tampabay.com

New face lifts Storm to win

STORM 61, GEORGIA 60: Bobby Sippio scores three times and Tampa Bay stops a two-point conversion with no time left.

By FRANK PASTOR
Published February 11, 2006


TAMPA - Storm coach Tim Marcum spent his 62nd birthday away from his team after an Arena Football League investigation determined he violated the terms of a suspension for salary cap violations.

But that was no reason to put away the party hats.

Tampa Bay's home opener against the Georgia Force served as Bobby Sippio's coming-out party, complete with fireworks, streamers and a guest list of 16,751 Friday at the St. Pete Times Forum.

After a couple of weeks to acclimate to his new team (eight catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns in the first two games), the third-year receiver/linebacker showed why he was so highly coveted during free agency.

Whether he lined up in the slot, on the flank or in the backfield, Sippio made his presence felt throughout the 61-60 victory.

"He was one of our free agent guys we targeted," Storm interim coach Dave Ewart said. "It was just more of us getting used to him and him getting used to us. It's a different system. We've only been together three weeks. Obviously, he's catching on and we're catching on."

In a game in which injuries limited offensive specialist Freddie Solomon and defensive specialists Tramain Jones and Jonathan Ordway in the second half, Sippio and Lawrence Samuels made the difference.

Sippio caught eight passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 3 yards for another score as the Storm (2-1) extended its home win streak to 12 games, longest in the league.

Samuels, MVP and Ironman of the 2003 ArenaBowl, had a team-high 10 receptions for 107 yards and two scores. He also intercepted a pass and deflected another into the hands of Lynaris Elpheage.

Still, the outcome was in doubt until Georgia's Matt Nagy overthrew Chris Johnson in the back of the end zone on a two-point conversion with no time on the clock. Nagy's 1-yard run around right end following a fake to fullback Robert Thomas had pulled the Force to within one. "It was a wonderful game," Sippio said. "We made it closer than it should have been, but, hey, that's the way the game goes.

"That just made us check our toughness, made us come a little closer."

Injuries played a part.

Jones was limited to special teams duties after spraining his neck in the first half. A lower back contusion kept Ordway from returning kicks, and a fourth-quarter foot injury ended Solomon's night. Oddly, Solomon's injury set the stage for the winning touchdown. One play after Solomon collapsed near midfield while running a route, his replacement, Elpheage, caught a 20-yard touchdown to give the Storm a 61-54 lead with 1:11 to play.

"This was a very important victory because we were without our coach, and it's very emotional," Samuels said. "Guys came out and executed and played well. We had some mistakes we need to correct, but hopefully, we can keep going on and keep getting better."

The Storm came out firing against defending National Conference champion Georgia (1-2), which knocked Tampa Bay out of the playoffs last season. Shane Stafford scored on a 1-yard run, and Sippio caught a 33-yard touchdown to give the Storm a quick 14-0 lead.

Samuels caught four passes for 46 yards on the opening drive then tipped a Nagy pass into Elpheage's hands to set up Sippio's first score. After catching Stafford's pass over the middle, Sippio slipped under a Nate Coggins tackle and stiff-armed Derek Lee on his way into the end zone.

Georgia closed to 17-13 on Robert Thomas' 1-yard touchdown run two minutes into the second quarter, but Sippio's 3-yard run on a toss around right end extended the Tampa Bay lead to 23-13 with 9:02 to play in the second quarter.

Samuels' 16-yard reception extended the lead to 30-13 with 2:11 left in the half. Just as the Storm appeared to be pulling away, Ordway fumbled during a kickoff return with 46 seconds left. Lee's 4-yard reception over Jones brought the Force back to 30-27 at the half.