After being on a losing end of so many close games, it felt like the Tampa Bay Storm was due for a successful last-minute comeback.
The Storm got just that tonight against the Cleveland Gladiators, taking home the 52-48 victory off of a Julius Gregory touchdown with just 2.5 seconds to play in the game.
Despite an unbelievable ending, the game started out relatively quiet, as both teams were stopped on their respective opening drives. Tampa Bay would be the one to strike first, as WR Julius Gregory continued to build on an outstanding season by reeling in the Storm’s first touchdown catch of the night. The receiver finished the night with nine receptions for 103 yards.
Entering the second quarter with a 7-0 lead, the Gladiators quickly found themselves in a perfect position to tie the game early in the second quarter. However, a miscue by QB Shane Austin resulted in a fumble on Tampa Bay’s four-yard line, which was then scooped up by the Storm defense. The offense was able to capitalize, as Boltus found WR Kendrick Ings on a 42-yard touchdown pass and the team’s largest lead of the game.
Finding themselves down 14-0, Cleveland began to find their rhythm near the end of the half, scoring three touchdowns in the last eight minutes of the quarter. The Storm was able to keep pace, leading throughout the entirety of the first half and going into halftime with a 24-21 advantage.
The tides began to turn in the second half, with the home team getting the first offensive opportunity and taking their first lead of the game off of an Amarri Jackson touchdown. The former Storm receiver finished the night with seven receptions for 54 yards and two touchdowns, though he posed the biggest threat on kickoff returns, racking up 180 yards in that respect.
Perhaps the biggest issue of the night for the Storm was not mistakes, but missed opportunities. The Storm had the opportunity to go up by 14 points late in the second quarter, but instead were forced to settle for a field goal; there were multiple opportunities for takeaways from Austin, who often had trouble finding his game, but the defense was unable to come up with any of them.
Those missed opportunities ultimately looked like they would be too much to overcome, as the Storm trailed by 11 points with just minutes remaining in the game. T.T. Toliver, who came through in the clutch last week against Jacksonville to put the game away, did the same this week. He made his second touchdown grab of the night with under a minute to play, and following a successful two-point conversion, Tampa Bay was down by three in the waning seconds.
Such a situation forced an onside kick, which was recovered by the Storm. Having a full arsenal of timeouts at their disposal, Tampa Bay worked its way down the field, its final drive completed with a touchdown pass to Julius Gregory who became the hero of the night.
The Storm will hit the road against next week to take on the Philadelphia Soul. Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm.