Having gotten the help they wanted from Pittsburgh, the Storm could not help themselves Saturday night and lost to Cleveland 56-49. A win would have put the Storm into the playoffs.
But the Storm could not come up with a stop on defense until the final seconds, and they fouled up there. Cleveland missed a short field goal with :13 left but the Storm were called for roughing the kicker.
Tampa Bay lost its last four games to finish at 8-10 on the season. Saturday's game took place before a Times Forum crowd of 14,770, best attendance in the league all season long.
Pittsburgh destroyed Philadelphia 64-34 meaning the final playoff spot would go to Tampa Bay if it could knock off league-leading Cleveland (17-1). But in the end the defense wasn't up to the task.
While Cleveland's offense was cruising on its drives, the Storm were taken to fourth down three times before scoring. And in the third quarter Tampa Bay actually did turn it over, only to have receiver T.T. Toliver knock the ball away from Gladiators DB LaRoche Jackson for a touchback.
But the Storm finally turned it over on downs late in the third quarter and allowed Cleveland to take its first two-score lead at 49-35 entering the fourth.
After Tampa Bay pulled within a touchdown the defense had Cleveland pinned at its 1 and forced a holding in the end zone. But in Arena Football that is not a safety. Cleveland then completed a first-down pass across the middle, as its quarterback Shane Austin (273 yards, five TD) did the entire game. Later in the drive the Gladiators converted a critical fourth down.
Joe Hills led the Storm offensively with 10 catches for 119 yards and three touchdowns. He was matched by Thyron Lewis, who had identical marks and recovered the onside kick.
Despite losing by 30 to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia (9-9) will advance as the No. 4 seed with 9-9 record and play at Cleveland (17-1) next Saturday. No. 2 seed Orlando, which knocked off Arizona Saturday to go to 11-7, hosts Pittsburgh -- which has won 12 in a row and is 15-3 -- in the other American Conference semifinal.