The Tampa Bay Storm beat the Washington Valor 58-57 at Amalie Arena in Tampa Saturday night.
And with that, the Storm (7-1) have clinched a berth in the playoffs for the 24th time in franchise history, with six weeks remaining in the regular season.
“You take it whenever you get it”, says head coach Ron James. “ You gotta play the thing through. It’s really about playing your best football at the end of the season and we’re starting to get to the end. So six games left to play, we gotta start turning the page and getting a little bit better and being more efficient than we were tonight.”
The Storm trailed by as many as 10 points at two different points during the game. The Valor struggled with extra point conversions throughout the game, allowing the Storm to remain close. Washington would miss two kicks, and fail to convert two passes and two runs, leaving 10 possible points off the board.
Still, the Storm needed a heroic play late in the game to take control and it happened with just 2:20 remaining in regulation, when Storm linebacker Jordan Miller’s pass rush caused Washington quarterback Sean Brackett to stumble and throw the ball into the stands, lying on his back in the end zone, resulting in an Intentional Grounding call and a safety, tying the game at 51.
“I told my mac linebacker to let me rush a little bit…he (Brackett) stumbled over the center, so it was a good play”, said Miller.
Brackett produced 306 yards of total offense, completing 26 of 36 passes for 299 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Storm recovered the ensuing onside kick and then scored on the next play, with Randy Hippeard connecting with Joe Hills from 11 yards out. Hills was named the game’s most valuable player, racking up 124 yards and three touchdowns on 13 receptions.
The Valor would score again with just nine seconds remaining and a chance to take the lead but the Storm defense denied the two-point conversion.
With the postseason berth-clinching victory, the team’s sixth straight win since incurring their only loss against the Philadelphia Soul at Amalie Arena back on April 22nd, they continue the best start in franchise history since 2001, when they started 7-0. This streak is the Storm’s longest since the 2010 season, which culminated in an appearance in ArenaBowl XXIII.
As for the Washington Valor, this was the third time they’ve faced the Storm this season, with the Storm winning all three with one more matchup to go. Coach James knows that there remains work to be done. “We’ve gotten the better of them three times and we know the next time we see them, they’re going to give us their best game like they did tonight and we’ve gotta be equal to that challenge. Tonight, they came as close to beating us as anybody since Philadelphia did it here. This was a bad performance. We did enough to win but we didn’t do enough to progress. We’re looking for progression each week.
The Storm are in action again on Saturday when they travel to Philadelphia to play the undefeated (8-0) Soul. Their next home game will on July 1, when they once again host the Washington Valor.