In a season-opening loss a week ago to Cleveland, the Tampa Bay Storm were undone by five costly turnovers.
On Friday, it was another turnover, a late interception, that secured the Storm’s first win of the 2015 season.
With Tampa Bay holding a five-point lead and Portland driving for the potential game-winning touchdown, Storm defensive back James Harrell picked off the Thunder’s Kyle Rowley at midfield to cap a come-from-behind, 54-48 victory for the Storm at the Moda Center in Portland.
Tampa Bay (1-1) trailed for much of the first half after turning the ball over on downs on its opening possession but swung momentum in its favor thanks to a successful onside kick recovery just before halftime. Jason Boltus hit Jarvis Williams for a four-yard touchdown pass with six seconds remaining in the half to give the Storm their first lead, 33-27, going into the break.
Prior to the onside kick, Boltus connected with Kendrick Ings from 33 yards away to knot the score 27-27 with 55 seconds left in the second quarter.
Boltus was superb in his second start with the Storm. The 6-foot-3 quarterback completed 23-of-40 passes for 294 yards and six touchdowns with no turnovers.
“This was a total team effort,” Boltus said. “We hit some adversity, and we came together as a team.”
Portland (1-1) went up by eight points early in the second half after scoring on its first drive of the third quarter and recovering the ensuing net-rebound kickoff at the Storm two-yard line, Osagie Odiase scooping and scoring for a 41-33 Thunder advantage.
Boltus, though, rallied the Storm again, driving the team down the field and calling his own number on a dive into the end zone from a yard away to cut the Thunder lead to one. After the Storm defense stepped up to get their first turnover on downs on Portland’s next drive, Boltus snuck in again from the one to regain the lead for the Storm.
Rowley hit V’Keon Lacey for a one-yard touchdown scoring grab midway through the fourth quarter to put Portland back in front, but Boltus answered with his sixth touchdown pass of the night, this one to T.T. Toliver with 3:13 left in the game for a 54-48 Storm lead.
With Portland looking to run time off the clock and score a last-second touchdown to win, Harrell made the play of the game, stepping in front of a Portland wide receiver along the sideline and picking off Rowley’s 29th pass attempt of the game to seal the win.
Toliver entered Friday’s game needing 11 receptions to become just the 17th player in all of professional football to reach 1,000 for his career. He fell two catches shy of the milestone but finished as the Storm’s leading receiver with nine grabs for 149 yards and three touchdowns. Toliver had scoring catches of 25 and 37 yards in the first half before adding the game-winning score in the fourth.
Now with 998 receptions for his career, Toliver passed Barry Wagner (991) on Friday for fourth place on the AFL all-time receptions list.
Jarvis Williams also had a big night for the Storm offense. The North Carolina State wide receiver had a team-high 11 catches for 89 yards and two scores, both in the second quarter.
Rowley completed 21-of-29 passes for 280 yards and five touchdowns but had the crucial interception at the end of the game, his only turnover. Rowley connected with Jamar Howard for Portland’s first three scores. Howard had game highs for catches (15), receiving yards (220) and receiving touchdowns (4).
Richard Clebert picked up Tampa Bay’s first sack of the season, dropping Rowley for a nine-yard loss in the fourth quarter. Rick-J Hill and Al Phillips each had seven tackles to lead the Storm defense.
With the win, Tampa Bay remains tied for first place in the South Division with Orlando, who beat Jacksonville 55-54 on Friday.
The Storm return to Amalie Arena on Friday to host the San Jose SaberCats (7:30 p.m. kickoff). San Jose won its season opener 59-41 against Las Vegas and welcomes the LA KISS to the SAP Center on Saturday.