For the second straight game, Tampa Bay quarterback Randy Hippeard rallied the Storm on a last-minute touchdown drive to snatch victory from potential heartbreak.
Two weeks ago, Hippeard ran into the end zone from three yards out in the closing seconds to beat the Cleveland Gladiators.
On Sunday with the Storm trailing Baltimore 55-54 late, Hippeard found a wide-open LaMark Brown in the back of the end zone with five ticks on the clock to pull off another last-second victory for Tampa Bay. The Storm defeated Baltimore 62-55 in the first-ever home game for the expansion Brigade and improved to 3-1 on the season, just one game behind Philadelphia at the top of the Arena Football League standings.
Baltimore (1-3) took a one-point lead with less than a minute to go at Royal Farms Arena when Shane Carden hit Paul Browning in the end zone, that go-ahead touchdown set up by Browning’s conversion earlier on the drive on fourth and three from the Storm 23-yard line.
But after recovering Baltimore’s onside kick attempt, the Storm set up at the 15-yard line and proceeded to bleed the clock dry before putting up the winning score. Facing third and seven, Hippeard hit Kendrick Ings in the flat, and Ings took the ball down to the four-yard line before falling intentionally to take more time off the clock.
“We just had to execute our offense, drive down the field and make sure they wasted their timeouts,” Hippeard told CBS Sports Network following the game of the winning drive. “We were at the 15-yard line, so we knew we could get a first down and as long as we make them waste one (timeout) before we got the first down, we knew we could run the clock out.”
After a quarterback sneak and a kneel down took the clock to 7.9 seconds, Hippeard stood firm in the pocket to wait for Brown to come free in the back of the end zone and calmly sailed a pass into his hands to win it for the Storm.
“It’s just one of the plays we call where we try to single up Joe (Hills) on the front side and then on the back side it’s a high-low read,” Brown said of the winning play. “If the guy comes up and presses me, I’ll stay on the wall and Kendrick (Ings) can go up which is what happens normally. If they play off, I can go ahead and take that throw because they’ll probably run up on Kendrick.”
Tampa Bay led for the majority of the game and enjoyed a 34-20 lead at halftime, but Baltimore outscored the Storm 21-7 in the third quarter to level the game. The Brigade earned its first lead 48-41 on the second play of the fourth quarter when Carden heaved a desperation pass into the end zone on fourth and goal from the 16-yard line that was hauled in by Browning.
The Storm answered with a methodical drive down the field, Hippeard hitting lineman Leonardo Bates on a 16-yard catch and run that tied the score 48-48. On the next drive, Tampa Bay’s Alvin Ray Jackson forced Baltimore’s Justin Wilson to cough up the ball, and defensive back Paul Stephens, acquired by the Storm this week, pounced on the loose ball for his second fumble recovery of the game.
A couple plays later, Hippeard hit Joe Hills for the fourth of his four touchdown receptions to put the Storm back in front 54-48 following a missed extra point.
Baltimore took a late lead briefly after a touchdown and extra point, but Hippeard’s heroics brought the Storm back from the brink of defeat in what is becoming an early theme to Tampa Bay’s season.
Tampa Bay scored on its opening drive of the game when Hills hauled in a pass in the back corner of the end zone while crashing into the wall for his 72nd-consecutive game with a touchdown reception. Hills finished with 13 catches for 126 yards and four scores, all team highs.
Hippeard hit Brown for a 28-yard touchdown on the Storm’s third drive for a 14-6 advantage. Hippeard connected with Hills on the fourth drive for a 21-13 lead. With Baltimore driving to match the Storm score for score, Wilson fumbled the ball on a wide receiver screen, and Stephens picked up the loose change, weaving his way through the Brigade for a scoop and score and 27-13 Storm lead.
A blown coverage led to Julian Talley’s 27-yard touchdown reception on Cleveland’s next drive, but the Storm went into halftime up by two scores when they closed out the half on Hills’ two-yard catch on a third-and-goal play where he made the catch high in the air, flipped up and over the wall and landed on his feet, all while maintaining possession.
A pair of misplays on kickoffs allowed Baltimore to get back in the game in the third quarter, setting up the dramatic finish.
Brown had 11 catches for 91 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner and two-point conversion at the end for the Storm. Hippeard connected on 31-of-40 passes for 285 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions
Kendrick Ings was the third-leading receiver on the Storm with six catches for 58 yards.
Baltimore’s Carden was 23-of-35 for 356 yards, six touchdowns and one interception, that coming on Alvin Ray Jackson’s pick near the goal line early in the game.
Browning and Talley each had three touchdown catches for the Brigade.
The Storm return to action Saturday, May 13 when they travel to Washington to take on the expansion Valor.