Tampa Bay Storm head coach Ron James said his team’s third quarter was “probably as bad as we’ve played all year long.”
Fortunately for James and the Storm, the remaining 45 minutes on Saturday night was another demonstration in just how good this Tampa Bay squad can be.
After watching their 19-point second half lead dwindle to five by the end of the third quarter, the Storm regrouped and regained control of the game in the fourth, defeating the Baltimore Brigade 47-35 in front of 9,880 at AMALIE Arena.
“We tried to make it interesting a little bit,” James said following the win. “…But, we bounced back in the fourth and shut it down and got the win.”
Tampa Bay has now won five-consecutive games for the first time since 2014. The Storm start the season with six or more wins in their first seven games for just the sixth time in franchise history.
“6-1 doesn’t mean anything to me,” Storm jack linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson said. “I played on the 17-1 team in Cleveland and didn’t win a championship. Nobody remembers us now. I’m not worried about 6-1. I just want to play game to game until we get to the ArenaBowl and win that. Then I’ll worry about what 6-1 feels like.”
The Storm looked like an ArenaBowl contender in the first half, mixing a brilliantly efficient offense with an opportunistic defense and heads up special teams play to go into halftime up 27-14. Quarterback Randy Hippeard engineered touchdown drives on the Storm’s first four possessions of the game. Hippeard hit Joe Hills in the back corner of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown on the opening possession of the game and run Hills’ consecutive game streak with a touchdown reception to 75 games.
Hills ran into the end zone from three yards out off a backward pass by Hippeard on the Storm’s second drive. Tampa Bay’s third possession was capped by LaMark Brown’s three-yard touchdown catch, and the fourth drive saw Kendrick Ings haul in a touchdown pass from six yards out to build the Storm lead to 27-14.
The Storm offense was so efficient in the first half, Hippeard didn’t thrown an incompletion until the 6:20 mark of the second quarter.
Tampa Bay had a chance to add to its lead before halftime after recovering an onside kick with less than a minute to go, but the drive bogged down at the Brigade nine-yard line, Hippeard throwing incomplete on fourth down and five with 16 seconds to go in the half.
“Timing was a little bit off on that last play of the half offensively, and I think that’s basically because we had that week off,” James said. “You’ve got to get back in rhythm, and I think we were able to do that in the fourth quarter. We finished it out strong.”
Jackson made potentially the play of the game to start the second half when Mark Lewis’ kickoff caromed off the bar, and Jackson scooped the ball up on the run at the three and muscled his way into the end zone for a 33-14 Storm lead.
“(Jackson’s) a guy that knows where the ball’s going to be because he’s seen it so much,” James said. “Having a veteran player like that in helps out quite a bit.”
But just like four weeks ago when Baltimore rallied against the Storm from a 14-point deficit in the third quarter, the Brigade (2-5) again fought back into the contest and wouldn’t let the Storm put the game away. Brandon Thompkins made a catch against the wall near midfield on the Brigade’s first offensive play of the second half then juked his way through the entire Storm defense to find pay dirt.
Baltimore defensive back Qumain Black intercepted Hippeard in the end zone on the Storm’s next drive, and the Brigade needed just two plays to capitalize, quarterback Shane Carden hitting Julian Talley in the end zone from nine yards out to cut the Storm advantage to 33-28 with 7:11 remaining on the third quarter clock.
“Third quarter has been (the Brigade’s) quarter all year,” Jackson said. “We knew we were going to have to fight against them. They’re not going to give up, and we just had to make sure we won the fourth.”
The Storm regrouped to win the fourth.
Consequently, they won the game.
Facing a fourth and three from the Baltimore 18-yard line on the final play of the third quarter, Hippeard lofted a 12-yard pass to Brown along the wall to keep the drive going and momentarily stifle the Brigade’s momentum. At the start of the fourth, Hippeard culminated the drive with a four-yard scoring toss to Ings.
“Hip, he’s a great leader. Once he gets in the huddle, he tells a joke or two and we all laugh and then it’s ‘Hey, let’s get this first down,’” Ings said of Hippeard’s calming influence on the crucial fourth down conversion. “Then we go down and make a play. We’re never too down on ourselves, never too high. We’re just a bunch of clowns, but we know when to get the job done.”
Baltimore came up a yard short at midfield on a fourth down play on its next drive, and Tampa Bay added to its lead with an eight-yard touchdown reception by Hills to make the score 47-28 and put the game out of reach.
“That’s the worst third quarter we’ve ever played, but we showed resiliency in the fourth quarter,” Ings said. “We put it all together and we stuck together.”
Hippeard finished 29-of-41 for 275 yards and five touchdowns but also threw just his third interception of the season.
Hills had two touchdowns receiving and one rushing. Ings contributed two touchdown catches too.
Storm defensive lineman Kendall Montgomery recovered a fumbled quarterback-center exchange to thwart a first half Baltimore drive.
Baltimore was led by Carden, who went 22-of-34 for 268 yards and five touchdowns.
Talley had two scoring catches for the Brigade.
“We didn’t play a great game, but we played a good game,” Jackson said. “We want to get to the point where we can play great.”
The Storm conclude their three-game home stand next Saturday when they host the Washington Valor at AMALIE Arena. The Storm have already defeated the Valor twice in two attempts this season.