The Tampa Bay Storm had more reason than just Cinco de Mayo to celebrate Saturday night.
Coming off two straight wins, the team reveled in the jubilation of a third consecutive victory after defeating the South Division-rival New Orleans VooDoo 63-32 in front of a crowd of over 10,000 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The victory, coming perhaps in what was Tampa Bay’s best all-around game all year, helped the club improve to 5-2 on the season, just one game back of the in-state rival Jacksonville Sharks for first place in the South Division standings.
New Orleans, meanwhile, dropped to 1-5 on the year, with its 32 points on Saturday night being its lowest total on the season thus far to date.
“We’re going to enjoy this one,” Storm head coach Dave Ewart said. “I’m proud of the guys. I thought they executed well in all aspects of the game and thought we cleaned a lot of stuff up that we needed to in order to get this victory.”
Adrian McPherson led the Storm by completing 13 of his 16 passes on the night and throwing for 197 yards and four touchdowns. He also scored four times rushing, on just six carries.
Even without receiver Joe Hills, Tampa Bay still managed to put forth a solid night in the receiving department, as Chris C. Davis caught six balls, and Michael Lindsey four, with each hauling one in for a score. The scoring output for each individual proved to be one less than Greg Ellingson, who had a team-best two touchdown receptions on the evening.
Although the Storm’s offense got off to a quick start, holding leads of 14-6 and 35-13 after the first and second quarters, respectively, it was the team’s effort on defense that really seemed to be the difference, and which was responsible for keeping much of the momentum in the Storm’s favor throughout the night.
From a team perspective, the Storm defense held New Orleans to just six points through nearly the entire first half, with the VooDoo’s only other score coming as the final horn sounded on the first 30 minutes.
Individually, however, there were several highlights that contributed to the overall team’s success.
Vance Cuff returned a pick for a score in the second quarter that put Tampa Bay up 35-6 at that juncture of the game, and De’Audra Dix came up with a similar play in which he intercepted New Orleans signal caller Bill Stull to open the third quarter on the VooDoo’s very first possession of the second half.
In addition, the Storm produced a record season-high four sacks, with Pernell Phillips taking credit for two of them.
Tampa Bay also managed to force the VooDoo to turn the ball over on downs not once, but twice, in the second quarter, adding to Stull’s frustrations.
“If a defense can make that many stops like we did tonight, then that’s huge,” Ellingson said. “If they perform like this every game, create turnovers, give the offense a chance to get on the field and score some points, then I think we can win a lot of games.”
Stull finished the night by going 27-of-47 for 265 yards and three touchdowns, but also threw a pair of picks.
After a slow start, and after trailing Tampa Bay 49-13 to start the fourth quarter, Stull began to find his receivers with a little bit more ease, as his two touchdown passes in the final period were his most in a single frame all night.
Courtney Smith was on the receiving end of two of his quarterback’s three scores through the air, while Derek Lee had the other.
Still, despite scoring 19 points alone in the fourth period after combining for just 13 through the first three, the Storm’s lead was too much to overcome for the VooDoo.
“This was really a complete game,” Ewart added. “Guys are playing at a high level and we’re starting to see some of that consistency. The more we’re together, the better off we’ll be.”