JACKSONVILLE, FL— The “win out” mentality that accompanied the Tampa Bay Storm (6-10) into Jacksonville on Saturday night very quickly turned into nothing more than a lost dream. Tampa Bay was crushed by a motivated Sharks team that clinched a playoff spot with a 63-16 victory in front of a raucous crowd of 13,092. The loss, which goes down as the worst in franchise history, keeps the Storm winless in seven visits to Jacksonville.
Tampa Bay never recovered from the 14-0 hole they found themselves in after just three possessions. They fought their way back into it when Jason Boltus hit Kendrick Ings for a 31-yard touchdown to cut the deficit in half, but any momentum gathered from the score was short-lived. From there, Jacksonville went on a 21-0 run to take a 35-7 lead before Tampa Bay finally found the scoreboard again on Craig Peterson’s 47-yard field goal, the longest of the 2015 AFL season.
The second half was more of the same for the Storm, who opened the half by turning the ball over on downs. The Sharks went on to outscore Tampa Bay 28-6 in the half to finish off a rout that clinched their fifth postseason berth in six seasons of existence.
Quarterback Tommy Grady led the offensive attack for Jacksonville, completing 15 of 22 passes for 179 yards and five touchdowns, hitting four different receivers on those scores. Fullback Derrick Ross put together an impressive game on the ground, rushing for 67 yards and three touchdowns. On the defensive side of the ball, it was Terrance Smith (nine tackles) and Greg Reid (seven tackles, one interception) who anchored Jacksonville’s best defensive performance of the season. In the fourth quarter, Joe Sykes set a new AFL single-season sack record with his 17th, breaking his own record of 16.
It was a woeful night for the Storm offense, which totaled just 246 yards and turned the ball over twice. Quarterback Jason Boltus looked uncomfortable all night, throwing his 21st interception while completing just 27 of 45 attempts for 260 yards and two touchdowns.
For the Storm, a fourth straight loss delivered another crushing blow to playoff hopes that were already fading. They now trail the Cleveland Gladiators by one game for the final playoff spot in the American Conference with just two games to play, and the Gladiators hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Storm will return home next Saturday to host the Los Angeles Kiss (4-11).