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Undefeated Storm wins in overtime

Arena team improves to 7-0, defeating Carolina 58-51 at the Ice Palace.

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 2, 2001


TAMPA -- If there have ever been any questions about James Bowden's speed, he may have answered them Friday night.

photo
[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
The Storm's Tommy Henry breaks up a pass intended for Carolina's Greg Harris.
With his team trailing and eight seconds remaining, Bowden managed to return a kickoff 20 yards in one second (wink wink), giving the Storm time to run one play before Mike Black sent the game into overtime with a field goal.

There, the Storm pulled off an improbable victory on Harvey Middleton's touchdown catch to defeat Carolina 58-51 at the Ice Palace.

"Big one, big one, big one," said lineman Willie Wyatt, who spearheaded a ferocious final rush that sacked Cobras quarterback Fred McNair on the game's final play to keep the Storm perfect at 7-0.

Before a season-high crowd 13,942 -- some of whom were seen heading for the exits after McNair threw a touchdown with eight seconds left to give Carolina (4-3) a 51-48 lead -- the Storm staged one of its more memorable comebacks.

It started with Bowden, who ran the ensuing kickoff to the 13-yard line, leaving seven seconds on the clock.

That set up a 15-yard pass to Bernard Edwards with three seconds remaining, and Black struck a 43-yard field goal right down the middle to tie the score at the final horn.

"Mike came to me and told me to get the ball to the 15-yard line," Bowden said. "I get to the 15 and he'll kick it in. Those were his exact words. He said don't worry about running it all the way back ... that's why he's the best kicker in the game."

Black missed a 43-yarder a few minutes earlier, allowing the Cobras to take over and get the go-ahead touchdown.

As for the one-second kickoff return, Bowden smiled and leaned back in his locker.

"Really, it took me about 1.3 seconds. That's a little home cooking."

In overtime -- the fourth in team history -- the Storm had the ball first and Bowden caught three straight passes for 35 yards, giving him a team-record 15 catches (for 184 yards).

After a short Andre Bowden run, quarterback John Kaleo found Middleton from 7 yards out for a touchdown.

In Arena Football League rules, each team gets a possession, and if the score still is tied they keep playing until one team takes the lead.

Carolina, though, failed to get a first down for the first time all game, as McNair threw for 6 yards, then high and incomplete twice. On fourth down, he tripped over the center's foot and fell, but by the time he got up Wyatt was forcing him to reverse direction into the waiting hands of Pig Goff.

"I knocked the center back and he stepped on the quarterback," said Wyatt, playing his first game since 1999 because of injury. "Simple bull rush. Earlier in the game I was running over the center and coach told me to just bull rush him, bull rush him. The last play, that's what I did."

McNair, the older brother of Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair, had his eighth loss as a starter against the Storm, though he probably had his best all-around game.

The only time McNair beat Tampa Bay was last year, on a missed Storm field goal at the final horn.

Though he threw for more yards than he ever had against Tampa Bay, he fumbled the ball away on the Storm 3-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, and even a go-ahead touchdown pass with eight seconds left wasn't enough.

The victory was the first close game the Storm has had since beating Nashville in the second week and the perfect setup for the nationally televised showdown with the arch-rival Orlando Predators on June 10.

It had won its previous four games by an average of 27 points.

"This one definitely tested the heart of the team," said Kaleo, who threw for a season-high 295 yards and seven touchdowns.

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