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Storm allows lead, season to slip away

By JOHN HAUN
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 4, 2002

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Time ran out Saturday on the Storm.

Shane Stafford's pass on the final play of the game was tipped away, and San Jose rallied to defeat the Storm 55-48 to reach the Arena Football League semifinals.

On fourth down with the ball on the SaberCats 2, Stafford rolled to his left, but all of his receivers were covered. He flipped the ball toward David Saunders, but Barry Wagner tipped it away.

"We got the pressure, and he got flushed out (of the pocket)," Wagner said. "The receivers bunched up in one spot. I was in a zone, and I got on the side of (Saunders). When he missed it, I knocked it down."

The Storm let the clock run from 27 seconds to two seconds after Basil Proctor's run on third down went for no gain.

"If you can't make 2 yards on a play, especially a fourth-down play, you don't deserve to win anyway," said Storm coach Tim Marcum, whose team led 45-27 with 8:48 left in the third quarter.

San Jose, the top-seeded team, scored 21 points in 11 minutes bridging the third and fourth quarters. A 10-yard pass from John Dutton to Wagner and a Daron Alcorn extra point gave the SaberCats a 48-45 lead with 9:43 left.

The Storm tied it with a 39-yard field goal by Pete Elezovic with 2:45 left.

On San Jose's final drive, Dutton connected with James Roe twice, the second for a 35-yard touchdown with 1:18 left. By the time Alcorn made the extra point, there was 1:00 left.

The Storm drove the field and reached the San Jose 1.

On first down, Stafford took a knee. On second down, Stafford's sneak got no yards. Proctor's run set up the final play.

Stafford, 14-for-39 for 268 yards and four touchdowns, played as well in the first half, after which Tampa Bay led 30-27, as he did in a 66-41 first-round victory at Los Angeles last weekend.

"We just didn't make the play at the end," he said. "We worked hard and thought we had a chance."

The Storm built a 30-20 lead in the second quarter as Stafford found Saunders for two touchdowns. Stafford's 44-yard pass to Saunders, who had five catches for 103 yards, with 10:22 left cut San Jose's lead to 20-17. "They got the lead in the first half," San Jose lineman Sam Hernandez said. "But their big guys got tired. We rotated and wore them down, I think."

Tampa Bay's defense helped extend the lead in the second half. Lawrence Samuels' 17-yard interception return with 8:48 left in the third gave the Storm its biggest lead at 45-27.

"We didn't make the plays in the fourth quarter," Marcum said. They just came from behind."

Wagner, the six-time ironman of the year, broke up four passes and had six catches for 64 yards and three touchdowns. Dutton was 24-for-38 for a career-high 327 yards and six touchdowns.

* * *

ORLANDO 49, NEW JERSEY 46: Jay Gruden threw four touchdowns to lead the visiting Predators into the semifinals. Gruden, the only active player in the Hall of Fame, connected twice each with Junior Lord and Siaha Burley.

-- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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