Samuels, Storm remain in thick of playoff race

The receiver scores three TDs to help Tampa Bay defeat Utah 56-41.

Published April 2, 2006

TAMPA - He was pinned against the sideboards. A defensive back's hands were in his face. And he only had use of his right arm.

But, like his Storm teammates, receiver/linebacker Lawrence Samuels is best with his back against the wall.

Samuels' one-handed grab with time running down in the first half gave Tampa Bay a two-touchdown lead, and it didn't look back in a 56-41 victory over Utah before an announced 13,404 Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum.

One week after a 61-51 loss to Georgia dropped it to eighth in the National Conference, the Storm moved back among the six conference teams that will make the playoffs.

"We've got to concentrate and get the job done," Samuels said. "That's all you have to do."

Stuck in a three-way tie with Georgia (6-4) and Orlando (5-4) for second in the Southern Division entering the game, Tampa Bay (6-4) stayed within a game of first-place Austin (7-3), which beat Philadelphia on Friday.

Utah (3-7), with Jason Gesser playing in place of injured quarterback Joe Germaine (broken finger), looked like anything but an expansion team, scoring twice on fourth downs to keep the score close.

But in the end, Tampa Bay's Tim Marcum got the better of Danny White in a matchup of the winningest coaches in league history. Marcum has won nine of 12 meetings, including the 2003 ArenaBowl, when White coached Arizona.

The Storm didn't appear to miss receiver/linebacker Bobby Sippio, who was waived and picked up by Chicago this week. Quarterback Shane Stafford tied a team single-game record with eight touchdowns to five receivers, including three to Samuels.

Even Marcum's nephew got into the act. Mickey Peters, who spent last season on the practice squad, caught an 8-yard touchdown in his first game.

"I really hadn't played football in two years," Peters said. "It was a lot of fun to get out there and catch a touchdown in your first AFL game."

With linemen Nyle Wiren and Mondre Dickerson and fullback/linebacker Jarrod Penright back from injured reserve, the Storm won the majority of the physical battles.

Dickerson and Wiren pushed Utah's Hans Olsen and Scott Pospisil into Gesser, resulting in sacks for Umar Muhammad and Penright. Tramain Jones had an interception, and Aaron Hunt supplied constant pressure as the defense stopped the Blaze on five of 11 possessions.

"Of all the good things that happened tonight, I think seeing that Aaron Hunt can rush the passer is one of them," Marcum said.

In a game that matched two of the league's top five scoring offenses, the teams scored on the first five possessions, with Freddie Solomon's 3-yard reception putting the Storm ahead 21-14 with 59 seconds left in the first.

The Blaze tied on Tom Pace's 34-yard reception, but Solomon answered with a 31-yard scoring catch. After Jonathan Ordway broke up a fourth-down pass for Justin Skaggs, Samuels' one-handed catch gave Tampa Bay a 35-21 halftime lead.

Siaha Burley's 6-yard reception on the opening possession of the second half brought Utah within a touchdown, and it got the ball back when Thal Woods intercepted Stafford in the end zone.

But the Storm defense held, and Demetris Bendross and Samuels added touchdowns to give Tampa Bay an insurmountable 49-34 lead a little more than two minutes into the fourth quarter.