TAMPA — With its season hanging in the balance, the Storm clawed, fought and scrapped to keep its playoff hopes afloat Saturday night.
And in the end, it succeeded, thanks to cashing in on a big gamble.
Tampa Bay erased a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit and beat New Orleans 78-77 in overtime, scoring the deciding points on a two-point conversion rather than kicking the extra point and extending the overtime.
"We just stayed positive in that fourth quarter and kept moving the ball," Storm quarterback Stephen Wasil said after the victory in front of an announced crowd of 10,201 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. "We all believed."
At 8-9 entering the final week of the regular season, the Storm is one of three teams tied for the American Conference's two wild-card berths. The other two teams, Georgia and New Orleans, play each other on July 21, meaning if the Storm wins at Spokane that day, it makes the playoffs. If the Storms loses, it needs a lot of help to make it.
Spokane, 9-8 in the National Conference, will have nothing to play for because it can't make the playoffs.
"It's all-hands-on-deck time," Storm coach Dave Ewart said.
Josh Bush caught a 44-yard touchdown to open the extra period for the VooDoo. Michael Lindsey returned the ensuing kickoff 51 yards to the New Orleans 5-yard line. Terence Crosby ran it in on the next play, and the Storm decided to go for two.
Wasil took a quick drop and fired to Lindsey in the front right corner of the end zone. It was the second time this season the Storm won by scoring on the game's final play. On March 30, Wasil hit Prechae Rodriguez for a 1-yard touchdown to beat Jacksonville 71-69.
"It was the same play we used against Jacksonville," Wasil said. "(Receiver Joe Hills) got a great rub on the defender, and Michael got to the spot."
Tampa Bay trailed 63-46 3:38 into the fourth quarter but recovered consecutive onside kicks, the second coming with 3:55 to play and the Storm trailing by three.
Wasil hit Rodriguez on three of the next four passes, the last one taking Tampa Bay to the New Orleans 3 with a minute to play. Wasil sneaked it in from the 1 three plays later to give the Storm a 67-63 lead, its first since 1:20 into the second half.
New Orleans recovered the ensuing onside kick. And on fourth and goal, L.J. Castile caught Kurt Rocco's pass for an 8-yard touchdown and a 70-67 lead with 22 seconds to play.
Tampa Bay took over at its 10 with 17 seconds to play. It moved the ball to the VooDoo 23 with 1.6 seconds to play. Juan Bongarra, who missed two extra points during the first half, made a 38-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.
"I had 10,000 fans and my entire team who had my back," Bongarra said. "It felt good when it left my foot."