The Tampa Bay Storm have been out to prove that they’re a much-improved team from week one.
While they certainly showed that tonight, it was not enough to get a win.
After falling to Cleveland (3-2) in the team’s home opener at Amalie Arena, the Storm (2-3) looked to even the score in week five. Both squads had extra incentive to win as they both were attempting to get over the .500 hump, but it was the Gladiators that did so in a 62-54 victory.
The game started out shaky for both sides. The Storm received the ball to start the match, but would end their opening drive in a fumble when QB Jason Boltus was sacked by Mike Alston for a loss of seven yards. However, two plays later Tampa Bay got the ball back, as James Harrell had his first forced fumble of the season out of WR Collin Taylor’s hands at the Storm one-yard line.
The Storm defense has now had a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in three consecutive games.
Taking advantage of the turnover, the Storm capped off an eight-play, 49-yard drive with a touchdown from Boltus to WR Kendrick Ings. They would maintain that lead throughout the entire first half, a reflection of head coach Lawrence Samuels’ emphasis on getting off to a good start.
Ings remained Boltus’ favorite target of the night, as the receiver caught 12 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Boltus completed 25-of-38 passes for 366 yards and seven touchdowns.
Scoring would go back-and-forth until T.T. Toliver went on an offensive tear, reeling in three consecutive touchdown receptions to help give the Storm a two-score lead. The veteran had seven receptions on the night, putting him in 13th place in professioal football history with 1,016.
Momentum shifted at the start of the second half, as the Gladiators put up three touchdowns to take their first lead of the night. The Storm defense, which had held its opponents to just 20 points over six quarters entering this contest, struggled to stop Cleveland’s Shane Austin. The quarterback threw for 285 yards and six touchdowns.
Despite the shift, the game was tied at 42 points-a-piece heading into the final quarter of play. The offensive onslaught by both teams was suddenly stopped, as each squad found the end zone just one time by the final moments of the game. A missed PAT and a failed two-point conversion held the game at 48 points with under three minutes to play.
Cleveland pulled away in those final moments, scoring twice within the span of those three minutes.
Penalties were an issue for the Storm, committing 10 for 62 yards on the night. Those errors were often committed at critical times, twice when the Storm defense had the Gladiators pinned on fourth down.
Tampa Bay also struggled with turnovers, fumbling and losing the ball once as well as throwing two picks. Both of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns.
With the loss, Tampa Bay remains in second place in the South Division.
The Storm will return home to Amalie Arena on Saturday to host the Jacksonville Sharks at 7:30 p.m.