For weeks, the Tampa Bay Storm just could not turn the proverbial corner and pull out a win. Down by two with possession in the final minute in Orlando on May 13, the Storm couldn’t finish. Up seven in the final minute on May 23 against Cleveland, Tampa Bay allowed a touchdown and came up short in overtime. On Sunday afternoon, the Storm finally came away with its first win, a 63-56 victory over- of all teams- the Arizona Rattlers.
“The guys finished,” Storm head coach Lawrence Samuels said. “That was the difference between us [now] and two weeks ago in Orlando and last week against Cleveland; we just didn’t finish.”
The team finally did finish on Sunday afternoon. It was a step in the right direction for the Storm, which has emerged as a different team recently, starting with the 42-40 loss in Orlando on May 13. The difference has been obvious.
The team failed to score 30 points in five straight games to start the season while Tampa Bay was relying largely on rookie quarterback Jonathan Bane. But, in Orlando, veteran Jason Boltus returned under center after playing just one game earlier in the year (a 60-27 loss in Arizona). Boltus brought the Storm within two points of a victory over the Predators, a team that beat Tampa Bay by 51 in the season opener. A week later, the return of injured wide receiver Julius Gregory helped Boltus lead the offense to a 63-point output. This week, Boltus withstood some heavy hits and put up seven scores to lead the Storm past the juggernaut Rattlers.
“Jason is tough. I say the same thing every week,” Samuels said. “He’s a leader. He keeps fighting.”
At 1-7, it’s difficult to believe that the Storm is in position to compete with the league’s top teams. But, it did come close to beating the then-undefeated Predators and handed Arizona just its third loss in nine games. Tampa Bay averaged 25 points in its first five games, but in the last three, the Storm has averaged 55.3 points. An already-solid defense will continue to progress with an offense that is now able to sustain possession and score points on a regular basis.
“Hopefully [the win over Arizona] springboards us for the rest of the way,” Samuels said.
Especially this season, a season that will see all eight teams make the playoffs, Tampa Bay’s turnaround may not be too late. The Storm will now play three straight games that appear to be winnable. On Friday, the team heads west to take on the Portland Steel (0-8) before returning to Amalie Arena to host the Jacksonville Sharks (4-4), a team that Tampa Bay hung with (and lost to by six) back in May without Boltus and Gregory. The following week, the Los Angeles Kiss (4-4) come to town.
As bad as the 0-7 start was, Sunday’s win gave the Storm some momentum heading into the second half of the season. As the team travels to Portland this week, it has a chance to prove that the good will from Sunday’s win really is part of a turnaround. If the last three weeks are any indication, this really is a different team. And different results could lie ahead.