interceptions, two returned for touchdowns, recovering three fumbles and totaling 72 tackles, third in the league.  Kicker Adrian Trevino won Kicker of the Year, going 104 for 114 on extra points, and registering 35 touchbacks. The average opponent drive started at the 7-yard line this season.

Add it all up and this is the best matchup that the Arena Football League could have asked for, especially with expansion rumors swirling, and talk that other potential owners are expected to be in attendance Saturday night.

Prediction: The Soul have been too good all season long to be stopped now. They won the two games between these teams in Philadelphia by an average of 17 points, and I think a big crowd (the upper deck has been opened), combined with having better playmakers on the defensive side of the ball will be the difference as the Soul win their third Arena Bowl crown.

Soul 55, Storm 45 

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