Following a tough road loss last week, the Tampa Bay Storm returned to the Tampa Bay Times Forum Friday night and kept its undefeated record at home in tact following a 69-48 victory over the Cleveland Gladiators in front of a crowd of 8,686.
Quarterback Stephen Wasil led the Storm and completed 19 of 28 passes for 249 yards and six touchdowns. He also ran in a pair of scores to finish with a total of eight touchdowns on the evening.
For a second consecutive week, the Storm received big contributions from Offensive Player of the Game Amarri Jackson, who boosted the Tampa Bay offense with six catches for 92 yards and a team-leading three touchdowns in the absence of the injured Prechae Rodriguez.
“I knew someone would rise up,” Storm head coach Dave Ewart said. “It turned out to be Amarri, so that was good to see.”
Two additional throws of Wasil’s also ended up in the hands of Victor Williams, with both coming in the first quarter that helped the Storm take an early 21-7 lead.
Despite being down by a pair of scores at the start of the second quarter, AFL veteran and Gladiators quarterback John Dutton helped lead a comeback in which Cleveland scored three unanswered touchdowns to erase a 14-point deficit and take a 28-27 lead late in the first half.
Dutton overcame his team’s slow start and ended up connecting on 34-of-49 passes for 363 yards and six scores on the night. Half of those touchdown completions went to his primary target on the night, Robert Redd, who caught 12 balls for 140 yards.
With the Storm clinging to a one-point lead in the late stages of the second quarter, defensive back Lendy Holmes returned a kick off the netting back the other way for six to give Tampa Bay a 34-27 lead heading into the half.
That not only proved to be the turning point in the game, as the Storm never looked back, but also served as just one of many opportune chances that the Storm cashed in on throughout the night.
Erick McIntosh came up with an interception to open the third quarter that led to an additional Storm touchdown, and Deonte Bolden also got in on the action throughout the contest by recording several pass breakups and an interception. The Storm defense, as a collective group, also complemented its performance in the secondary by coming up with numerous goal line stops late in the game.
“We forced some turnovers, which was something we talked about all week that we really took advantage of,” Ewart added. “We weren’t going to fool that quarterback, but we were able to rush him and make him make some bad throws, so that’s what it’s all about.”
Tampa Bay went up by as much as 21 points to open the fourth quarter, and although Cleveland remained within striking distance, a rushing touchdown by backup quarterback Matt Grothe sealed the win for the Storm, who improved to 3-2 on the season, with each of those wins coming in front of the home crowd.
“There were no individual performances tonight,” Bolden said. “It was a total team effort. Coming off a loss, I was real proud of how everyone came out hard to get the win.”