By RANDY FRANZ
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 28, 2002
LOS ANGELES -- The Storm is demonstrating injuries don't have to hurt. Despite losing a plethora of players to injuries this season, the Storm has found healing powers through an infusion of new talent.
The result has been a stunning late-season recovery that continued Saturday night with a 66-41 rout of the Avengers in the first round of the playoffs at the Staples Center. The Storm faces top-seeded host San Jose in the second round at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Three weeks ago, the Storm (7-8) was basically playing out the most dismal season in its 12-year history. The team was 4-8 and preparing to be the first in Storm history to miss the playoffs. Victories in its final two games and the right combination of losses around the league let the Storm creep into the playoffs as the No.12 seed.
The Storm looked like a different team against the Avengers (8-7) because it was different. It had 11 players Saturday who were not with the team when it lost to the Avengers 38-24 on May17.
"We brought in Troy Wilson, who is a strong pass-rusher, and we've kind of stayed healthy enough in the past three or four weeks to bond a little," Tampa Bay coach Tim Marcum said. "The players win. The players make the coaches."
Quarterback Shane Stafford said Marcum need not be so humble.
"We had a great game plan for this week," said Stafford, who was 22-for-28 for seven touchdowns, 298 yards and one interception. Five of the touchdowns were to players who weren't with the team before: David Saunders, Calvin Schexnayder and Alvin Ashley.
"I just think we are closer as a team," Stafford said. "We have a togetherness and camaraderie that is starting to show up."
The defense certainly showed up against the Avengers, who had the fifth-best offense in the league, averaging 52.2 points. But the Storm put pressure on quarterback Tony Graziani, sacking him twice and getting two interceptions. Lawrence Samuels stood out with four tackles and the interception that Marcum credited as being one of the game's key plays. It came early in the second quarter with the Storm holding a 21-14 lead. The Avengers had first and goal at the 5-yard line when Samuels picked off the pass at the 1. Tampa Bay responded with a six-play drive that ended with a 20-yard field goal by Pete Elezovic, another new face.
Tampa Bay never trailed. The 38-27 halftime lead ballooned to 52-27 by the end of the third quarter.