The Tampa Bay Storm helped head coach Dave Ewart celebrate his birthday in a big way on Saturday night.
Coming off a Week 1 loss to the division-rival Jacksonville Sharks just seven days ago, the Storm rebounded with a solid effort characterized by a vast improvement in defense and special teams from the previous week to defeat the Cleveland Gladiators 69-47 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The win was Tampa Bay’s first of the young season, while Cleveland fell to 0-2 on the season.
“Anytime you get a win, it’s a good feeling,” Ewart said. “At times, it wasn’t pretty, but a long time ago someone told me that a win is a win. You know, tonight I saw a lot of positive things and it seems like each time we get in this arena we keep getting better.”
That certainly was the case as opposed to last week, when the Storm performed well offensively, but feel victim to several miscues late in the game that came as a result of being a young, inexperienced team.
Following a five-touchdown performance on the ground last week against Jacksonville, Storm signal caller Adrian McPherson cashed in another monster game on Saturday, completing 25 of 38 passes and racking up 362 yards through the air while tossing eight touchdown passes. McPherson also added 31 yards rushing and two more scores on the night with his legs in the win.
Tampa Bay receivers Greg Ellingson and Michael Lindsey also came through with big performances Saturday, finishing the game with two touchdowns each, but after Ellingson left the game and did not return due to injury, Joe Hills stepped up and led the team with three touchdowns on the night.
“We just needed to stay focused,” Hills said. “I wouldn’t really say we made a big change, but as we kept doing what worked and if we didn’t turn the ball over, we knew we’d be set.”
After a low scoring opening quarter in which the teams combined for just three scores, Tampa Bay’s defense began to take control of the game in the second period.
Storm defensive back Chris Smith recorded an interception to open the second quarter, picking off Gladiators and former Storm passer Brian Zbydniewski.
Zbydniewski finished the night by connecting on 23 of his 34 throws and recorded 246 yards through the air and four touchdowns, but also had three picks, with the Storm’s Rashad Barksdale and Jean Fanor on the receiving end of the other two. Barksdale also had a forced fumble.
Tampa Bay’s special teams, as well, was just as much to credit for the victory as the offense and defense, as it kicked and successfully recovered an on-side kick in the second quarter that produced yet another score on the ensuing possession, allowing the Storm to take a 35-27 lead into halftime.
“The game plan went into effect tonight,” Ewart added. “We very well might have won the turnover battle in this game.”
Zbydniewski did his best to keep the Gladiators close in the third, a quarter in which they scored twice but still found themselves behind entering the fourth thanks to some big defensive stops on the part of Tampa Bay.
Derik Steiner emerged as a big playmaker in the game for Cleveland, as he scored three rushing touchdowns, while Dominick Goodman had one through the air.
Teammate Jonathan Wilson, though, led the team with three receiving scores on the night.
Steiner’s touchdown to close out the third period brought Cleveland to within eight points, but Tampa Bay stepped up at the right time, as it outscored the Gladiators 20-6 in the fourth quarter alone to come away with its first win of the season.
“It was all about my teammates coming out and doing what they do best,” McPherson said following the victory. “It’s starting to come slowly for us, and we’re trying to get better day in and day out, but tonight was definitely a big step in that direction.”