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Storm loses 49-45, is adrift at 1-5

By FRANK PASTOR

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2002


TAMPA -- The first five weeks of the season, the Storm looked like a ship lost at sea.

TAMPA -- The first five weeks of the season, the Storm looked like a ship lost at sea.

But at least it had a compass to follow.

When Tampa Bay was 0-3 and even 1-4, it could take solace in the fact that the 2000 squad rebounded from an identical start to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

But now, the Storm is in uncharted territory.

No other team in the franchise's 12 years has started 1-5.

Mike Black missed a potential tying 29-yard field goal with 48 seconds left and the teams traded scores in the final 25 seconds as the Storm lost to Carolina 49-45 Saturday at the Ice Palace.

Tampa Bay dropped three games behind Carolina (4-2) in the Southern Division. A win would have pulled the Storm within a game.

To add insult to injury, former Tampa Bay quarterback John Fitzgerald inflicted much of the damage.

Fitzgerald, released after losing to John Kaleo, Shane Stafford and Scott Milanovich in a preseason quarterback competition, threw five touchdowns in his first start since being picked up by Carolina last month.

Fitzgerald's third touchdown of the fourth quarter, 31 yards to Jamaal Garman, gave the Cobras a 42-39 lead with 7:45 to play.

The Storm drove 36 yards to the 3-yard line on its next possession, setting up Black for a 19-yard field goal attempt. Black made the kick but it was nullified because of a holding penalty on Juaquin Feazell. After the ball was moved back to the 13, Black missed wide right on his 29-yard attempt.

Carolina took over at its 1 with 48 seconds to play. Fitzgerald completed a 17-yard pass to Aaron Bailey to move the ball out to the 19. Two plays later, he found Nick Ward for a 29-yard touchdown.

Tampa Bay closed to 49-45 on Stafford's 3-yard touchdown to Lawrence Samuels, but it was too late.

Stafford completed 19-of-31 passes for 288 yards and six touchdowns, including three to Jahine Arnold. Arnold made his first start at offensive specialist after Carlos Johnson was released this week.

Gunnard Twyner and David Saunders, both signed Thursday, also caught touchdowns.

The Storm found a kick returner in Arnold, who returned six for 118 yards, including a long of 28.

Stafford threw three first-half touchdowns, including two to Arnold, and Black's season-long 46-yard field goal as time expired gave the Storm a 25-22 lead.

Arnold didn't take long to make an impact, turning a fingertip catch into a 41-yard touchdown on Tampa Bay's second play.

A defensive holding penalty against Carolina led to Arnold's second touchdown and resulted in a 14-point swing early in the second.

The penalty nullified Cory Fleming's 25-yard interception return for a touchdown and gave Tampa Bay a first down at the Carolina 19. Three plays later, Stafford's 17-yarder to Arnold gave the Storm a 14-9 lead.

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