On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Storm bolstered their defensive line, acquiring 6-foot-9 skyscraper Frank Mays and adding him to the roster.
Friday night against the New Orleans VooDoo, Mays immediately made an impact.
Proving to be a giant obstacle in the middle of the field, Mays blocked a 36-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to preserve a one-point 14-13 Storm lead heading into the break.
In the second half, Tampa Bay rolled.
The Storm scored 28 unanswered points and shut out the VooDoo after halftime to pull away for a 42-13 win.
“New Orleans ran into an angry football team the way we performed last week, especially on offense,” Storm head coach Lawrence Samuels said. “The guys are starting to pick it up. My young guys are starting to come around and make some plays…Last week we didn’t make those plays. This week we make those plays, and the defense was lights out.”
A crowd of 9,122 watched Tampa Bay (2-2) wins its first game at Amalie Arena after starting the 2015 season 0-2 at home. The Storm moved to .500 overall.
“Our guys want to perform well in front of (the fans),” Samuels said. “It feels good to get a win in front of our fans and build their confidence.”
Jason Boltus tossed touchdown passes to Phillip Barnett on the Storm’s first two drives of the second half to start the second-half domination. Boltus capped a seven-play drive by lofting a nine-yard pass in the end zone for a wide-open Barnett to make it 21-13.
After Plant High School product James Harrell batted away New Orleans quarterback Adam Kennedy’s fourth down pass to get a stop, the Storm capitalized on the turnover on downs, Boltus connecting with Barnett on a six-yard slant to push the lead to 15 points.
On the ensuing kickoff, Storm kicker Craig Peterson made one of the hits of the game, planting VooDoo returner Chris Duvalt and forcing a fumble, which Harrell recovered at the New Orleans 23.
“That was a great tackle,” Samuels said. “He’s got a lot of fire inside of him, and you can see it, every time he’s running down…to make a tackle.”
One play later, the Storm’s quick-strike offense put the game out of reach, Boltus launching a perfectly-arching pass into the back corner of the end zone for Kendrick Ings, who tracked the ball down and reached high above his head to haul it in while tapping both feet inbounds for a 35-13 Storm lead.
“I told (Boltus) he would never overthrow me,” Ings said. “Just let it go, and I’m going to go get it.”
Tampa Bay outscored New Orleans 21-0 in the third quarter.
The Storm continued to pour it on in the fourth. Harrell laid another big hit at the goal line to force a turnover on downs, and Boltus threw his sixth touchdown of the night, finding Julius Gregory for a 32-yard strike and a 42-13 advantage. On the play, Gregory managed to hang onto the ball after contacting the wall while pulling the pass in.
The Storm defense recovered a fumble and got another turnover on downs to preserve the second-half shutout.
Boltus hit Gregory from nine yards out for a first quarter touchdown to answer a New Orleans 35-yard field goal from Garrett Lindholm on the opening drive of the game.
New Orleans (1-3) retook the lead when Gregory threw a five-yard scoring strike to Duvalt, but Tampa Bay went ahead for good with 11:58 to go in the second quarter, Boltus tossing his longest touchdown pass of the night, 34 yards to T.T. Toliver, who finished with five catches for 68 yards.
Lindholm kicked a 26-yard field goal to pull the VooDoo to within one midway through the second, but they would get no closer.
Boltus had another strong game for the Storm, completing 19-of-29 passes for 224 yards and six touchdowns.
“Boltus played a pretty good ball game,” Samuels said. “We’ve still got some things to work on, but overall, I’m pleased with the performance. We’re going to get a little bit better on offense. It’s just a work in progress right now, but I’m just ecstatic the way our defense is playing right now and our special teams come up with a couple turnovers. That’s huge.”
Barnett, who had seven catches for 51 yards and two scores, was Boltus’ favorite target. Gregory also had two touchdown receptions.
A week after putting up just 27 points in a loss to San Jose, the Storm offense scored touchdowns on six of their nine drives.
“It was a great preparation week for us,” Ings said. “...The quarterback called a meeting with all the receivers, and we did it without the coaches, 30 minutes early for practice to study film, watch film, study each defensive player we’re going against, getting depth in our routes because we were cutting our routes short. We just came together as a group and got better.”
Harrell continued his strong start to the season with his fourth interception of the season with 45 seconds left in the first half to keep the Storm in front. He added five tackles.
The Storm defense recorded four sacks. Mays had two while Richard Clebert and Dexter Jackson each added one.
“Up front, the pressure they were putting on the quarterback was tremendous,” Samuels said.
Tampa Bay improves to 13-6 all-time and 8-2 at home against the VooDoo franchise.
“It’s a team effort,” Storm defensive lineman Brandon Sesay said. “We all played together.”
The Storm return to action Friday (March 24) when they travel to Cleveland to take on the Gladiators. Cleveland defeated Tampa Bay 60-44 in the season opener at Amalie Arena.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“We have to respect them,” Sesay said. “They’re a great team. Obviously, they went to the championship last year. They have good coaching. It’s not just a push-over team, so we have to go respectfully in and study extra hard, find our flaws and go in and get it done.”