TAMPA – The Tampa Bay Storm pledged to be better in all phases of the game in Week 8, while bouncing back from three straight losses, yet Saturday’s matchup went a different direction in a 61-42 loss to the Portland Thunder in front of a crowd of 10,584 at Amalie Motor Oil Field at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
“Our energy was really low in the first half,” head coach Lawrence Samuels said. “We didn’t come out and play like we did the second half. Once we found that energy we hit our stride, but we need to address our energy level in the first half as a coaching staff.”
The Thunder, who won its first game of the 2014 season last week, was seemingly invigorated by their success and carried the momentum over to Saturday. On the other hand Tampa Bay offense, led by quarterback Randy Hippeard was lacking with T.T. Toliver out of the lineup and the Storm’s other receivers struggling to convert, as they dropped their fourth straight decision.
Storm wide receiver Joe Hills caught all five touchdown passes for Tampa Bay and reached a new season high for touchdowns in a game.
“I’m trying to just make a play for my team, throw a ball and I’ll catch it,” Hills said.
Uncharacteristic of the team, the Storm came out flat to start the night when an Amarri Jackson fumble was forced by the Thunder’s Dwight McClean. Portland scored on the ensuing possession for the early lead. Tampa Bay responded by knotting the game at seven, but the Thunder slowly began to chip away at the scoreboard with their defensive unit continuing to show why it is one of the tops in the AFL.
With Portland ahead by 13 early in the second, Hippeard led the Storm’s first possession of the quarter deep into Thunder territory. Despite the Thunder collecting two penalties that brought Tampa Bay to the 4-yard line, the Storm eventually turned the ball over on downs. Portland scored on its very next possession and its defense forced a fumble when Donte Paige-Moss sacked Hippeard thereafter, which lead to a 33-7 Thunder advantage.
While less than 30 seconds remained in the first half, Hippeard converted on 4th-and-10 to Michael Lindsey. The Storm quarterback then completed back-to-back passes to Jackson and Hills, who scored to give Tampa Bay some life. Portland received the ball once again before the half ended and though they looked as if it was going to add seven more to its lead, quarterback Danny Southwick’s pass was intercepted by Rod Isaac before the clock hit zero.
The Storm defense continued to surge during Portland’s first possession of the third, by forcing the Thunder to turn the ball over on downs in their own territory. On their very next play, Hippeard’s pass to Hills was complete for a touchdown, before Tampa Bay forced two straight fumbles on the Thunder to come within five.
“We came out in the third with some energy and showed we could play against those guys,” Samuels said.
Yet Portland came roaring back with a touchdown and a safety, which Hippeard was slow to come up from. He did not return to the game. Back-up B.J. Hall then entered the game.
“Once we were down we needed to stop the opposition’s offense and get the momentum back,” Isaac said. “We were able to get back in the third quarter, but we had those moments where we gave up another big play and we couldn’t just put our foot down on them. “
Isaac then intercepted his second pass off of Southwick in the contest, which led to another seven points. Juan Bongarra’s kick was blocked though and recovered by Portland, as the rest of the game went on a downward trend for Tampa Bay from there.
“It’s just four games,” Isaac said. “You want to win them all, but in a way you come out of a game like this as learning experience.”
“The bye week comes at the perfect time for us,” Samuels added. “We have a lot of injuries. It’s time to relax, get away from football and let their bodies healed up, so we can come back, regroup and get things in order.”
UP NEXT – Tampa Bay will exercise a bye in Week 9, before hitting the road for Philadelphia to face the Soul on Saturday, May 17. The matchup with Philly will be the second of three meetings this season between the clubs, with the Storm taking the first game 63-49. Tampa Bay then returns to the Times Forum Memorial Day weekend for a7:30 p.m. matchup with the Jacksonville Sharks.