With 4:21 remaining in the second quarter, Tampa Bay Storm wide receiver T.T. Toliver caught a nine-yard hitch, his second catch of the game, to go in the record books as one of only 17 players ever with 1,000 receptions in professional football.
Not much else went right for the Storm, though, in a 36-27 loss to the San Jose SaberCats.
San Jose (3-0) stopped the Storm offense on seven of their first eight possessions and held Tampa Bay (1-2) to its lowest point total since 2011.
“We have to be a little bit more consistent throughout the ball game to make things work,” Storm head coach Lawrence Samuels said. “A play here or there, a turnover here or there hurt us and kept us behind the eight ball all night. You can’t do that against a good team like San Jose.”
The Storm fall to 0-2 at Amalie Arena.
San Jose jumped ahead 14-0, but the Storm cut the lead in half with 11:44 left on the second quarter clock, Kendrick Ings capping a two-play drive with a 19-yard touchdown reception from Jason Boltus. On the opening play, Boltus hit Toliver for catch No. 999 of the 12-year AFL vet’s career.
San Jose scored 22 unanswered points to pull away. SaberCats quarterback Erik Meyer, who won an Arena Football League MVP award two seasons ago with Spokane, dove into the end zone from a yard out in response to the Storm’s touchdown to go up 21-7.
Virgil Gray made a leaping catch at the goal line, reaching up and around Toliver to intercept a pass and return it to the Storm 19. San Jose’s Nich Pertuit kicked a 16-yard field goal with two seconds left before halftime for a 24-7 SaberCats’ lead.
The Storm then gifted San Jose two points, Boltus getting stripped on the final play of the half and the ball rolling out of the back of the end zone for a 26-7 San Jose advantage at the break.
“We just started too slow, and it carried over to the second quarter,” Toliver said.
San Jose continued to add to its lead in the second half. Pertuit banged his second field goal through the uprights, this one from 17 yards, on the SaberCats’ second possession. After a sack of Boltus and fumble recovery gave the ball back to the San Jose, D.J. Stephens made the play of the game, hauling in Meyer’s jump ball in the end zone for a 31-yard touchdown catch and a 36-7 San Jose lead. On the grab, Stephens leaped over a defender, dropped the ball on his way down, re-gathered it and pulled it through his legs and into his body for a spectacular, highlight-reel score.
Ings caught his second touchdown pass on the ensuing Storm drive, a nine-yard grab that cut the San Jose lead to 36-13.
With 3:05 to go in the game, Ings pulled the Storm closer, making a diving catch in the corner of the end zone while crashing into the wall for his third touchdown and a 36-19 deficit.
Tampa Bay recovered an onside kick and capitalized when Boltus found Toliver wide open in the back corner of the end zone to get within nine points at 36-27 following a successful two-point conversion.
San Jose made one final onside recovery to end the late Storm rally.
“We’ve got some new people up front protection-wise,” Samuels said. “We’ll correct those mistakes. They’ll get better. It’s still early in the year, and I still have confidence in my guys. They played better in the second half and they actually kept fighting.”
Toliver joins Samuels as the only Storm players to reach 1,000 receptions and is one of just four AFL players to do so.
“Right now, I’m not really enjoying it because I’m so busy trying to be great,” said Toliver, who finished with six catches for 84 yards and a score. “Every day I’m here, I’m trying to get better. The record, it’s good, but in actuality, I’m just trying to win a football game and help the Storm get back in the playoffs.”
Ings was the top receiver with game highs for catches (8) and yards (100).
Boltus finished 21-of-39 for 260 yards and four touchdowns. The first-year Storm quarterback threw two interceptions and fumbled three times, however.
“We didn’t take care of the football,” Toliver said. “…You can’t win a game with five turnovers. We’ve just got to do a better job next week.”
San Jose took down Boltus five times a week after a revamped Storm offensive line didn’t allow one sack at Portland.
“Anytime you play against a San Jose team, they have a great pass rush,” Samuels said. “They have a lot of guys that are really, really good. The pressure did get to (Boltus) at the beginning, but I think as the game went on, he was able to make some plays, especially in the fourth quarter.”
Meyer went 17-of-32 for 179 yards with two touchdowns passing and one rushing. Stephens hauled in both of Meyer’s touchdown throws and had 80 yards receiving on six catches.
Tampa Bay’s scoring output was its lowest since putting up just 26 points in a home loss to Cleveland on March 27, 2011.
The Storm return to Amalie Arena next Friday and will try to pick up their first home win of the season when they host Eastern Division foe New Orleans (7:30 p.m. kickoff).