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Upset City: Toliver leads charge as Storm shock Rattlers for first win

Connor Akeman
Monday May 30, 2016

Well played, fellas.

The Tampa Bay Storm waited for just the right time to pull off not only their first win of the 2016 season, but one of the biggest wins in years, a 63-56 final over the Arizona Rattlers.

It wasn’t pretty, and it didn’t come without the 8,928 Storm faithful in attendance at Amalie Arena chewing up their fingernails, but it was a win. A hard-earned win. And it was a long time coming.

“We were close for the last three weeks or so, and we just had to learn how to finish… Today, the guys finally finished”, Storm head coach Lawrence Samuels after the Storm’s thrilling win.

Coach Samuels isn't wrong either. There's absolutely no arguing the complete turnaround of this Storm team since the return of starting quarterback Jason Boltus. Tampa Bay nearly pulled off the upset in Orlando against the Predators a few weeks ago, and then followed that up with a coin-flip type overtime game at home against the Cleveland Gladiators.

“We love each other… We have continued to work hard even after being 0-7. Everybody's in the playoffs and we are just going to keep getting better down towards the end and let the chips fall where they may”, Storm WR T.T Toliver said postgame.

T.T Toliver continues to make astonishing plays at an age where most guys don’t. The 39 year old became the second player in AFL history to score 100 touchdowns with two different franchises. 148 with Orlando, and now 101 with Tampa Bay. And boy, was #101 a big one.

While it looked like the Storm had the upset all wrapped up with a 56-48 lead at the 48 second mark, Arizona responded quickly and needed three, and yes they got three, attempts at the two point conversion to tie the game. After two Storm penalties, the Rattlers did eventually tie the game at 56 and it was the same old Storm… right? Wrong.

With just 21 seconds left in regulation, it certainly looked like the Storm would head into overtime for the second consecutive week.

But then, T.T Toliver happened. Again.

Toliver hauled in an incredible, over the shoulder, 28-yard touchdown pass from Jason Boltus with three ticks on the clock to secure the huge win for the Storm.

“T.T is an ageless wonder, a veteran, and most of all a playmaker. You always want those kinds of guys at the end of a ball game”, said Lawrence Samuels.

Jason Boltus finished the afternoon 24 of 39 for 358 yards and six touchdowns. Boltus also took a few brutal looking hits throughout the course of the game, none bigger than one by Rattlers DL Cliff Dukes late in the first half that actually knocked Boltus out of the game for just a few plays.

The optimist in me wants to say this is the turning point, that this could be the start of a special late season run by the Storm. Tampa Bay has arguably three straight winnable games from here on out before again visiting the rival Orlando Predators. Heck, the Storm lost to this same Rattlers team 60-27 in Week 3 of the season. My, how the tables have turned.

The pessimist in me, of course, wants to say the Storm got a few lucky breaks here and there on Sunday afternoon and the Rattlers probably looked right past the winless Storm on a long trek across the country. But shame on them. And shame on me for thinking that.

This is a different Storm team, and the results finally showed that on Sunday. The gradual progress and improvement of this team week to week has been fascinating, and now entertaining to watch.

Enjoy this one, you earned it.

Coach Samuels may have been onto something when he said postgame “This league is in trouble right now”. Might there be a Storm a-brewin’?

Stay tuned.

Connor Akeman is a freelance sports writer and aspiring radio broadcaster who resides in Tampa, FL. A Tampa native, he considers himself emotionally invested in the Rays, Buccaneers, and Lightning by enjoying season tickets to all three teams. He has followed the Storm since the early Tim Marcum days and can remember attending his first ever Arena Football game in 2007. Studying Mass Communications/Journalism, Connor graduated from the University of South Florida in May 2017. He has spent time with and has been published by the Orange County Register in Anaheim, CA as well as other outlets. He currently contributes to of SB Nation. You can follow Connor on Twitter @ConnorAkeman.
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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