SAP CENTER — The SaberCats emerged victorious in the war of attrition Friday night with a 52-43 victory over the Tampa Bay Storm in San Jose’s final home game of the regular season.
In a back-and-forth affair, each team’s offense put up points on nearly every drive throughout the game.
SaberCats quarterback Nathan Stanley finished the night going 24-for-41 with 291 yards and five touchdowns, while Dominique Curry had a monster game with five touchdowns on five receptions and two rushes for 53 yards.
Though the SaberCats normally stoic defense was absent from the contest, head coach Darren Arbet praised the team’s resilience:
“We knew that Tampa was gonna come in here and play hard. They had been playing good football. We were gonna have to play for four quarters and just be patient and stay the course.”
The SaberCats defense found themselves susceptible to the big play during the first quarter as quarterback Randy Hippeard masterfully picked apart San Jose’s defensive backs with two deep passes for touchdowns.
The Storm drew first blood during their opening sequence after Hippeard connected with wide receiver Joe Hills in the back of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown on fourth down.
Hippeard burned the SaberCats defense again on the following drive by tossing a 38-yard bomb along the pads to Amarri Jackson, who spun out of a tackle and into the end zone.
The San Jose offense would answer as wide receivers Reggie Gray and Rod Harper each pulled in a touchdown apiece to tie the game up by the conclusion of the first quarter.
Both teams refused to blink in the second quarter as both Stanley and Hippeard continued to trade scores.
After a nearly eight-minute drive by the Storm to open the second quarter, Hills — who leads Tampa Bay’s offense with 30 touchdown — put his team ahead again with a 4-yard touchdown reception near the back of the end zone, his second of the game.
The SaberCats would follow with an extended drive of their own, clocking in at six minutes exactly, that ended with Curry notching his first touchdown of the contest following an 8-yard reception.
Hippeard used a failed onside kick to his advantage, going on to use just three plays and 16 seconds to put the Storm back ahead with a 28-21 advantage.
Hippeard was aided by an athletic play by Jackson, who made a leaping grab near the corner of the end zone to pull the ball down over the outstretched hands of DB Ken Fontenette.
With just 39 seconds left before the end of the half, the SaberCats got an athletic play from big man Rich Ranglin, who juked defenders in open space while scrambling for 32 yards on a screen pass.
Curry would tie the game up again by leaping into the end zone on a 2-yard rush with just five seconds left on the clock, sending the two teams into halftime deadlock at 28-28.
The SaberCats would take the first lead of the game when Curry trotted into the end zone uncontested after receiving the ball along the pads for his third touchdown of the game, giving the SaberCats a 35-28 advantage.
The enigmatic rookie wouldn’t have to wait long to score again, as the offense went straight back on to the field following a successful onside kick.
After leading his team down the field, Stanley connected with Curry, who made an athletic jumping catch along the goal line and continued to extend the play by stretching his arm across the goal line for his fourth-straight touchdown.
Curry spoke after the game about playing in such tight offensive contests:
“It’s great because you get to showcase your ability. Each teammate, we lean on each other, and we expect big plays from each other, and we were making those plays.”
After a chippy intermission between the two teams following the point after, Hippeard kept the Storm within striking distance with a two-play drive that ended in yet another big play, a 22-yard bomb to wide receiver T.T Toliver, who broke free down the field.
It would take until the fourth quarter before the streak of consecutive touchdowns by both teams came to a halt.
After Rod Harper couldn’t haul in a third-down pass, the SaberCats elected for a 22-yard field goal, which was converted by kicker Nich Pertuit to put the SaberCats ahead by 10 at 45-35.
But the SaberCats followed up the Storm’s strong defensive set with an even better one of their own.
Following a careless personal foul by Jason Stewart that gave the Storm a fresh set of downs, DB Simeon Castille made a highlight reel interception on a 40-yard pass from Hippeard on the SaberCats goal line for the first defensive turnover of the game.
With his play being the lone defensive highlight, Castille acknowledged the defensive unit’s short comings during the game:
“We want to dominate every time we come out to play defensively, even though this is an offensive game. We feel like we have the players to impose our will on other teams, and we didn’t do that tonight. But we got the win.”
The SaberCats turned defense into offense as Curry completed the drive with his fourth touchdown of the game with a 2-yard rush on fourth down to stretch the lead to 52-35.
The Storm would make one final push down the field ending in a touchdown and a two-point conversion that would pull them to within 9 points, but a failed onside kick with 23 seconds left sealed their fate.
With just two games remaining in the regular season, the SaberCats will hit the road to take on the Philadelphia soul on July 20 at 1 p.m.