tampabay.com

Storm climbs to No. 3 seed

The regular season ends with a win as Tampa Bay looks toward the postseason.

By DAVID MURPHY
Published June 24, 2007


TAMPA - Two months ago, a scene like this seemed relegated to scrapbooks of Storm seasons past: Tim Marcum, Sharpie in one hand, plastic cup in the other, signing his last autograph, then winding his way to the locker room for a quick wardrobe change and a victorious night on the town.

Yet an hour after the Storm capped its remarkable resurgence with a 55-51 win over Austin in its regular-season finale Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum, that is how the scene unfolded: The longtime coach glided off the field, swapped his navy Storm shirt for a Tommy Bahama button-down, and savored one of the most improbable postseason berths in franchise history.

"We're going to enjoy this one for 24 hours, " said Marcum, whose team hosts Columbus in the first round of the Arena League playoffs on Saturday. "Then we're going to focus on Columbus."

The stakes weren't huge Saturday. Even with a loss, the Storm 9-7 would have hosted a playoff game. Still, it was a win the team very much desired.

Fullback Torrance Marshall scored on a 1-yard run with eight seconds remaining and defensive back Jeroid Johnson intercepted Austin quarterback Lang Campbell on the game's final play to seal the victory.

The Storm, which missed the playoffs last season and started this year 0-5, heads into the postseason as the No. 3 seed in the National Conference.

"We promised ourselves we were going to win this game, " said Johnson, who had two earlier interceptions overturned because of penalties.

Saturday's game didn't play out exactly as hoped. Receiver Terrill Shaw was one of the few players who turned in a strong performance, finishing with 12 catches for 181 yards. In the first quarter, he made a juggling catch on fourth down while being hit by a defender, helping set up a Seth Marler field goal.

Shaw also caught a 40-yard touchdown from Brett Dietz and drew a couple of pass interference penalties.

Otherwise, the team's performance was, at best, up and down.

Defensive tackle Tim McGill, who has played a big role in the Storm's revival, had a quarterback pressure that led to an interception by Traco Rachal, but also had a roughing-the- passer penalty that negated an interception by Johnson.

Dietz, who has been nothing short of outstanding throughout the late-season run, was shaky at times. His 40-yard touchdown to Shaw in the second quarter was a lesson on how to throw a deep ball. Earlier, on a fourth-and-3 play in the first quarter, he found Karl Williams open deep down the right sideline for a 39-yard touchdown that gave the Storm a 10-0 lead.

But Dietz also overthrew Shaw twice on the game's first possession, and finished 19-of-30 for 262 yards and five touchdowns.

Nevertheless, the Storm heads into the postseason with wins in eight of its last nine games and plenty of confidence.

"We made some mistakes, " veteran receiver Lawrence Samuels said, "but we came out victorious."

David Murphy can be reached at dmurphy@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1407.