TAMPA, FL- The newest installment of the War on I4 had its usual share of scoring, big hits and flaring tempers. After the Storm blew a 21-point lead and eventually lost in overtime to Orlando back in May, they came out looking for retribution while clinging to their playoff hopes. A back and forth affair that saw 13 lead changes ended in controversy as Tampa Bay’s potential game-tying drive ended at the Orlando goal line. After a short review of the catch at the goal line which was the only part of the play that was review able, the Predators hung on for a 69-62 victory in front of 15,835 at Amalie Arena.
“We just came up short,” said Storm head coach Lawrence Samuels. “I thought we got a raw deal at the end. I had to challenge something.”
After Gregory was tackled at the goal line, Samuels signaled for a timeout, but it wasn’t granted and the clock hit triple zeroes. Because the game was televised, the time on the clock could not be challenged and only the catch itself could be. It was clear that Gregory made the catch, but he fell just short of the end zone.
Just 20 seconds before that play, Orlando offensive lineman Michael Simons scored his second touchdown, this one from five yards out, to give the Predators the lead. After quarterback Randy Hippeard converted the two-point conversion, the Storm trailed by one score.
“We had a chance to put them away and we made some mistakes,” said Samuels.
The Tampa Bay defense, a defense that has seen its share of highs and lows this season, struggled throughout the night. Hippeard, who played two seasons in Tampa Bay, completed 24 of 33 passes for 346 yards and seven touchdowns, hitting five different receivers in the end zone. Despite its struggles, the defense did come up with three stops on the night, but the Storm offense failed to put away the Predators.
“I have to be better,” said Storm quarterback Jason Boltus. “I’ll take the blame. We were an inch short down there and we just didn’t finish the game. We’ve got to execute the full 60 minutes and that’s the bottom line.”
While Boltus shouldered the blame, he put up one of his best games of the season. He finished the night 25 of 38 for 363 yards and six touchdowns, four of which to T.T. Toliver. Boltus’ biggest mistake came with just over 12 minutes left in the fourth when Tampa Bay had a chance to go up by two scores. His pass was tipped and intercepted by linebacker Terence Moore, a turnover that was later converted into a 54-53 lead for the Predators.
“I made a mistake and he made a good play to tip the ball to himself,” said Boltus.
The Storm, now two and a half games behind Orlando in the South Division, will travel to New Orleans to take on the VooDoo next Saturday. Though they remain in the hunt for a wild card spot, Tampa Bay knows they need to have a playoff mentality for these last four games.
“Every game is a playoff game,” said Boltus. “It was a playoff game tonight. We need to execute for a full 60 minutes and we’ll be in good shape if we do that.”