In the home finale of the 2012 regular season, Stephen Wasil threw for 358 yards and seven touchdowns, completing 24 of his 39 passes on the night, as the Tampa Bay Storm defeated the New Orleans VooDoo 78-77 in a thriller on Saturday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The victory helped the Storm improve to 8-9 on the season, while New Orleans also moved to 8-9, creating a three-way tie for second place with the VooDoo and Georgia Force behind division-leader Jacksonville heading into next week’s regular season finale. Tampa Bay will now head on the road to Spokane with destiny in its own hands to get into the playoffs.
With the Storm trailing 70-67 in the waning seconds, Juan Bongarra nailed a long field goal to tie the game and send the contest into overtime. In the extra period, New Orleans quarterback Kurt Rocco found his man in the back of the endzone on a key fourth-down play, setting stage for a thrilling finish.
Led by Wasil, the Storm engineered a final drive that culminated with receiver Michael Lindsey reeling in the game-deciding two-point conversion, which gave Tampa Bay the victory.
“I don’t know if anything can top this one,” Wasil said. “I just knew I had to stay with my reads, keep the ball in our hands, and stay confident.”
Despite the defeat, much of New Orleans’ success on the night was credited to Rocco and Josh Bush, who helped thier club take an early lead, as well as a two-point advantage into the half. Rocco finished his night by completing 20-of-33 passes for 366 yards and nine scores.
Rocco’s primary receiver on the night was Bush who hada big night as he caught nine passes for 256 yards and five touchdowns. LJ Castile also chipped in with three touchdowns and concluded the evening with five catches for 48 yards.
The duo was countered by the Storm’s Joe Hills, who emerged as Tampa Bay’s leading touchdown maker on the night, as he reeled in four touchdowns catches on six balls for 139 yards. Prechae Rodriguez also hauled in a game-high 12 receptions for the Storm for 170 yards and two touchdowns, while Lindsey contributed six catches for 49 yards and a touchdown.
“All the guys stuck with it,” Wasil said. “Nobody gave up, so it was great to do it in front of our home fans one last time this season.”
Following a first quarter in which the Storm never led, the game turned into a back and forth contest beginning in the second quarter, when the two teams alternated eight touchdowns to culminate the first half with a 35-33 score in favor of the VooDoo.
It wasn’t until the third quarter, however, that New Orleans began to pull away, as a number of turnovers plagued Tampa Bay and quickly shifted the momentum in the opposition’s favor.
The key turning point proved to be a fumble by Lindsey on an attempted kickoff return, which led to a VooDoo score that put New Orleans in front 49-40. Wasil was then intercepted by the VooDoo’s Alvin Ray Jackson, leading to another New Orleans touchdown, that gave the visitors a 16-point advantage.
However, Wasil helped the Storm come roaring back, as he scored on two consecutive possessions that preceded an onside kick recovery to bring Tampa Bay to within three with just under four minutes left.
Wasil rushed for an additional score on the team’s ensuing possession before New Orleans countered and Bongarra sent the game into overtime, setting up the climactic conclusion.
“Fortunately our guys battled it out,” Storm head coach Dave Ewart said. “This game is what it’s all about in Arena Football. You’re never out of it, and even when we were down by a couple of possessions, the guys kept climbing back and making plays.”