A late turnover produces winning points for San Jose 61-54.
By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2002
TAMPA -- Keita Crespina punched the ball out of Bob McMillen's hands, then McMillen hit the Storm where it hurt most -- on the scoreboard.
The San Jose linebacker intercepted a Shane Stafford pass and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown with 34 seconds left as the SaberCats defeated the Storm 61-54 in front of 11,344 Saturday at the Ice Palace.
"I didn't make the play at the end of the game," Stafford said. "The guy made a good catch, and you can't turn the ball over. I did that, and that one interception was big."
Tampa Bay is 0-2 for the first time since 2000, when it started 0-3, and the third time in franchise history.
Mark Grieb threw seven touchdowns, including three to Barry Wagner, and San Jose (2-0) defeated the Storm for the first time in six games in a series that dates to 1996.
"We're all disappointed," Storm wide receiver/defensive back Melvin Cunningham said. "We feel we played hard, we saw some improvements, but we didn't finish."
Tampa Bay was driving for the winning touchdown when McMillen made the game-changing play.
With the score tied at 54 and time running down, the Storm faced third and 5 from the San Jose 6. Stafford tried to hit Cunningham near the goal line but found McMillen instead. The 6-foot-2, 254-pound linebacker rumbled down the right sideline and into the end zone.
McMillen retraced the path he took four minutes earlier, when he caught a pass from Grieb and bulled to the Tampa Bay 1. But Crespina caught him from behind and punched the ball out of the end zone for a touchback.
"It was a big play," Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "It was an extra-effort play. We need more of those."
The Storm had a chance to tie after McMillen's score, but Carlos Johnson was called for interference after making what appeared to be a diving catch in the end zone with 18 seconds remaining.
Stafford completed 24 of 41 passes for 270 yards, three touchdowns and the interception in his first game in place of injured John Kaleo. Kaleo was lost for the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in last week's season-opening loss to Toronto.
"He was a little shaky at times, but for the most part he was fairly solid," Marcum said of Stafford.
Grieb was 17-for-24 for 334 yards and seven scores.
Tampa Bay wide receiver Lawrence Samuels tied career highs with 11 catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Fullbacks Deryl Lane (two) and Basil Proctor (one) combined for three scores.
Tampa Bay wide receiver/linebacker Sir Mawn Wilson left after straining a shoulder while diving for a ball late in the first quarter. Wide receiver/defensive back Jason Kaiser left midway through the third with a groin injury.
With San Jose leading 48-44 and less than 15 minutes remaining, defensive lineman Sam Hernandez stripped the ball from Stafford as he set up to throw. Wendell Davis recovered, giving the SaberCats possession at their 24.
One play later, Grieb hit Wagner with a short pass along the right sideline, and the wide receiver cut back across the field for a touchdown that gave San Jose a 54-44 lead.