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Reggie Gray's two-point dive caps thrilling Rush victory over Storm

Sunday June 23, 2013

 Chicago Rush maintain half-game Central Division lead with 50-49 victory over Tampa Bay

TAMPA BAY - After failing to convert a fourth and short in their loss to the San Antonio Talons the previous week, the Chicago Rush were masters of the goal line on Saturday night, escaping Tampa Bay with a 50-49 victory over the Storm.

Trailing by a touchdown with 3:52 left to play, the Rush (8-6) got the ball at their own ten-yard line after the Storm interfered with Jorrick Calvin as he tried to catch a tough bouncing kick off the net. The Rush ran into instant trouble as a couple of wild throws set up fourth and two in their own territory. Coffman got the Rush out of a bind with a laser beam to Gray on the right sideline. He then found Jared Jenkins in the middle of the field, who fought through a tackle and extended the ball out to the Tampa Bay one-yard line. Coffman proceeded to slyly pick up an inch on consecutive plays to keep the clock moving. On third-and-short, with just an inch or two separating the Rush from the end zone, he again managed to pick up forward progress to set up fourth-and-goal with two seconds remaining. That's when Coffman decided to jump over the line and holding the ball over the plane brought the Rush within 49-48.

Kicker Jose Martinez had made all six of his extra-point attempts to that point, but coach Bob McMillen decided to go for the win, and so Coffman turned left, fired a bullet to Gray on the left sideline, and Gray did the rest, diving into the end zone to secure the one-point win. Coffman would finish 21 of 32 for 258 yards and three touchdowns.

San Antonio also won on Saturday night, so Chicago had to win in order to keep its lead in the Central Division. The Rush lead by a half game heading into their bye week. Six of Chicago’s seven road games have now been decided by a single score, with the Rush winning five of those contests.

Chicago was able to win despite struggling to stop Tampa Bay backup quarterback Randy Hippeard all night long. Hippeard finished 25 of 38 for 315 yards and six touchdowns.

The Rush bailed Hippeard out on his first drive down the field. Tyus Jackson got to Hippeard on a sack but an illegal defense penalty on the play after helped the Storm avoid what would have been a third and 16. Tampa Bay had another third down in its own territory, but Chicago jumped offside, giving Hippeard a free play, which he used to find Chris Davis for a 20-yard reception. He found Davis again on the next play to give Tampa Bay an early lead.

A sharply efficient Carson Coffman needed just three plays to answer, as he first found Reggie Gray over the middle and later found Gray wide open in the end zone to knot the score at seven.

Tampa Bay again got off to a slow start on its second drive, as Darrell Campbell’s strong initial push in the trenches set up a sack by Kelvin Morris. Hippeard bounced back once again, however, rolling right and finding Joe Hills deep down the right sideline. The Storm’s star wideout made the catch falling backwards, and after hitting the ground, proceeded to get back up and run it the final two yards into the end zone.

That’s when Chicago began to break into the highlight reel. Trailing 14-7, perched near the goal line, Coffman turned to hand it off to fullback J.J. Payne, but instead handed the ball to Gray, who darted left and shoveled it to Jared Jenkins for the touchdown. Chicago nearly got the ball back as defensive back Josh Pleasant had a chance in the end zone, but wide receiver Joe Hills delivered a thunderous hit to knock the ball loose and Tampa Bay ended up scoring later in the drive to take a 21-14 lead. Again, the Rush looked smooth in the end zone on their ensuing drive as Coffman found D.J. Woods on a screen and the rookie wide receiver toddled easily into the end zone.

Toward the end of the half, Chicago, trailing 28-21, was set back by a pair of penalties on offensive lineman Colin Madison, but it didn't matter as Coffman found Gray for a beautiful diving catch in the end zone. The Rush ensured a tie heading into the locker room on defensive lineman Anthony Hoke's block of Juan Bongarra's field-goal attempt.

Coffman gave the Rush their first lead of the game to begin the second half, as he spun left to get a first down on third and short and then ran it into the end zone on the very next play. But they could not follow it up on the defensive end, as on fourth and long, Hippeard unfurled a liner just over the outstretched arms of Morris to Hills for a Storm first down. Hills would finish the drive with a leaping snare against the wall for a touchdown.

At that point, scoring, so easy for the Rush in the first half, got a little harder, as Chicago needed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Tampa Bay to avoid a fourth and goal and thus set up another Coffman keeper for a 42-35 lead. On the next drive, it was much the same. Despite Calvin's huge return to the left and a nice grab from Gray, Chicago stalled in the red zone, ultimately turning it over when Coffman's fourth-down pass was deflected and intercepted. Michael Lindsey poured salt in the wound with a beautiful catch and dash in the middle of the field to give the Storm (7-7) a 49-42 lead.

But Coffman secured the win with his third rushing touchdown, a career high, and one final pass over to Gray, who finished with eight receptions for 115 yards and two touchdowns, as well as one huge two-point conversion.