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Storm makes playoffs with help from rivals

There usually is no questioning Basil Proctor's allegiance to the Storm.

But desperate times call for desperate measures.

And no time was more desperate than Sunday's San Jose-Carolina game, the final obstacle in the Storm's path to the playoffs.

"I was a SaberCat," fullback/linebacker Proctor said. "I had pompons, a cheerleader skirt on and everything."

Tampa Bay edged Georgia inovertime Saturday to keep its hopes alive, and San Jose rewarded the Storm with a spot in the postseason.

The SaberCats defeated the Cobras 58-41, extending Tampa Bay's league record playoff streak to 12 seasons and coach Tim Marcum's to 14, including eight with the Storm.

"The guys have worked their tails off," Marcum said. "We're not where we want to be. We'd like to be the No. 1 seed. But at least now we've got a chance."

The playoffs seemed unlikely after Tampa Bay started 1-5 and lost five starters to season-ending injuries. But come-from-behind victories over Detroit and Georgia the past two weeks secured the final postseason spot for the Storm.

Tampa Bay dug out of a 21-0 hole in a 49-47 victory July 13 at Detroit, then erased a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit in Saturday's 67-61 overtime win over Georgia.

But those victories alone did not ensure a playoff berth. The Storm needed help from Indiana, Orlando, Los Angeles and San Jose.

Indiana defeated Chicago 51-41, Orlando edged Dallas 44-41 (Jay Gruden threw a 45-yard touchdown to former USF standout Clif Dell with six seconds left), Los Angeles beat Buffalo 46-41 and San Jose held off Carolina, allowing Tampa Bay to edge Georgia (6-8) for the 12th seed.

"There were so many scenarios that had to go right for us to get in," Proctor said.

The Storm renews its quest for a fifth ArenaBowl championship when it plays Los Angeles (8-6) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Staples Center (ESPN2). Tampa Bay lost to the Avengers 38-24 on May 17.

"The way I see it, if we take care of the ball and do the things we're capable of, we can come out on top," wide receiver/linebacker Lawrence Samuels said.

Tampa Bay will play on the road throughout the postseason. The Storm was 4-3 away from the Ice Palace this season, 2-5 at home.

Samuels likes his team's chances.

"The regular season doesn't count when you get to this point," he said. "It does kind of make the wounds heal a little bit."

The only thing detracting from Tampa Bay's reverie was the knee injury kicker Mike Black sustained against Georgia. Black was knocked into the boards during Markeith Cooper's 55-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the first quarter.

The initial diagnosis was a possible torn anterior cruciate ligament, which would end Black's season. He is scheduled to have an MRI today.

Quarterback Scott Milanovich replaced Black, but the team is expected to bring in another kicker this week.

Other first-round games: Carolina (6-8) at defending champion Grand Rapids (8-6), Buffalo (6-8) at Orlando (7-7) and Indiana (7-7) at Dallas (7-7). San Jose (13-1), Arizona (11-3), Chicago (9-5) and New Jersey (9-5) will receive first-round byes.