RALEIGH — The Carolina Cobras hopes for an upset sailed wide right as they dropped a heartbreaker to the playoff-bound Tampa Bay Storm 72-69 in front of 13,762 at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. The loss closed out the Cobras inaugural season.
The Cobras, who were eliminated from the playoffs last week, rebounded from a first quarter 28-6 deficit to take the lead 69-65 on a Greg Harris interception return for a touchdown with 6:30 remaining in the game. Tampa Bay regained the lead on Andre Bowen's 1-yard run with 18 seconds left. With less than 10 seconds remaining, Carolina kicker Remy Hamilton's 25-yard field goal attempt missed wide right.
David McLeod had a career night, hauling in seven passes for 156 yards and five touchdowns. Fred McNair continued to excel as a Cobra as he completed 15-of-30 passes for 262 yards and tied a season high with eight touchdown passes. Ironically, he threw eight touchdowns against Carolina in the season opener while he played for the Florida Bobcats
John Kaleo was 19-for-34, totaling 260 yards and five touchdowns. Lawrence Samuels caught nine of those passes 130 yards and two scores, and James Bowden added seven receptions for 80 yards.
Tampa Bay opened the scoring on the first play of the game as Kaleo found Wayne Walker for a 33-yard touchdown. The Cobras answered with a 6-play, 30-yard drive, capped by a 4-yard touchdown toss to Antwuan Wyatt, who started at the offensive specialist position in the place of the injured Dexter Dawson. Hamilton missed his first of two extra points. Kaleo connected with Jami Oats on a slant route for a 6-yard touchdown reception to stretch the lead to 14-6 with 7:05 remaining in the first quarter.
Two quick turnovers put the Cobras in the 28-6 hole. Cedric McKinnon forced a fumble when he blindsided McNair, and Robert Goff scooped the ball up at the 2-yard line and walked into the end zone for the touchdown. On the Cobras next play, McNair's pass was tipped at the line and fell into the hands of Harvey Middleton. The Storm converted the Cobras miscue into a 3-yard touchdown sweep by Andre Bowden.
McNair put a pass into the hands of a streaking McLeod for a 22-yard touchdown, and Hamilton connected on the extra point as the Cobras trimmed the lead to 28-13 at the 13:38 mark. Bowden answered with another 3-yard rushing touchdown. On the ensuing kick off, Adrian Lunsford weaved his way to the Tampa Bay 9-yard line, and Cornelius White pulled in a lightning pass from McNair for his 14th touchdown of the season. Hamilton atoned for his missed extra point, scoring two-points when he received the snap from center ran into the left corner of the end zone.
The Storm continued to score on the ground as McKinnon pushed his way into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown to increase their advantage to 41-21. McNair and McLeod connected twice on third down -- the second of which went for six points -- but Hamilton's attempt sailed wide right. Matt Huerkamp split the uprights from 22 yards out to make the score 44-27 at the half.
The McNair-McLeod connection carried over into the second half as the duo connected for a 24-yard touchdown early in the third quarter. Kaleo momentarily quieted the crowd with a 33-yard bomb to Samuels down the right sideline. The long touchdown increased Tampa Bay's lead to 51-34. McLeod continued to sparkle with an over-the-shoulder grab for a 35-yard score. The Cobras trailed by only 10 points with 3:29 remaining in the third. The offensive explosion continued as Samuels caught a 28-yard pass for the touchdown, his second in five minutes.
Adrian Lunsford returned the ensuing kick off 55 yards for the touchdown, his second kick off return for a touchdown this season. The Cobras defense produced a stop, and McLeod scored for the third time in the half -- a 45-yard bomb down the sideline. With the play, Carolina pulled to within three points with 1:07 showing on the clock.
The Storm converted a key third down and recovered their own fumble during an 11-play, 40-yard drive that produced a 14-yard touchdown from Kaleo to Bowden. The Cobras converted a key fourth down into a 38-yard touchdown to White. Harris, a former wide receiver for the University of North Carolina, intercepted a Kaleo toss at the 14-yard line and waltzed into the end zone, giving the Cobras their first lead of the game, 69-65.
The Cobras closed out their inaugural season 3-11, but won two of their final three home games.