TAMPA – The Tampa Bay Storm earned its third straight win in comeback fashion and returned to .500 with a 6-6 record by defeating conference rival the Philadelphia Soul 56-49 at Amalie Motor Oil Field at the Tampa Bay Times Forum Saturday afternoon.
“Great team win,” head coach Lawrence Samuels said. “When you’re dealing with a young team you wonder how they’re going to handle adversity. When adversity hit tonight we didn’t give up.”
Tampa Bay saw how much of an impact the return of quarterback Randy Hippeard had in back-to-back wins entering Saturday’s tilt and despite leaving the game with a lower body injury, he managed to return and help solidify another victory for the Storm.
“When I came out of the game there was a bunch of penalties and it gave us some time,” Hippeard said. “I decided to find my helmet and get back out there and keep fighting on the field.”
Tampa Bay’s defense also played solid after forcing the Soul to turn the ball over on downs several times, which helped keep the Storm fighting to the bitter end.
“After the bye week we envisioned playing a good, physical game on the defensive side,” Samuels said. “We lacked that in the first half of the year when we started going on the losing streak. It’s a credit to those guys that they responded and their effort and enthusiasm on defense tonight kept us in the game.”
Hippeard too acknowledged how the defense stood tall when he was momentarily kept out of action.
“Our defense was a championship-caliber defense out there and they came up huge tonight,” Hippeard said.
The two clubs exchanged touchdowns to begin the game, but the Storm went ahead 14-7 when Philadelphia quarterback Dan Raudabuagh’s pass was intercepted by James Harrell. Harrell took the ball in for a touchdown for his third consecutive game with an interception.
On their next possession the Soul recovered by tying the game at 14, yet once again the Storm broke the tie compliments of Joe Hills 29th straight contest with a touchdown. It then looked as if Tampa Bay had the upper-hand when they sacked Raudabaugh and held Philadelphia at 3rd-and-1 on the goal line. However, the Soul went for the touchdown on 4th-and-1 and successfully knotted the game at 21.
Tampa Bay and Philadelphia each scored seven more points, but a missed extra point by the Storm’s Juan Bongarra gave the Soul their first lead, 28-27, since 9:20 of the first quarter on the game’s opening possession. Philadelphia then extended it to an eight-point lead and a 35-27 score before the end of the first half.
Less than three minutes into the third quarter Tampa Bay found themselves trailing by just one point after Hippeard threw a game-long, 40-yard touchdown pass to Amarri Jackson, but again the Soul responded with back-to-back touchdowns for a 49-34 lead.
Hippeard helped the Storm come within one possession with another touchdown reception to Hills that was followed by a two-point conversion. Yet with Tampa Bay trailing 49-42, Hippeard was helped off the field when the team perhaps needed him most, suffering a right leg injury.
“It just felt like a big Charlie-horse all down my leg,” Hippeard said. “I didn’t know if I was going to come back in.”
During Hippeard’s absence, the defense was faced with 1st-and-goal on the Storm’s one-yard line, but they managed to trick the Soul’s offense and turn the ball over on downs as Hippeard “hobbled back out there and made a couple plays.”
The “couple plays” led to a game-winning touchdown pass to T.T. Toliver, as again the defense held Philadelphia on 4th-and-goal once more as the clock ran out.
“This puts us right back in the mix,” Hippeard said. “We have a big game against Iowa next week, so we need to get prepared for that and come out on all cylinders.”
UP NEXT – Tampa Bay heads to Iowa next Saturday to face the Barnstormers for the first and only time this season. They will then return to the Times Forum on Saturday, June 21 for their third installment of “the War on I-4” when the Storm host the Orlando Predators at 7:30 p.m. It will also be Local Heroes Night at the Times Forum.