Storm Take 58-57 Thriller to Clinch Playoff Spot

With six games left in the regular season, the Tampa Bay Storm already have a playoff spot sewn up but it wasn't easy. Tampa Bay needed a tying safety in the closing minutes, and a stop on a two-point conversion with :09 remaining to edge visiting Washington 58-57.

The Storm (7-1) won their sixth in a row while Washington (1-7) dropped its seventh straight, three to Tampa Bay -- allowing the Storm to clinch the spot. The top four teams in the five-team Arena Football League make the playoffs. 

Washington quarterback Sean Brackett, starting for injured Erik Meyer and without a career victory, threw for 299 yards and seven touchdowns. But with his team up 51-49 Brackett stumbled over his center's foot on a play that started at the 2-yard line, falling down in the end zone and getting an intentional grounding for throwing the ball into the stands.

Tampa Bay recovered an expected onside kick at the 12-yard line and rather than run the clock down for a late score, Randy Hippeard threw to Joe Hills on the next play. Tampa Bay had the 58-51 lead but Washington had a full minute to answer.

Hills told Darek Sharp and Ian Beckles on Storm Radio postgame that the defense felt it could stop the Valor, who only had one timeout remaining. But Washington went 43 yards in five plays, and Brackett found Greg Carr for a touch 11-yard TD catch over the wall with :09 remaining. 

Washington, having missed two tying extra points late in a recent game, decided to go for the victory but Storm DB LaRoche Jackson had excellent coverage on Carr and the Storm held on.

Hippeard was 29-of-42 for 283 yards and seven TD but was not pleased. 

"We can't expect to play like this and come out with a win against Philadelphia," Hippeard told CBS Sports Network after the game. 

Here's Darek and Ian's calls of the key plays including the safety, winning TD and two-point conversion denial.

Hills caught 13 passes for 124 yards and three touchdowns while Kendrick Ings had a 9-114-3 line. (Box score).

The teams exchanged touchdowns on the game's first six possessions before Tampa Bay's offense bogged down. Storm LB Alvin Ray Jackson forced a fumble, recovered by LaRoche Jackson, giving Tampa Bay the ball and the 21-18 lead -- only to have a 13-yard loss on a sack lead to a turnover on downs.

Tampa Bay still could have taken a lead into the half but Hills could not corral a pass, and see it go straight to former Storm Dominic Addison for a 43-yard interception making it 32-21 with :41 left. Hills did score with :10 remaining but again with a chance to take the lead starting off the third quarter, Hippeard fumbled away a snap and Washington would soon be up 38-28.

Washington's offense looked poised to maintain the lead -- until the fateful safety. 

Saturday's crowd of 9,856 at Amalie made the Storm the first AFL franchise to hit the 3-million mark in its history. 

The Storm's next goal: to secure a home playoff game, which seems pretty safe considering that's what a top-two finish is worth, and there are 4.5 games between Tampa Bay and third-place Baltimore.

And if the Storm win their next game, home field throughout becomes a possibility. Tampa Bay travels to defending champ and still-unbeaten (8-0) Philadelphia next Saturday at 7. Darek will have the call on 1250 WHNZ.

Photo Courtesy Tampa Bay Storm

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