Storm fall short in bid for sixth ArenaBowl Championship

Aug 26, 2017 Bryan Burns

With just over seven minutes remaining in ArenaBowl XXX, Tampa Bay Storm kicker Mark Lewis booted an onside kick that was recovered by teammate Allen Chapman, and moments later, Storm quarterback Randy Hippeard threw a touchdown bomb to Justin Hilton, the long strike cutting Philadelphia’s lead to 37-34.

Prior to the onside recover and subsequent touchdown, the Storm were teetering on the brink of defeat.

The sudden-change sequence gave new life to the Storm.

The Soul summarily snuffed it out one offensive play later.

Following a second Lewis onside attempt recovered by Philadelphia, Soul quarterback Dan Raudabaugh hit receiver Shaun Kauleinamoku in the corner of the end zone to push Philly’s lead back to 10. The Soul held on over the final minutes to defeat the Storm 44-40 in front of its home crowd of 13,648 at the Wells Fargo Center, winning their second-consecutive ArenaBowl.

A valiant effort by the Storm to capture what would have been an Arena Football League-best sixth championship fell just short.

“I’m very proud of their effort all season long. I’m very proud of tonight’s effort actually,” Storm head coach Ron James said moments after the final horn. “A few mistakes that were made I wish we had back. If we didn’t, the four-point differential we finished up with could have been a game-ender where we could have had the opportunity to tie or win, and we didn’t do that. Hats off to Philadelphia, they’re a heck of a team. We knew we had to play a great game to be able to beat them. We didn’t do that, and they came out with the win.”

The underdog Storm delivered the initial blow in a game that was back-and-forth to the end. On the Soul’s first drive, all-AFL kicker Adrian Trevino missed a 33-yard field goal, and Kendrick Ings, the league’s special teams player of the year, corralled the ball off the net and raced 57 yards up the sideline, breaking through a tackle at the 10-yard line to give the Storm a 6-0 lead.

The Storm continued to put pressure on the defending champs. Hippeard lofted a ball for receiver Joe Hills to run underneath and snag from 35 yards out to make the score 13-7. On Philadelphia’s next drive, Alvin Ray Jackson intercepted Raudabaugh and returned it 26 yards for a pick-six that extended Tampa Bay’s lead to 20-7 with 5:44 to go in the first half.

“I thought defensively, (assistant head coach) Doug Kay and his staff had a tremendous game plan intact,” James said. “A few more plays here and there, it would have been a different game.”

Philadelphia answered before the half with possibly its most important drive of the game, converting a fourth and five from their own 11 to keep the drive going and pushing into the end zone on Mykel Benson’s one-yard run with 30 seconds remaining before the break.

The Storm tried to mount a last-ditch drive before the end of the half but came up empty.

“It’s all about the possessions, and at the end of the half, we really felt like we could have gotten the points at the end of the half because we managed the clock, so we had the ball at the end,” James said. “But we came up empty with 30-something seconds to go at the end of the half. So they were able to get that two-for-one score in the third quarter.”

The Soul took control in the third quarter, wide receiver Darius Reynolds giving Philly its first lead on a 40-yard touchdown catch. Tampa Bay briefly went back in the lead when Hippeard delivered a perfect strike to Ings down the sideline for a 28-27 Storm advantage with 9:22 remaining in the third.

That would be the Storm’s last lead of the game, however.

Benson nudged Philly back in front on another one-yard rumble into the end zone, and the Storm turned the ball over on downs on their next possession. The Soul moved the ball down to the goal line, and on fourth and goal from the one, Raudabaugh rolled out to his right and hit Darius Prince in the back of the end zone to give the Soul a 35-27 lead.

On the first play of the Storm’s next drive, Hippeard was sacked by Sean Daniels, and the Storm deficit grew to 10 points.

“The turning point to me was really the safety that gave them the two extra points,” James said. “We missed an extra point and giving up the safety, if we had done that, we’re kicking the extra point to tie it and force overtime. It could have been a totally different game. It wasn’t. Credit to them and we have to regroup to get this thing rolling for next season.”

Tampa Bay was reeling, but Lewis’ successful onside kick got his team back into the game.

The Storm couldn’t stop the Soul over the final minutes of the fourth quarter, however, and Philadelphia was able to bleed the clock to win the championship.

Ings caught a touchdown pass with zero seconds left on the clock in the four-point loss for the Storm.

“I thought the first half, we outplayed them,” James said. “…We won those two quarters. We didn’t win the third quarter, which was one of our goals, and that didn’t give us the opportunity to hang in there in the fourth.”

“In the second half, they didn’t make mistakes and we did.”