West Coast Rollercoaster Ride Dampens Stormís Playoff Hopes
It was a simple formula for the Tampa Bay Storm entering Monday night's contest in Spokane. Win the final two games, and you’re in the postseason.
The long flights back and forth to the West Coast the last two weeks? Well, they just got longer for the Storm. Two trips, two games, two weeks, and two losses. And now a three-game losing streak for a crippling 8-9 Storm team.
Before even mentioning the dreadful collapse in a 55-52 loss against the Spokane Shock on Monday night, it's important to point out all the complicated, yet reasonable, scenarios for the Storm to clinch the final American Conference playoff spot these last couple weeks. It was a tall order with a trip to Spokane and a home matchup against the 16-1 Cleveland Gladiators. That’s not including the trip to the never easy SAP Center for a game against the San Jose SaberCats last week.
Two games into the final three-game stretch for the Storm, Tampa Bay is now 0-2 and on the outside looking in as the regular season finale approaches. Once controlling its own destiny, Tampa Bay will now need both a victory and a little help in the final week.
While the West Coast has never been kind to the Storm, Monday night’s game against the Shock was within reach. The Storm held an 11 point lead at halftime and had looked to completely swing momentum in their favor when newly acquired DB Randall Burden intercepted an QB Erik Meyer pass with just seconds remaining in the first half.
The ultimate difference in this game, however, and a sequence that sums up this Storm season fairly accurately, was the very first play of the fourth quarter. Storm QB Randy Hippeard threw a pick-six right at Shock DB Terrance Sanders that sealed away victory for Spokane. Hippeard remained down injured with an aching shoulder after the play and was certainly not the same the remainder of the game. Hippeard did stay in and finished the night completing 20-of-41 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns.
Disregarding the horrendous travel and brutally tough schedule the Storm has faced these final weeks, Tampa Bay hasn’t benefited from any help elsewhere around the league. The Philadelphia Soul, who have been chasing the Storm for the final playoff spot, took care of business against a very good San Jose team making the Storm loss in Spokane that much more difficult.
It’s been just over 4,000 days since the Storm, the winningest and most storied franchise in the Arena Football League, won its last championship. And this year's squad might say the last couple weeks have felt like 4,000 days. But now, it all comes down to one final week. And at this point, it will take one very magical week for the Storm just to clinch a playoff berth. The once simple formula is now a complicated one. Tampa Bay must beat Cleveland at home, and have Philadelphia lose to the Pittsburgh Power on the road. In fact, the Storm will know its potential fate Saturday night sometime in the first quarter of its game, which kicks off at 7:30. Philadelphia's game at Pittsburgh kicks off at 5.
All eyes will be both on the field and “out of town” scoreboard in the Storm season finale on Saturday night. And should the Storm somehow find a way into the postseason? It’s a rematch with the Gladiators the following week. So yes, on top of all this, Tampa Bay now must find a way to beat the 16-1 Gladiators twice in two weeks. And, well, good luck with that.
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 RantSports.com and has been published by the Orange County Register in Anaheim, CA as well as other outlets. He currently contributes to TheDailyStampede.com of SB Nation. You can follow Connor on Twitter @ConnorAkeman.