Now that the New Orleans VooDoo is learning how to win, the players plan to work on finishing opponents.
Until the fourth quarter, Saturday night’s 54-51 victory against Tampa Bay at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was not as close as the final score. The VooDoo held a comfortable lead early in the fourth quarter, thanks to the defense’s ability to curtail Arena Football League MVP candidate Adrian McPherson.
Then his replacement, Randy Hippeard, led Tampa Bay to three consecutive scores, the last a 23-yard touchdown pass with 3:48 left.
While VooDoo quarterback Kurt Rocco was able to maintain possession for the final minutes, he and his teammates learned another valuable lesson, one that would have been harder to deal with had the VooDoo (3-9) succumbed to the Storm (7-6).
“We’ve had a very good, fast start on offense the last couple of weeks,” said Rocco, who passed for 210 yards and six TDs and ran for another score. He threw both of his interceptions in the second half, the latter returned for a score. “We’ve kind of slowed down throughout the game. It showed in the fourth quarter with my play, for sure. There were communication issues with receivers. I think we were getting ahead of ourselves — we were doing so well.”
Not that the VooDoo didn’t have reason to rejoice their early efforts.
McPherson, the league’s leading rusher and No. 4 passer, was held to 147 passing yards and 15 rushing yards. He totaled three scores and was sacked twice. VooDoo defensive back Cameron McGlenn intercepted him twice.
Meanwhile, the VooDoo enjoyed one of its best offensive first halves of the season. Rocco threw TD passes to four different receivers, including two to Quorey Payne. The second came with 15 seconds left in the second quarter, giving the VooDoo a 33-20 lead.
Payne finished with four catches for 98 yards. Donovan Morgan caught eight passes for 69 yards and two scores.
Hippeard finished with 195 yards and two TDs while running for another two, nearly enough to help Tampa Bay escape with a victory.
“I’m not happy that we blew a lead,” VooDoo coach Pat O’Hara said, “but I’m very happy that there’s a major lesson learned there.”
A lesson after a win.