The Tampa Bay Storm rebounded from their first pair of back-to-back losses on Saturday night to return above the .500 mark and move into a tie atop the South Division, as they defeated the Milwaukee Mustangs 63-55 in front of a crowd of 10,406 on Amalie Motor Oil Field at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Despite surrendering two large leads, the Storm were able to pull out the win which not only allowed them to stay undefeated at home this season, but just as well avoid a season-high three-game losing streak.
“I thought it took a lot of determination,” Storm head coach Dave Ewart said. “The guys did a good job of staying focused, and we got a couple of breaks, but we came in here with a lot of pride and did everything we needed to do.”
A pair of fumble recoveries by the Storm’s Lendy Holmes and Steve Octavien in the game’s final minute all but sealed the victory for Tampa Bay, which improved to 6-5 on the year.
The Storm jumped out to a quick 16-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to a strong start by signal caller Stephen Wasil.
A safety engineered by Pernell Phillips to open the game buoyed Wasil, who completed 18-of-31 passes for 210 yards and five touchdowns, in addition to two on the ground. Wasil, however, also committed three turnovers on the night, including two of which led to a pair of Milwaukee scores at the start of the third quarter that knotted the game at 35-35.
“We would have liked to put them away early, and it seemed like that’s what was going to happen,” Wasil said. “But it was only the first quarter, and I think anyone who has been around this game knows that that’s the nature of the sport. It can go back and forth, so we just had to keep playing through.”
Amarri Jackson emerged as Tampa Bay’s leading receiver on the night, as he reeled in six balls for 85 yards and three scores. Prechae Rodriguez also had a big night receiving for the Storm, catching five passes for 58 yards and two scores, while Chandler Williams returned seven kickoffs for 185 yards, including one to the house that earned the distinction of Spalding’s Highlight of the Game.
“We have a great group [of receivers] on this team,” Jackson said. “When our name is called, we like to show up and make plays.”
Milwaukee quarterback Gino Guidugli overcame a sputtering start to finish with 294 yards and six touchdown passes on the night after connecting on 23-of-35 attempts. Like Wasil, however, he also threw two picks.
Mustangs receiver Andrae Thurman led the team in both receptions and receiving yards, catching eight passes for 125 yards. He hauled in a pair of scores, while his teammate Jared Jenkins proved to be Guidugli’s favorite target on the night, as he caught a team-best four touchdown passes on the night.
Tampa Bay defensive back Riley Swanson stood out defensively for the Storm, as he recorded an interception, fumble recovery, one pass break-up and a team-best seven total tackles in his first game back after missing five weeks due to injury.
Deonte Bolden also registered an interception, but left the game in the fourth quarter after he was sidelined by injury. He did not return.
“Those five weeks I was off, I was really trying to stay in the film room and stay in shape to come back mentally sharp,” Swanson said. “It felt good to be back, but it was a total team effort tonight. We did a really good job of staying positive.”
Tampa Bay led by at least 14 points on numerous occasions throughout the game, and although the Storm never trailed at any point in the contest, they did allow the Mustangs to tie midway through the third quarter.
Milwaukee seemed to use the momentum to climb back to within just a single a point twice in the fourth quarter, but a strong defensive effort that was highlighted by several forced turnovers made the difference in allowing Tampa Bay to emerge with the victory.