STORM 67, FORCE 61: Fourth-quarter comeback sustains team's hope for the postseason.
By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2002
TAMPA -- For 13 weeks, it was a nightmare season, unlike any other in franchise history.
But Saturday at the Ice Palace, the Storm went to extra lengths to extend it.
Shane Stafford passed for five touchdowns, and Antoine Toliver set a team record for return yards in a game as the Storm (6-8) rallied from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat Georgia 67-61 in overtime, in front of 12,097 Saturday at the Ice Palace.
David White's 2-yard run three minutes into overtime gave Tampa Bay the lead, and the Storm stopped Georgia at the Tampa Bay 14 to preserve the win.
The Storm's hopes for a 12th consecutive playoff appearance hinge on the results of the Buffalo-Los Angeles game late Saturday and Carolina-San Jose today. If it makes the postseason, Tampa Bay will play Saturday or July 28 at Grand Rapids or Los Angeles in a nationally televised game.
"There are a lot of scenarios," coach Tim Marcum said. "This is the one that puts us at 6-8, so that's the one that gives us a chance to be in there."
Either way, the victory helped erase the memory of a season in which the Storm started 1-5, went 2-5 at home and set a franchise record for losses in a season.
Unlike much of the season, Tampa Bay made the crucial plays down the stretch it needed to win.
With Georgia clinging to a 61-55 lead and 51 seconds to play, the Force gambled on fourth and 10 from its 6. Defensive end Troy Wilson chased quarterback Donnie Davis out of the pocket, and linebacker David Saunders broke up Davis' pass.
White scored on the next play, but Scott Milanovich's extra-point try was low and wide left, keeping the score tied. With a last chance to win in regulation, Georgia drove to the Tampa Bay 24 before Matt Huercamp missed a 39-yard field goal as time expired.
The Storm lost kicker Mike Black to a possible torn anterior cruciate ligament in the first quarter. He was replaced by Milanovich, who was 1-of-3 on extra-points.
"I think that will be my last kicking expedition," Milanovich said. "I'm sure they'll have someone else in there next week."
Stafford completed 21 of 28 passes for 233 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.
"He found second guys, third guys open," Marcum said. "He had command of where he wanted to go with the ball, and he did a nice job."
Toliver returned kickoffs 54 and 55 yards for touchdowns. His 274 return yards broke the team record of 241 set by James Bowden last season.
"I wasn't ready to go home, and I knew they weren't ready to go home," Toliver said. "We came out and fought hard to win the game."
INDIANA 51, CHICAGO 41: Leroy Thompson rushed for five touchdowns, including three in the fourth quarter, as the Firebirds handed the Rush ITS first home loss of the season.
Despite the loss, Chicago finished the season with a 9-5 record and opens the playoffs at home as the No. 3 seed on Aug. 5.
ARIZONA 53, NEW JERSEY 45: Chris Horn returned a fumble 19 yards for one of his four touchdowns as the visiting Rattlers clinched the No. 2 seed in the postseason.
Mike Horacek caught 11 passes for 121 yards for New Jersey, which goes into the playoffs as the fourth seed.