The Tampa Bay Storm celebrated their 25th anniversary in the 2016 season opener at Amalie Arena Friday night.
Unfortunately for the Storm, that would be the only celebrating they would do.
In the 59th installment of the War on I-4 against intrastate rival Orlando, miscues and missed opportunities doomed the Storm in a 76-25 loss to the Predators in front of a crowd of 9,928.
The Storm have now lost four in a row and seven of their last eight meetings against Orlando.
A pair of defensive scores after halftime for Orlando (1-0 overall, 1-0 in the American Conference) put the game out of reach for the Storm. On the opening play of the second half with Tampa Bay trailing 34-13, the Storm misfired on the exchange from quarterback and center near their own goal line, and Orlando’s Mike Lewis pounced on the loose ball in the end zone for a Predators’ touchdown.
On Tampa Bay’s next offensive play, Paul Stephens stepped in front of Storm quarterback Adam Kennedy’s pass and weaved his way 13 yards through a host of would-be tacklers for a pick six to put the Predators ahead 48-13.
Two offensive plays for the Storm to start the second half
Two touchdowns going in the opposite direction
“It was two bad plays in a row, a mishap on the snap, fumble, touchdown, and then the pass, I’m not going to blame anybody, we just didn’t make the play,” Tampa Bay head coach Lawrence Samuels said. “It was there. We’ll watch the tape. We’re going to go back as coaches and watch the tape. We had a lot of guys open, we just didn’t execute at all.”
From there, Orlando outscored the Storm (0-1, 0-1 in the American Conference) 28-12 over the final quarter and a half to cruise to a 76-25 victory.
“This is game one,” Storm wide receiver and kick returner Gerald Young said. “We’ve got a long season ahead of us. I was with Vegas last year, and we got thrashed by San Jose the first game and then we came back and beat the (eventual ArenaBowl) champions in the Arizona Rattlers in the second game. I’m an optimistic person. I see potential on this team, and I’m looking to tap into it.”
In the second half, Kennedy threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to T.T. Toliver (3 receptions, 56 yards) in the third quarter, and Storm backup quarterback Jonathan Bane came on in the fourth to toss a 25-yard strike to Toliver to account for the Tampa Bay’s second-half scoring.
Kennedy finished the night 12-of-25 for 150 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Bane came on in relief and was 5-of-8 for 65 yards, one touchdown and one pick.
“I think some of the timing was way off,” Samuels said. “We didn’t execute at all, especially on offense. On defense, a couple of those plays were right there, we just didn’t make the plays. We’ll fix those things, but I think we have to do a lot of work with the offensive unit as a whole.”
Orlando scored on all five of its first-half drives to build a 34-13 cushion at halftime.
Predators quarterback Randy Hippeard connected with Greg Carr on touchdown passes of 3, 20 and 31 yards on Orlando’s opening three drives.
The Storm took a 7-6 lead on their first drive after Julius Gregory (4 catches, 34 yards) caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Kennedy in the back corner of the end zone with a defender draped all over him.
After Hippeard hit Carr with his second touchdown pass to pull Orlando back in front 13-7, Tampa Bay drove to the 1-yard line but couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone and turned the ball over on downs.
“It’s upsetting,” Young said. “We expect to score from the 1-yard line. We’ve got a fullback in Undra Hendrix. I believe in him. I believe in our O-line. It was disappointing that we didn’t get it in, but we’re going to go back and push the O-line more and push the fullback more and he’ll get in next time.”
After Carr’s third touchdown catch of the game, the Storm went four and out on their next drive, setting Orlando up in prime field position at the 7-yard line. The Predators took advantage, Terence Moore rushing into the end zone from four yards out on a sweep to the weak side of the field to put Orlando up 27-7.
Kennedy found Young on a 24-yard catch and run to cut Orlando’s advantage to 27-13, but the Predators extended the lead right before halftime, Hippeard hitting Brandon Thompkins on a 22-yard scoring strike with 11 seconds left in the half.
Hippeard finished 20-of-30 for 241 yards and six touchdowns. Orlando scored on all nine of its offensive possessions.
The Storm will look to get their first victory of 2016 on Saturday, April 9, when they travel to Cleveland to take on the Gladiators.
“We’ll regroup,” Samuels said. “I’m going to keep it positive. Our guys are going to keep it positive.”