TAMPA — For all the myriad of American Conference playoff scenarios that existed before last week's Arena Football League schedule, tonight couldn't be more clear-cut for the Storm: win at Spokane and it advances to the postseason.
"It's that simple," coach Dave Ewart said. "Now we just have to go and take care of our business."
Playing must-win games has become commonplace for the Storm. Facing a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit last week against New Orleans, Tampa Bay (8-9) rallied for a 78-77 overtime win to set up tonight's opportunity against the Shock (9-8). A loss last week would have ended the Storm's season.
"We've been in playoff mode for two weeks now," Ewart said. "All these games have been do or die lately."
The only way the Storm can reach the postseason with a loss is if Georgia and Cleveland also lose. The Shock, which defeated the Storm 69-57 in ArenaBowl XXIII, have already been eliminated from the National Conference playoffs.
"I guarantee they would like nothing better than to (spoil) our Wheaties," Ewart said.
Trouble Returns: The Storm again will be without a seasoned kick returner this week after Michael Lindsey (hand) was placed on injured reserve. Lindsey began the season as the primary kick returner before giving way to Chandler Williams. After Williams signed with the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts, Lindsey returned from injured reserve to resume return duties. His 51-yard kickoff return in overtime against the VooDoo set up the go-ahead score last week.
"Not having a guy used to playing the net is huge," Ewart said. "It's a big loss."
Ewart had not decided on who will return kicks tonight, but recently signed DB Vance Cuff seems a likely option.
Welcome Back: Stephen Wasil, who began the season as the starting quarterback, didn't miss a beat in his first start since June 2. Wasil, who took over for the injured Nick Hill two weeks ago during the Pittsburgh game, tied a franchise record with 10 touchdowns (seven passing, three rushing) against the VooDoo.
Need Motivation? WR Joe Hills, who was released by the Shock earlier this season, has contributed greatly to the Storm. Hills, who caught 13 passes for 160 yards and four touchdowns against Pittsburgh in just his second game with Tampa Bay, had 139 yards and four scores against New Orleans last week. Two of those touchdowns came in spectacular fashion, as Hills crashed over the end-zone wall on both grabs.
Coming Up Big: AFL kickers get little credit, but Juan Bongarra, who has struggled this season, played a huge part in the victory against New Orleans. Bongarra, just 4-for-16 on field goals this year, nailed a 38-yarder as time expired in regulation to force overtime. Bongarra also recovered the second of two late onside kicks that got Tampa Bay back into the game.
Transactions: The Storm activated DB Deonte Bolden off of injured reserve to take Lindsey's roster spot. It also signed 6-foot-7 WR Carlos Singleton (Memphis) and released OL Jamar Bass.