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STORM 30, PIRANHAS 16 // DB Harris comes to Storm's defense

Jay Gruden couldn't feel his left ankle, but he said he could feel this. He knew it was coming.

Which was a pretty good thing, because Friday night in the Storm's playoff opener, the offense wasn't going to do it.

So Johnnie Harris did.

Harris returned an interception for a score with six minutes left, and then before fans could settle back in their seats did the same with a fumble recovery as the Storm beat Anaheim 30-16 Friday night at the ThunderDome before 13,021 fans.

The win sends the Storm to the league semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons. Anaheim, which played well defensively, saw its season come to an end.

All in a two-minute span.

Trailing 17-16, Anaheim (9-6) was pinned back at its 3-yard line late in the game. Reserve quarterback Scooter Molander, in on his first series, overthrew Adrian Jarrell. But it was perfect for Harris, who caught the ball and ran it back 22 yards. A missed extra point made it 23-16 with 6:00 left.

Two plays later, Harris scooped up a fumble by Darren Williams _ the result of a Jerold Jeffcoat hit _ and raced 23 yards for a score with 4:12 left to seal the second-lowest scoring game in Arena Football League playoff history.

"He (Harris) had a heck of a game," Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "That may have been as good a defensive effort from a secondary player as I've ever seen in this league."

"I could feel it coming," Gruden said of Harris' interception. "It happened all year. When the offense struggles, the defense steps us, and when the defense struggles, the offense steps up."

The Storm offense struggled, like Anaheim, mostly due to a big pass rush that rarely provided the quarterbacks time to throw. Gruden finished 18-of-35 for 231 yards and two interceptions, and the running game produced minus-3 yards in six carries. The offense did not score a touchdown in the second half.

It clearly was the defense's game, but that only figured. The Storm entered the game No.

1 in the league, having allowed just 36 points a game. Anaheim was second at 36.1.

"The defense was looking at us like, "Get us some points,'

" Gruden said.

They must have gotten tired of asking. Harris, who now has seven interceptions in eight games with the Storm, was the beneficiary of a Storm pass rush that was relentless in the final period. Anaheim was able to complete only four passes for 35 yards in the final period, and completed just five for 47 yards in the second half.

"I coached the defense tonight," joked Marcum. "I don't know who was coaching the offense."

Anaheim coach Babe Parilli, 0-5 in the playoffs, agreed that the Storm defense was the aggressor down the stretch.

"I think their defense played really well," said Parilli. "It was a great defensive game."

The Storm led 14-10 at the half on touchdown catches by George LaFrance and Stevie Thomas. The Piranhas scored on their only third-quarter possession as Ian Howfield booted a 47-yard field goal to make it 14-13.

Tampa Bay answered with a Jorge Cimadevilla 25-yarder with 25 seconds left in the quarter.

With their offense struggling, the Piranhas had to settle for another Howfield kick, and Parilli decided to yank an ineffective Troy Kopp, who was 15-of-31 for 101 yards. It didn't matter, though, because the Piranhas' offensive line appeared to tire down the stretch, and Molander only completed 4 of 11 passes in relief. Anaheim had just 126 yards of offense from the line of scrimmage. Return man Rodney Mazion outgained his teammates with 147 yards.

"Their line was tired," said Kent Wells, who forced two hurries by Molander despite a painful hamstring injury. "We just turned it up at that point."