Tampa Bay fought one of the best teams in Arena Football evenly late Friday until an onside kick changed the game, and San Jose defeated the Storm 52-43.
After the Storm were ahead 28-21, San Jose bridged halftime with two touchdowns then made it a 21-0 run thanks to a surprise onside kick early in the third quarter. Dominique Curry scored all three touchdowns during the run and had the kick recovery.
Though Tampa Bay fell behind 42-28 as a result, T.T. Toliver's touchdown catch cut the margin back to seven, then the Storm appeared to have their first defensive stop of the game. However Jean Fanor, after making an interception on fourth down, was flagged for a late pass interference.
The loss means Tampa Bay (8-8) could possibly be on the wrong side of the playoff cutline the next time it takes the field. However Tampa Bay still controls its fate, and depending on Monday's Orlando result against Iowa could still have a chance to win the Southern Division.
Tampa Bay is at Spokane on Monday, July 21. Before that Philadelphia -- the team tied with the Storm for the last playoff spot, with Tampa Bay holding the tiebreaker advantage -- plays San Jose itself.
San Jose is 12-4 and has won 10 of its last 11, recently giving two-time defending champion Arizona its first loss. The Sabercats manhandled Arizona, leading 55-7, but Tampa Bay was far more in the game Friday. It led 28-21 thanks to a pair of fourth-down touchdowns in the first half by Joe Hills, and two more Amarri Jackson.
In fact the Storm were only stopped once on offense the whole night, but the onside kick stole a possession. Randy Hippeard threw six touchdowns but the lone interception did lead to San Jose taking a 52-35 lead.
Orlando is 8-7 and the only way for Tampa Bay to overtake the Predators for the division lead is to win more games the rest of the way. While Tampa Bay has tough contests against Spokane -- which itself beat Arizona 73-66 late Saturday -- and 15-1 Cleveland, Orlando should be expected to pull at least one victory against Iowa and New Orleans, but has a tough finale against Arizona.
If they can't catch Orlando for the division lead (and No. 2 playoff seed with a home first-round game) the Storm must hold off Philadelphia for the second Wild Card and No. 4 seed. Jacksonville and Iowa are still in the race but both have to win out, while the Storm lose two more. Philly must win more of its last two games than Tampa Bay does.