Storm look for repeat performance Saturday

Jul 20, 2017 Bryan Burns

Tampa Bay Storm head coach Ron James said his squad’s 69-56 victory in Baltimore last weekend was its most complete win of the season.

The Storm offense wasn’t stopped once against the Brigade. The defense intercepted a pair of passes to thwart Baltimore drives.

And on special teams, Kendrick Ings returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and Michael Lindsey added another to completely dominate that phase of the game as well.

“Offense, defense and special teams all made plays and they were significant contributions all the way around,” James said. “When you have that type of game, it shows the team just how well they can play and how well they need to come together.”

With three weeks left in the regular season and two more games yet to be played – including this Saturday’s rematch at AMALIE Arena against the Cleveland Gladiators, the only team not named Philadelphia to beat Tampa Bay – the Storm are peaking at the right time. They’re locked in to the No. 2 spot in the Arena Football League standings, meaning they’re assured of hosting a first round playoff game and will have to go on the road for the ArenaBowl should they meet the Soul in the league championship.

The final two games of the regular season are meaningless in terms of seeding for the Storm, but they offer the team opportunities to continue building on last Saturday’s complete game. While their play against the Brigade was as good as it’s been all season and the final result reflected the performance, plenty of issues can still be corrected before the postseason.

“We had too many fourth downs,” Storm quarterback Randy Hippeard said of the performance in Baltimore. “I definitely think we need to be more efficient with it.”

The Storm have two more opportunities to continue to perfect their play before a first round playoff game at AMALIE Arena on Monday, August 14. In Cleveland, the Storm can earn redemption against a team they could face in that opening round matchup. Currently, Cleveland and Baltimore are battling for the third seed in the AFL playoffs with Washington an outside and rapidly diminishing chance of qualifying for the postseason.

“We played terrible,” Ings said of his team’s 41-39 loss at Cleveland on July 8. “We can’t play like that, especially at an away game and especially in a place like Cleveland. They’ve got a good fan base and it’s hard to beat them there. We play like we played against Baltimore, I don’t think anybody can beat us.”

This week’s contest against Cleveland will be the final home game of the regular season for Tampa Bay. The Storm are 5-1 at AMALIE Arena this season and currently on a five-game home win streak, their longest such streak since winning six in a row at home in 2012. The Storm can finish the home portion of their regular season schedule with only one loss or fewer for the eighth time in franchise history with a victory Saturday over Cleveland.

“Anytime you can play well in front of your home crowd, that’s big for us,” Hippeard said. “Not only for us, but for the fans and the support they’ve shown all year and the fact we have a home playoff game not too many weeks away from that. Just for us to come and play well for them is huge for us.”

That Tampa Bay crowd has also been a big plus in helping the Storm find success at home this season. Tampa Bay is averaging over 9,500 fans a game this season, and the crowd has been a critical X-factor in some of the Storm’s narrow victories at home. Four of the Storm’s five home wins have come by seven points or fewer.

‘We’ve played really well at home, and there’s no secret about the home crowd being a part of that,” James said. “We come down to crunch time a lot of times in these games, especially some of our home games, they’ve been very exciting, but our crowd being behind us, that really buoys our spirits, gets us ready to go and puts the pressure on the opposing team.”