After blowing a 27-12 lead and losing by 10 with a minute to go, against a team on an eight-game losing streak, Saturday looked like a bad night for the Tampa Bay Storm.
A Mark Lewis onside kick changed all that. Tampa Bay (8-2) recovered the kick, which bounced off Washington player (and former Storm) James Gordon, setting up Kendrick Ings' game-winning touchdown catch with 10.8 seconds left. Tampa Bay's 55-51 win clinches a home playoff game, already set for Monday, Aug. 14 at 7 p.m.
The Ings catch capped a night where he had 11 receptions for 111 yards and two scores, to go with a 56-yard kick return TD in the first quarter. On the ensuing kick Tampa Bay's Michael Lindsey recovered a net ball and took it in from the 3-yard line for the 20-12 lead.
It was 27-12 after Justin Hilton's second touchdown grab, and despite a later turnover on downs the Storm appeared to be back in control when Ings caught Randy Hippeard's TD with :06 left in the half for a 34-25 edge.
But then, the Valor (1-9) started pulling off incredible plays to end quarters, along with forcing a pair of turnovers to shut out Tampa Bay in the third quarter. Charles McClain stunned the crowd with a kickoff return TD to end the first half, but Tampa Bay at least would have the ball and a 34-31 lead to start the second.
However Dexter Jackson, on his lone carry of the night, fumbled as he was about to cross the goal line and Washington's Tracy Belton scooped it and ran 54 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. Then Belton grabbed his 50th career interception, and the Valor would go on to extend the lead with this wild play.
It was 4th-and-goal from 26 yards out and Tampa Bay seemed sure to get the ball back when...
After that, the Storm managed to score on a 10-play drive where it took them three plays to score from the 1-yard line, Randy Hippeard sneaking in on fourth down.
However Washington appeared to have things locked up when it converted a fourth down on the next drive, and former Storm T.T. Toliver strolled in with a 7-yard pass as the clock got to the 2-minute mark.
Lindsey caught a 12-yard TD with :40 remaining and Lewis, as Hippeard revealed to Darek Sharp after the game on Storm Radio, intentionally aimed the ball at Gordon because he had a cast on one hand. The strategy worked, as Gordon had the ball go off his leg at the 8-yard line, allowing LaRoche Jackson to legally touch it before it went 10 yards. After a lengthy replay the call was ruled in Tampa Bay's favor, and the Storm embarked on a seven-play drive.
The game was finally sealed when LB Alvin Ray Jackson, lined up deep, knocked away a Sean Brackett 29-yard TD pass attempt as the horn sounded. Brackett was 21 of 31 for 248 yards and four touchdowns, while Hippeard was 24-of-37 for 250 and five for Tampa Bay.
Complete stat pack, with box score here. All of the Storm scoring plays here: