(More photos coming soon)
Tampa Bay, FL – About eight months ago, the Cleveland Gladiators beat the Tampa Bay Storm to keep them out of the playoffs. On Friday night, the defending American Conference Champions came to Amalie Arena and extended their winning streak over the Storm to three with a 60-44 victory in front of 9,727 fans.
“We just made too many mistakes,” said coach Lawrence Samuels. “When you play a team like that, who was in the Arena Bowl last year, you’ve got to be clicking on all cylinders.”
The two teams traded touchdowns early before Tampa Bay began to unravel. After falling behind 13-7, two Storm turnovers led to 12 Gladiators points and a 25-7 deficit.
The biggest swing of the game came with under a minute left in the first half. Jason Boltus’ 28-yard touchdown pass to Kendrick Ings cut the deficit to 25-21, but Cleveland responded in a big way. Ex-Storm receiver Amarri Jackson scored on an eight-yard touchdown run before Shane Austin and Collin Taylor converted the two-point conversion. On Tampa Bay’s ensuing drive, Jason Boltus fumbled, leading to a Dominick Goodman touchdown reception as the clock hit triple zeros. In under a minute, the Cleveland lead stretched from four to 18.
“That took a lot out of us,” said Storm defensive back James Harrell, who came away with his first interception of the season in the loss. “But we kept fighting.”
Tampa Bay still put up a fight, managing to outscore Cleveland 23-21 in the second half. Wide receiver T.T. Toliver started the season strong, hauling in 12 catches for 161 yards and three touchdowns. In the second quarter, he passed Eddie Brown for fourth all-time in career receiving yards. Heading into next week, the 11-year veteran needs just 11 catches to surmount 1,000 for his career.
“We know we have something to work on next week,” said Toliver.
Coach Samuels echoed his top receiver.
“We’re gonna regroup,” he said. “We’re going to come back and go to work on Monday.”
Tampa Bay (0-1) travels to Portland next Friday night to take on the Thunder.