TAMPA — Before kickoff, the Jumbotron flashed Matt Grothe highlights from last week's game against Georgia.
The crowd erupted when the former USF star took the field for his first Arena Football League start. Then the Storm quarterback delivered another thrilling win in Tampa Bay.
Grothe drove his team from its 3-yard line with 36 seconds left and hit Hank Edwards in the corner of the end zone for a 22-yard score to lead the Storm (7-11) to a come-from-behind 57-44 win against San Jose (7-11) on Saturday night before 10,738 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa Bay's regular-season finale.
"I had the most fun I've ever had playing football (Saturday night)," Grothe said. "That was the funnest game of football I've ever played."
Grothe, who admitted to being "unbelievably nervous" last week when he came on in relief against Georgia, finished 17-of-34 for 279 yards with five touchdowns and one interception Saturday.
"Words can't even describe how nervous I was (against Georgia)," he said. "I was a lot more settled (Saturday)."
San Jose took a 44-43 lead when Juan Gamboa hit a 27-yard field goal with 36 seconds left.
After the kickoff, Grothe hit former USF teammate Amarri Jackson for 10 yards and Edwards (eight catches, 112 yards) for 15 more. With good protection, Grothe slipped to his left and lofted a pass over Edwards' shoulder for the score.
"We talked about running that play at halftime," Grothe said. "Hank did a great job selling the post and taking it to the corner."
Grothe added a two-point conversion to Jackson, and Erick McIntosh picked off San Jose quarterback Mark Grieb and returned the interception 46 yards for a touchdown on the final play.
The connection between Grothe and Jackson proved fruitful again. After hooking up for three scores against Georgia, the former Bulls accounted for six completions, 116 yards and four touchdowns against San Jose. Jackson's third catch — a 12-yard touchdown — helped him eclipse the Storm's single-season rookie yardage record. He finished with 1,619 yards.
Tampa Bay set the AFL single-season team sack record when Jermaine Smith (two sacks) came off the right edge and blindsided Grieb with just more than four minutes left in the second quarter. The Storm's 40 sacks broke the mark set by the Pittsburgh Gladiators in 1988.
Tampa Bay took a 43-41 lead with 10:30 left when Grothe sneaked in from 3 yards.
Gamboa missed an 18-yard field goal with 4:24 left, but Grothe was intercepted by Eddie Moten at the San Jose 6 with 3:18 left. The SaberCats drove to set up Gamboa's field goal.
Then Grothe came through.
And what will he do now?
"I haven't thought about next year yet," Grothe said. "But if they'd have me back, I'd love to be back."