SaberCats help make Tampa Bay's 17-point lead disappear. Playoff hopes are vanishing as well.
By FRANK PASTOR
Published April 5, 2004
TAMPA - The Storm proved Sunday it can play with any team in the Arena league. But to keep its record 13-year playoff streak alive, it will have to beat more of them.
After playing one of its most complete halves of the season, Tampa Bay blew a 17-point lead in a 62-55 loss to league-leading San Jose before 12,204 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
The SaberCats' James Roe caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Mark Grieb with seven seconds remaining, and former Storm defensive specialist Omarr Smith intercepted Shane Stafford's desperation pass as time expired.
San Jose (7-1) won its fourth consecutive game and fourth straight over Tampa Bay (3-6), which likely needs to win five or six of its remaining seven to make the playoffs.
"We're still in it," Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "Until somebody tells me we're mathematically eliminated, we're going to fight like we're in it. Like you saw (Sunday), we can play with anybody."
Two Lawrence Samuels touchdowns less than a minute apart, including a net recovery in the end zone after a violent helmet-to-helmet collision with kick returner Rashied Davis, gave the Storm a 14-0 lead it extended to 17 at the half.
But blown coverages in the secondary, lack of a pass rush and poor kickoff coverage allowed San Jose to outscore Tampa Bay 41-17 in the second half, including 20-7 in the third quarter.
Roe set a San Jose record with seven receiving touchdowns, and Grieb tied a team record with a career-high nine scoring passes against the league's top passing defense.
The SaberCats' comeback spoiled a career day for T.T. Toliver, who caught seven passes for 118 yards and three touchdowns. Shane Stafford's 25 completions and 309 passing yards were season highs.
"We had like five mental errors in the secondary," Storm defensive specialist Jonathan Ordway said. "Not to take anything away from them, because obviously they made the plays, but we gave up four touchdowns on just mental errors."
The opening possession of the second half can be pivotal in Arena football, and Sunday was no exception.
Davis returned the second-half kickoff 36 yards, and a face-mask penalty on David White moved the ball to the Storm 10. Grieb found Roe in the end zone one play later to pull the SaberCats back to 38-28.
San Jose's defense held, and Davis returned Matt George's 62-yard field-goal attempt 43 yards to the Tampa Bay 12. Grieb went back to Roe on the next play, making the score 38-34.
The teams traded touchdowns before another San Jose defensive stop allowed the SaberCats to take a 48-45 lead, their first of the game, on Roe's 5-yard reception with 11:56 to play.
Down 55-52, Tampa Bay drove to the San Jose 2 with less than a minute remaining. Storm receiver Clif Dell recovered fullback Andre Bowden's fumble in the end zone, but a holding penalty pushed the ball back to the 13.
A 7-yard completion to Dell advanced it to the 6, but passes for Freddie Solomon and Toliver fell incomplete, and the Storm settled for a tying 21-yard field goal with 28 seconds remaining.
That was more than enough time for Grieb to take San Jose 45 yards in four plays, capped by Roe's winning catch, and erase Samuels' strong first half.
"The bottom line is, if we play like we played when we first came out, we can compete with anybody in this league, and we proved that," Samuels said. "We just didn't continue to fight throughout the ballgame, and we let them come back and get back into the game, and they made the plays to win."
COLUMBUS 55, ORLANDO 46: Ryan Vena scored on a 4-yard run late in the fourth quarter and threw three touchdowns to lead host Columbus. Vena completed 11-of-17 passes for 185 yards, and Sedrick Robinson finished with four catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns. Connell Maynor completed 25 of 41 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions for Orlando. Cory Fleming had 13 receptions for 164 yards and three touchdowns.
ARIZONA 51, GRAND RAPIDS 41: Randy Gatewood caught two touchdowns and returned a kickoff for another score for visiting Arizona.
PHILLY 47, DALLAS 31: Todd Hammel was 12 of 23 for 194 yards and three touchdowns in host Philadelphia's victory. Dallas tied a league record with 129 yards in penalties.
N.Y. 57, CAROLINA 41: Lincoln DuPree scored two touchdowns for visiting New York.
CHICAGO 57, LAS VEGAS 55: Raymond Philyaw threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Etu Molden as time expired for the visiting Rush.
L.A. 81, AUSTIN 70: Tony Graziani threw eight touchdowns - seven to Chris Jackson - for host Los Angeles. Graziani was 19 of 25 for 332 yards, and Jackson had 11 receptions for 210 yards for the Avengers (5-3). Former Storm quarterback John Kaleo passed for 387 yards and seven touchdowns for the Wranglers (5-3). Tacoma Fontaine was Austin's top receiver, finishing with 12 catches for 203 yards and three touchdowns.
INDIANA 45, DENVER 42 (OT): Clay Rush kicked a 20-yard field goal in overtime for visiting Indiana. Former FSU quarterback Adrian McPherson was 28-of-35 for 332 yards and five touchdowns, and Anthony Hines had 13 receptions for 196 yards and three TDs for the Firebirds.