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Historic performance propels Storm to win

For all Storm quarterback Shane Stafford knew, the public address announcer was telling him he'd left his headlights on when he heard his name over the loudspeaker during the fourth quarter of Saturday's game.

The announcement notified fans that Stafford had become the first quarterback in the Arena Football League's 19-plus year history to throw for 400 yards in consecutive games.

But the only numbers Stafford cared about were the points on the scoreboard at the end of the Storm's 58-48 win over league-leading Austin before an announced 15,622 at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"It's pretty cool, but it's only one win," Stafford said. "It's not like 400 yards equals four wins. I wish it did because we'd be 8-2 now."

The Storm (3-2) pulled even with Georgia (3-2), within a half-game of Orlando (3-1) and one game of Austin (4-1) in the Southern Division. Tampa Bay also picked up a head-to-head tiebreaker advantage in the race for the division title, which guarantees a first-round playoff bye.

"It's huge," Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "They would have jumped to a three-game lead on us. You've got to take these things in pieces. We're fighting right now for a division title."

Saturday, they rode Stafford's right arm.

Six days after he set a Storm record with 458 passing yards in a 67-64 overtime loss to Orlando, Stafford was 26-of-41 for 424 yards and seven touchdowns.

With Austin's defensive specialist playing back to take away the deep ball, Tampa Bay attacked the middle of the field. Offensive specialist Demetris Bendross was the primary beneficiary, catching 11 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns in his second start in place of injured Freddie Solomon (foot).

"Two 400-yard passing games back to back, that's very impressive," Bendross said.

Receiver/linebacker Lawrence Samuels was all over the field, catching three passes for 80 yards and a touchdown, intercepting a pass and forcing a fumble that teammate A.J. Ricker recovered.

Samuels' third-quarter interception was the first of three for the Storm in the end zone.

Austin led 35-34 when it drove to the Tampa Bay 6 on its opening possession of the second half. As Wranglers quarterback John Fitzgerald lofted a pass into the right corner of the end zone, Samuels raced from his linebacker "box" to a spot 4 yards deep into the end zone, where he jumped in front of a receiver for the interception.

Two plays later, Samuels got behind Donvetis Franklin on the left sideline and Stafford found him for a 22-yard touchdown to put the Storm ahead 41-35.

Sedrick Robinson returned the ensuing kickoff 46 yards to the Storm 10, but Jeff Sanchez intercepted Fitzgerald in the end zone one play later.

With Tampa Bay clinging to a 44-42 late in the third quarter, Samuels forced a Derrick Lewis fumble that Ricker recovered at the Storm 5. Samuels' diving 38-yard reception moved the ball to the Austin 7, and Bobby Sippio's third touchdown catch extended the lead to 51-42 with 14:22 to play.

Austin had another chance when Kevin Nickerson got behind Lynaris Elpheage on the Wranglers' next series. But Fitzgerald underthrew the ball, and Elpheage made an acrobatic catch as he fell to the turf in the end zone.

With Solomon eligible to come off injured reserve next week, Stafford was asked if he had a 500-yard passing game in him.

"Just get that fourth win," he said.

"That'll be cool."

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