Tampa Bay misses out on the Southern Division championship with the 45-38 loss.
By MAURICE PATTON
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 14, 2001
NASHVILLE -- Tampa Bay's third-ever loss to the Kats may have been its most costly, as the Storm missed out on the Southern Division championship, losing 45-38 Friday night.
With rookie Shane Stafford making his first Storm start at quarterback, replacing the injured John Kaleo, the Kats took advantage of two bobbled snaps to get out to an early 14-0 lead and were up 35-14 at halftime -- the largest Tampa Bay deficit of the year.
Tampa Bay (9-4) can still earn a bye in the first round of the playoffs with a win next week against visiting New Jersey, if the victory is accompanied by either a pair of San Jose losses, or a loss by Indiana or Grand Rapids.
Nashville (10-4) scored on the first offensive play as Andy Kelly threw a 25-yard touchdown to Cory Fleming.
Stafford and Gunnard Twyner connected for a 6-yard touchdown on the final play of the first quarter to get Tampa Bay on the scoreboard, but the Kats converted their next two possessions into points as Travis Reece tallied on a 3-yard run and Jarrick Hillery caught a 37-yard pass from Kelly as the Storm defense left him open down the right sideline.
Trailing 28-7, James Bowden took the ensuing kickoff off the net and went 52 yards for his first scoring return of the season, seemingly giving the Storm some momentum 1:08 before halftime.
However, Reece burst up the middle for 39 yards moments later, and Bowden fumbled a yard short of the end zone on the final play of the half.
Twyner caught a 20-yard touchdown from Stafford on the first drive of the third quarter, and Mike Black offset a Steve McLaughlin 49-yard field goal with a 34-yarder to keep the Storm within 14 at 38-24 through the end of the third.
Aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty, Tampa Bay cut the margin in half midway through the final period on a Bowden 6-yard reception, but the Kats got the score back immediately as Darryl Hammond punched it in from the 1 with five minutes remaining.