Despite being on a four game winning streak, no game was more important for the Tampa Bay Storm than Saturday night’s match-up with bitter rival the Orlando Predators. Not only was Orlando ahead of Tampa Bay in the South Division of the Arena Football League, but the Predators defeated the Storm in the previous two meetings of the “Battle of I-4” this season — with the last game being an 11 point defeat in Orlando. The Storm were able to overcome a sputtering red zone offense to win the game 35-34 in front of 11,890 fans at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Quarterback Randy Hippeard lead the Storm offense with five total touchdowns — three coming courtesy of his legs including the game winning 3-yard run with 3:12 left in the fourth quarter on a critical fourth and goal. He also passed for 220 yards on 25-of-38 attempts. The leading receiver was Joe Hills, with 10 catches for 81 yards, but Amarri Jackson made the play of the game when he was able to stay in bounds on a spectacular 24 yard touchdown catch to give the Storm back the lead 28-27 with 2:20 left in the third quarter.
The Predators were led by Greg Carr’s 10 catches for 129 yards. Early on the Storm defense struggled to contain the 6’6 230 pound receiver, but in the fourth quarter they were able to limit him to only two catches for 16 yards. He wasn’t the only player that Storm head coach Lawrence Samuels made an adjustment with. Predators quarterback Bernard Morris finished the game 18-of-28 for 194 yards but in the second half lost a fumble after being sacked by Jammie Kirlew and threw three critical interceptions, including a tipped interception by Rod Issac with 1:00 left in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
The five straight victories is the longest streak for the Storm since 2010 — which was the last time they made it to the Arena Bowl. The team travels to Cleveland next week to face the East Division leading Cleveland Gladiators, who are also on a three game winning streak and are 12-1 on the season.
While they share the same record, the Storm still trail the Predators in the division due losing the season series, so continuing this winning streak would go a long way to solidifying an AFL playoff berth for the franchise.