|[Times photo: Mike Pease]
Defender Gregory Spann pushes New Jersey's Coco Blalock into the boards in the Storm's 44-41 win.
By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 22, 2001
TAMPA -- It was the final indignity.
The Storm, winless in four of its past six games, trailed league-worst New Jersey by five points with less than a minute left in the regular season.
New Jersey had been awarded a rekick on an extra point because of fan interference. And Tampa Bay coach Tim Marcum had been ejected.
The Storm's chance for a first-round playoff bye seemed to be going the way of quarterback Shane Stafford, on his backside after tripping over center Rod Williams' foot.
But the rookie picked himself up and tossed a sidearm pass to James Bowden for the winning touchdown with nine seconds left, defeating the Gladiators 44-41 before a sellout crowd of 19,867 Saturday at the Ice Palace.
"We did it the hard way," Marcum said, "but we did it, and that's what's important."
Tampa Bay (10-4) clinches a first-round bye if Houston defeated San Jose late Saturday or if Indiana loses at Detroit tonight. If not, the Storm hosts a playoff game this weekend.
If both teams lose, Tampa Bay will be the No. 3 seed.
"I think everybody played well," said Stafford after his first win as an Arena starter. "I made two poor decisions (on interceptions). Other than that, I think we played pretty well."
Stafford, starting for the injured John Kaleo (separated shoulder), completed 27 of 35 passes for 313 yards and four touchdowns.
But that didn't mean Kaleo was not involved.
He coached the offense after Marcum was ejected for receiving a second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with 11:29 left. Assistant coach Eddie Vowell ran the defense.
Marcum was upset about an illegal-defense penalty called on linebacker Andre Bowden during a New Jersey drive that resulted in Steve Videtich's 18-yard field goal. The field goal, Videtich's fifth of the game, gave the Gladiators a 35-29 lead with nine minutes left.
"There were no warnings at all, no reasons at all to throw a head coach out of the game," Marcum said.
Trailing 41-36, Tampa Bay took over on its 5-yard line with 1:35 to play. Stafford connected with Gunnard Twyner for 13 yards and Gregory Spann for 11 more to the New Jersey 21.
After Andre Bowden ran twice for 12 yards, Stafford connected with James Bowden for the winner.
"I was going to go to a hook route, then I ended up stuttering and going toward the boards," said Bowden, who caught 12 passes for 129 yards and three touchdowns. "It ended up that (Stafford) tripped on the lineman, but it still worked."
NOTES: Wide receiver/linebacker Bernard Edwards sprained a knee and is expected to be out for the playoffs. ... The Storm led the league with an average attendance of 13,957 this season. Its total of 111,659 was second-most in team history.
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