Feverish Tampa Bay Comeback Saves Season, Puts Playoffs In Flux For Three Teams
TAMPA BAY – A Kurt Rocco touchdown run with 11:22 left in the fourth quarter probably should have put the New Orleans VooDoo in the playoffs for the second time in their franchise's history. They were up 17 and had absolutely all of the momentum in their favor. A pair of onside kicks and a few miracles later though, and the Tampa Bay Storm found a way to erase that deficit to extend their season for at least one more week with their 78-77 victory in overtime.
After falling behind by 17, QB Steve Wasil, playing for the injured QB Nick Hill, hit WR Joe Hills from 29 yards away to bring Tampa Bay within 11. The Storm recovered an onside kick thereafter and scored four plays later. The miracle might have come with the second onsider, which was bobbled around by a number of players on both teams, only to eventually be recovered by K Juan Bongarra. Tampa Bay took seven plays and just over three minutes off the clock to go up by four with just 0:49 to play.
That's when things got interesting. Following an unsuccessful onside kick, the VooDoo scored on fourth and goal to take the lead. The Storm took over at their own 10-yard line with just 17.4 seconds left in their season, down by a field goal. The team threw a short pass for eight yards, then an incomplete pass. With just 4.6 seconds remaining, Rodriguez caught a 14-yard pass that might have saved the campaign. That set up Bongarra to knock down a 38-yard field goal that was money from the get go to send the game to overtime.
The Storm didn't have a good history of playing in the extra frame against New Orleans, losing 48-42 in a game in 2005, the only OT game in the history of this rivalry. Tampa Bay was 5-7 in OT games. The VooDoo were 2-2.
Matters started off well for the Storm, as the VooDoo elected to take the ball after winning the coin toss. Three incomplete passes and a delay of game penalty later, and New Orleans was on its heels facing 4th and 15. However, WR Josh Bush hauled in his fifth touchdown catch of the game on the biggest play of the season to put the VooDoo up by a TD.
Tampa Bay had to dial up some magic one more time. After a great kick return by WR Michael Lindsey set up the Storm in the red zone, FB Terence Crosby for a score. There was never a doubt about going for a two-point conversion for the third time in the game. After one failure and one success, Wasil found Lindsey on a short rub route to win the game and send the 10,201 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum into euphoria.
Wasil had one of the best games that a Storm quarterback has ever had. He tied a team record with 10 total touchdowns, seven of which came through the air and three of which came with his wheels on the ground. Wasil had to run for his life several times in this game, coming up with 34 yards on 10 carries. He also completed 24-of-39 passing for 358 yards. All three receivers had big impacts on the game as well. Rodriguez had 170 yards and two scores on 12 receptions, while Hills accounted for 139 yards and a team-best four TDs. Lindsey had 49 yards and a TD as a receiver, but he also had 209 return yards to go with the game-winning two-point convert.
Not all is well for the Storm, though. Their defense has been all over the place of late, allowing at least 61 points in six straight games. In that stretch, the team has allowed an average of 72.3 PPG. The 1,045 points allowed makes Tampa Bay the first team this year to concede at least 1,000 points, and it is the first time in team history that the defense has allowed four digits worth of points to the opposition. The Storm have a chance to break a dubious record. With 73 points allowed next week, they will break the all-time record for most points allowed in a season. The Utah Blaze allowed 1,117 in 2011. The 61.5 points per game allowed this season would break the all-time team record by a country mile, which currently sits at 55.2 PPG conceded last year.
For New Orleans, there has to be a real sense of heartbreak. The team has now had two straight chances to clinch a spot in the playoffs, but now, the squad has lost games to the Storm and the San Jose SaberCats in back-to-back weeks.
It was a bitter return to Tampa Bay for New Orleans Assistant Head Coach Tim Marcum. This was the first time that he was back on the sidelines as a coach in Tampa Bay after a run of 15 seasons that came to a close just before the 2011 campaign started.
The highlight of the game for the VooDoo came from WR Josh Bush, who had 256 receiving yards, the most in the league for a single game this year and the fourth most in the history of the league. Bush also had 90 return yards and three rushing yards, giving him a total of 349 for the game, giving him the fourth most this year for any single player. LB Alvin Ray Jackson had an interception in the third quarter that probably should have sealed the game. It marked his 14th pick of the year, tying him for the league lead with DB Kent Richardson of the Philadelphia Soul. Jackson added to his lead for the most picks in a season by a jack linebacker in league history.
QB Kurt Rocco also continued his outstanding season. He had 366 yards and nine TDs without a pick, and he also had a score on the ground. Rocco now has 101 touchdown passes and 5,075 yards in what clearly amounts to be the best year of his career.
The only happy team in the Southern Division tonight is the Jacksonville Sharks. They knocked off the Orlando Predators 48-30 to become the second team in the American Conference to lock down a spot in the second season. Georgia and New Orleans would have both also clinched up spots in the playoffs had the VooDoo held on for a victory. However, there is still work to be done for the Sharks. They have to beat the Pittsburgh Power next week on the road to clinch up their third straight division title.
Should Jacksonville lose though, the door will be open for both Georgia and New Orleans. Those two teams are playing against each other, and the winner would be the Southern Division champs. The loser though, will be holding their breath. The Storm have it easy. If they beat the Spokane Shock on the road next week, they'll be in the playoffs and visit Philadelphia in the first round. If they lose, both New Orleans and Georgia will be in the second season. Here's a full breakdown of the possibilities…
If Jacksonville beats Pittsburgh…
Jacksonville wins the Southern Division. New Orleans/Georgia winner will be the No. 3 seed. Tampa Bay will be the No. 4 seed by beating Spokane. New Orleans/Georgia loser will be the No. 4 seed if Tampa Bay loses.
If Jacksonville loses to Pittsburgh…
New Orleans/Georgia winner will win the Southern Division. Jacksonville will be the No. 3 seed. Tampa Bay will be the No. 4 seed by beating Spokane. New Orleans/Georgia loser will be the No. 4 seed if Tampa Bay loses.