Two goal-line fumbles and an inability to convert key short-yardage situations doom Tampa Bay, which falls 51-37 at home against Toronto.
By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 21, 2002
TAMPA -- Getting into the end zone wasn't the problem. It was remembering to take the ball along.
Fullback Basil Proctor fumbled twice near the goal line, costing the Storm a possible 14 points in Saturday's 51-37 season-opening loss to Toronto before 12,373 at the Ice Palace.
"I was very disappointed," Tampa Bay coach Tim Marcum said. "I thought we were better than that. We've got a lot of work to do."
Tampa Bay moved the ball at will but failed to convert a couple of key short-yardage situations and had three turnovers.
Proctor, a six-year Arena Football League veteran, was acquired in the offseason for his pass blocking and rushing skills. But he was betrayed by his hands in his Tampa Bay debut.
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound fullback scored two touchdowns, but fumbles at the goal line in the second and third quarters robbed the Storm of its best chances to get back into a game it trailed from the start.
Proctor's first fumble was the most critical, as it would have allowed Tampa Bay -- which trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half -- to pull within six at halftime. Proctor lost the ball as he leaped over a defender, and Toronto recovered.
"That play right there could have been a determining factor in us closing the gap or whatever," Proctor said. "I just feel terrible for the team, because I feel like I let them down."
Proctor again lost the handle with Tampa Bay trailing by 14 midway through the third quarter.
But Storm linebacker Lawrence Samuels recovered a Ty Law fumble two plays later, and Sir Mawn Wilson's 15-yard touchdown catch cut Tampa Bay's deficit to 41-34 with 5:22 left in the quarter.
Law had two touchdown receptions and an interception as the Phantoms (1-0) evened the series at one game apiece. The Storm won last season 70-33.
Storm quarterback John Kaleo completed 22-of-31 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns before leaving with a knee injury on the next-to-last play. Kaleo, who was hit by Steve Konopka, will have an MRI on Monday.
"It wasn't Konopka's fault, he was just making a play," Kaleo said. "That's football."
One of the bright spots for Tampa Bay was the play of wide receiver/defensive back Melvin Cunningham.
He caught six passes for 68 yards and returned five kickoffs for 92 yards in his first game since missing two seasons with a foot injury.
"I think I came out and did some positive things, but I still don't have a great feel for the game just yet," Cunningham said. "I think that the only way I'm going to get that feel is to continue to get playing time."
The Storm trailed 41-34 when Toronto kicker Matt George missed a 29-yard field goal attempt with 14:16 remaining.
But the Phantoms recovered the ball off the net and were awarded a first down at the Tampa Bay 8.
After three plays netted just three yards, George was brought back for a 20-yard attempt.
This one was good, giving the Phantoms a 10-point lead with 11:59 to play.