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Wild Night Ends With First Storm Victory Over Sharks

Adam Markowitz
Friday March 30, 2012

TAMPA BAY – Baseball purists say that you see something odd in their sport every single day. Maybe we should start saying the same thing about the Arena Football League. A night after watching the Orlando Predators get shut out in the second half for the first time in a decade and a half, the Tampa Bay Storm and Jacksonville Sharks put on a show at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. There were four touchdowns scored in the first four minutes of the game with just one play of scrimmage run. There were also four touchdowns scored in the final 40 seconds of the game.

And when the dust settled, Tampa Bay recorded a 71-69 victory over the Sharks.

And what a roller coaster it was!

Matters for the Storm looked good from the get go. They forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the game, a ball that was picked up by Riley Swanson and run into the end zone to give the hosts the 7-0 advantage. Terrence Smith, who had just fumbled on the first kickoff, atoned for his mistake by returning the next kick for a TD.

Tampa Bay ran the first offensive play of the game. Stephen Wasil hooked up with Chandler Williams for a 27-yard touchdown to make it 14-7 in favor of the Storm. However, Smith took the next kick back for a touchdown as well.

The scoreboard read 14-13 with 11:02 left in the first quarter, and there had only been one offensive play run in the game.

Matters settled down after that, but the two teams just kept taking shots at one another in virtually every respect. The teams exchanged scores until the Storm turned the ball over on downs late in the first half. Though the Sharks didn't get stopped for the rest of the half, Tampa Bay scored last, essentially making up for that stop.

After a Storm TD to start the half, the Sharks were stopped on downs. The Storm immediately gave the turnover back with a fumble.

Even injuries were even on both sides. First, it was Omar Jacobs, who started the game at quarterback for the Sharks, who left with an arm injury in the third quarter. On the very same drive, Tampa Bay lost David Akinniyi to what appeared to be a broken arm.

The teams exchanged touchdowns to end the third quarter, making the score a not surprisingly very level 41-41 tie.

Wasil threw his fifth touchdown of the night to give the Storm a 48-41 advantage, and it looked like the hosts were going to coast to victory when they recovered the ensuing kickoff in what amounted to be the fourth crazy play in the kicking game on the day. However, they were only able to get a field goal on the drive, and that is what really set another wild chain of events off.

Jacksonville scored the next two touchdowns to take the lead with just five minutes to play, capitalizing on a Wasil fumble. It was one of the few blunders that Tampa Bay's quarterback made in arguably the best game that he has ever played.

The Storm went back in front with less than two minutes to play with a Prechae Rodriguez TD. After an onside kick, Bernard Morris, who came on in relief of Jacobs, rushed for a five-yard score to give Jacksonville a 62-58 edge.

The Sharks were the next to try the onside kick. Not surprisingly, there was another twist in the plot when Ironman of the Game Victor Williams recovered the kick and brought it in for a touchdown.

The Storm kicked deep, and after two big time defensive plays, Morris found Smith, who won Playermaker of the Game honors. Smith leaped over and through two Tampa Bay defenders and looked to get into the end zone, but thanks to some showboating, he dropped the ball right around the point that he crossed the line. Tampa Bay challenged the ruling on the field, but after a long review, the call stood.

Jacksonville was up 69-65 with just four seconds left on the clock. The Storm started on the 2.5-yard line after a touchback, needing a wing and a prayer to get the job done.

On "Faith and Family Night," a prayer was clearly answered. Wasil threw the ball as far as he could into the end zone, looking for Victor Williams. Williams never really had much of a chance to catch the ball, but a pass interference call on Bryan Evans gave the Storm another chance. To make matters even worse for the Sharks, the ruling was for a very suspect intentional pass interference, the first time this year that that call was used.

Instead of being a 10-yard penalty that would have still left Tampa Bay 37.5 yards from the end zone, the ball was spotted on the 1-yard line. On the final play of the game, Wasil found Rodriguez on a rub route for the touchdown that sent the Storm into first place in the Southern Division at 2-1.

The crowd of 8,446 was the second smallest in the history of the Storm, but they were treated to one of the best games in the team's history. It was Tampa Bay's first win over the Sharks after losing four games against them over the last two seasons.

Wasil finished the game with a career-high 312 yards and seven TDs along with a rushing score. His seven passing TDs matched a career-high, and the eight total scores was the best in his career. Chandler Williams had 14 catches, 169 yards and two TDs in what amounted to be the best game of his young career as well. He only had 11 receptions for 101 yards and two TDs in his first two games of the year.

Rodriguez had 11 catches, 101 yards and five trips to the end zone. The former CFL standout now has three straight games with at least 11 catches. He has also accounted for at least 100 yards in all three of his games as well. Rodriguez is now the league's leader in receptions (34) and receiving yards (451).

Smith was clearly the MVP in defeat for the Sharks. He had 190 kick return yards and two scores, and he also had five receptions for 69 yards and three TDs.

The Storm didn't score more than 62 points in a game all season long in 2011, and this 71-point effort was the best that they had dropping 78 on the Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings on June 25, 2010. It is also the first time that Tampa Bay has been above .500 since that 2010 campaign.

Jacksonville has a week off next week before returning home to take on the Utah Blaze in Week 6. The Storm are on the road next week at the New Orleans VooDoo in a matchup against their former coaches, Pat O'Hara and Tim Marcum.

Adam Markowitz is an accountant and a freelance sports writer living in Orlando. As a Florida State graduate with degrees in music and history, the garnet and gold will forever be a part of him, but he bleeds the black and red of the Orlando Predators like none other. Adam has been following the AFL since 1991 and has been at well over 200 games, including 16 ArenaBowls. You can follow Adam on Twitter @AFLGuru.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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