By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 16, 2002
TAMPA -- Scott Milanovich had few options when a sack and back-to-back penalties forced him into third and 14 from the Tampa Bay 1 late in the third quarter of Saturday's game against New Jersey.
One thing he could not afford was a sack in the end zone. Another was a fumble.
The Gladiators took advantage of both for a 55-33 win over the Storm before 15,394 at the Ice Palace. The crowd was the largest in the Arena Football League this season.
The outcome was in doubt until Hunter Adams and former Tampa Bay lineman Wilky Bazile sacked Milanovich, knocking the ball loose. Jeremy Wilkinson recovered in the end zone to give New Jersey a 34-20 lead with 6:11 left in the quarter.
"Milo had a lot of pressure on him," wide receiver David Saunders said. "That's one of the things we can't have, hurried throws. It takes a toll on a quarterback when you get smacked in the mouth like that."
The loss snapped Tampa Bay's two-game winning streak and prevented the Storm (3-6) from moving into a tie with Georgia (4-5) and Carolina (4-5) for first in the South Division. New Jersey, 2-12 last season, improved to 6-3 and remained atop the East.
The Gladiators, the last team on Tampa Bay's schedule with a winning record, represented the biggest obstacle in the Storm's quest to make the playoffs for a 12th consecutive season. The four teams remaining entered Saturday with a combined mark of 12-22.
"We now have a chance to be 8-6," coach Tim Marcum said. "That's the way we're going to be. We're going to be 8-6."
Turnovers again played a role, as Milanovich fumbled and threw two interceptions. Two of the plays resulted in New Jersey touchdowns. The Storm had two turnovers in its past three games.
The Storm lost defensive backs Melvin Cunningham and Corey Sawyer. Cunningham started at defensive specialist, marking the first time this season he did not play both ways. But he left on a stretcher after dislocating his right knee late in the second quarter. He was taken to a hospital and could be out for the season.
Sawyer sprained his right knee and had a possible meniscus tear after making a tackle late in the first. He is expected to be out at least two weeks.
"They're two key guys, so we've got to bounce back," offensive specialist Calvin Schexnayder said. "The team is still strong. We've got a lot of talent out there, so the season is not over yet."
Wilkinson's fumble recovery gave the Gladiators their first big lead.
The Storm closed to 41-27 on Milanovich's 13-yard touchdown pass to David Saunders with 11:46 left but was offside on what appeared to be a successful onside kick, giving New Jersey possession at the Tampa Bay 10.
Fullback Frank Carter needed one play to score, restoring the Gladiators' three-touchdown lead with 10:33 to play.