tampabay.com

Storm wins on last-second field goal

STORM 59, ARIZONA 56: QB Shane Stafford avoids a safety with :20 left, and seven plays later Matt George kicks 20-yarder.

By FRANK PASTOR
Published March 14, 2005


TAMPA - Storm quarterback Shane Stafford had time for one thought: Get rid of the ball, or this game is over.

When a blown protection allowed Arizona's Anthony Hutch to rush unimpeded into the Tampa Bay backfield with 20 seconds remaining in a tie game, Stafford was in danger of being dragged down for a safety.

"That was it," Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "My whole life flashed in front of me."

But Stafford shook free of Hutch's grasp and threw out of bounds to keep the Storm's chances alive. Seven plays later, Matt George's 20-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Storm to a 59-56 victory before an announced 16,004 Sunday at the St. Pete Times Forum.

In the first meeting between the teams since Tampa Bay's 43-29 victory in ArenaBowl XVII in 2003, the Storm (4-2) rubbed salt in the wound by sending the Rattlers (1-6) to their sixth consecutive loss.

Tampa Bay moved within a half-game of Georgia, Orlando and New Orleans, all 5-2, in the Southern Division.

"A lot of 1-5 teams would have shut it down already and not tried to go out and get a win," Arizona quarterback Sherdrick Bonner said. "We felt coming in we were coming in to win a ballgame."

That the Rattlers left without a victory largely was due to Stafford, who overcame four botched exchanges with centers Louis Williams and Omar Smith to complete 30 of 45 passes for 321 yards and seven touchdowns.

But the pass he threw away might have been most important.

Stafford was in a similar situation last year against Georgia, when Nikkia Adderson stripped the ball and Stacy Evans recovered with 15 seconds remaining to clinch a 70-62 Force victory.

"I was like, "This is the same thing,"' Stafford said. "It was scary. I'm just glad we were able to get out of it, and we executed the rest of the series and (George) went out and banged that thing through. That was good for us."

After Arizona tied the score at 56 on Bonner's 11-yard pass to Siaha Burley with 34 seconds left, George, whose longest Arena League field goal is 56 yards, said he simply asked Stafford to get the ball past midfield.

After avoiding the safety, Stafford threw underneath Arizona's man-to-man coverage for 16 yards to Lawrence Samuels to give him room to work. Completions of 16 yards to Samuels and 7 to T.T. Toliver set up George at the Arizona 5, little longer than an extra-point kick.

"I should be 100 percent inside the 25, that's how I feel," George said. "I'm just glad they got me close this game. I didn't want to let them down."

Arizona pressed offensive specialist Freddie Solomon at the line of scrimmage, limiting him to three catches for 39 yards, so Tampa Bay threw instead to the bigger Samuels and David Saunders.

Samuels caught a game-high 12 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown despite injuring a finger early. Saunders had six receptions for 52 yards and three scores, including a 4-yarder that gave the Storm a 56-49 lead with 46 seconds remaining.

"I think their focus was to stop Freddie," Saunders said. "I didn't think they thought our (flankers) were capable of getting it done. Obviously, I guess, they didn't watch enough film."

Receiver/defensive back Anthony Derricks returned a kickoff 58 yards for a touchdown and intercepted a pass in his most complete game since joining the Storm late in training camp.

The return was the Storm's second for a touchdown in two weeks. Toliver returned a missed field goal 53 yards for a score March 6 against Grand Rapids.

"I saw a guy coming from my right, and I had to make him miss," Derricks said. "I knew I had to get closer to Freddie, who was my up back, and I knew I could have a good return. So, I made him miss and got up behind (Solomon), and there it was."