The Orlando Predators celebrated their 25th season in 2015. They were looking to complete the milestone season with a win in ArenaBowl XXIX. Unfortunately, they failed to advance deep into the Arena Football League playoffs for the second consecutive year, despite a successful regular season.
Finishing 12-4, the Predators had a roller coaster ride of a season.
Orlando started the season hot, going 7-0, the best start for the franchise since 2000. However, Orlando went 0-2 against American Conference rival Philadelphia Soul, and could not could not close out the season strong. The Predators lost to the 7-9 Jacksonville Sharks in the first round of the AFL playoffs for the second year in a row.
The biggest hurdle the Predators faced was losing quarterback Randy Hippeard down the stretch of the season. Hippeard left the game midway through the fourth quarter on June 18 against Jacksonville. He would later be placed on injured reserve with an torn ACL. In 12 games, he threw for 2,967 yards, 65 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Orlando native Bernard Morris stepped up to lead the team in the final games of the season. In his first full game starting he earned AFL player of the week, throwing 16 for 23 for 131 yards and five touchdowns. He added three rushing touchdowns. Morris would finish the year with 1,249 passing yards, 27 passing touchdowns and eight rushing touchdowns.
Orlando’s highlight victory came on June 24 when they defeated their rival Tampa Bay Storm 56-33. This was the Predators first home game following the tragic shooting at Pulse nightclub in downtown Orlando on June 12. It was also the highest crowd of the year with 13,527 in attendance at the Amway Center.
Wide receiver Brandon Thompkins set a franchise record with 3,530 all-purpose yards. He added 38 receiving touchdowns and five kickoff return touchdowns.
Defensive back Varmah Sonie led the Predators with 97 tackles and a team high six interceptions.
This team failed to win the big games losing the final three games of the year, and was bounced in the first round of the playoffs yet again. With the addition of a few veterans playmakers Orlando should be considered a favorite to win the Arena Bowl in 2017.
While the Predators were one of the top teams in the Arena Football League, the Storm had their worst season in franchise history. Tampa Bay, also celebrating their 25th season, finished the season 2-14 and made a fast exit out of the playoffs.
They were the worst team, but still had some players that made big moves. Quarterback Jason Boltus, who took over for starter Adam Kennedy, led this team to a streak of a couple of games in which the Storm had a chance to pull off an upset.
They even for their first win over the season with Boltus under center. He found wide receiver T.T. Toliver in the end zone with no time left to give the Storm the win over the Arizona Rattlers in Week 9. Their second win of the season came against the Portland Steel in which they lost a big lead and needed a blocked kick to win.
Speaking of Toliver, he set a few records in 2016. He became the league’s all-time leading receiver in receptions, receiving yards and all-purpose yards.
The Storm want to forget their 25th season and are ready to move on to the 30th season of the Arena Football League in 2017.