ORLANDO, FL– 30-point underdogs coming into the night, the Storm (0-6, 0-4) almost pulled off a major upset before falling 42-40 to the rival Predators (7-0, 3-0) in front of 12,971 at Amway Center. After a back-and-forth first half, Tampa Bay trailed most of the second before the game came down to three straight incomplete passes from the Orlando 22-yard line in the final minute.
Quarterback Jason Boltus returned to the Storm for this week’s matchup against his former team, giving coach Lawrence Samuels’ offense an instant upgrade. The upgrade was on display early as Boltus connected with T.T. Toliver for a 32-yard touchdown on the first drive of the game.
After Tampa Bay took an early 7-0 lead, ex-Storm quarterback Randy Hippeard continued his recent dominance of his former squad, tying the game with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Greg Carr. Boltus and Hippeard then traded touchdowns before the Storm went up 21-14 on a one-yard rushing touchdown by James Gordon.
Tampa Bay held a 27-21 lead at halftime, scoring four touchdowns in the first half for the first time since last August when it did so in the same building. Orlando took control of momentum in the second half, but the Storm wouldn’t go away. Trailing 35-27, Boltus hit Toliver again for six, this time from 16 yards out, to cut the deficit to two. Toliver finished the night with 11 catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns. On one catch in the second half, he became the first player in AFL history to catch 400 passes with two different franchises and the first to record 5,000 receiving yards with two different franchises.
Just when Tampa Bay was on the cusp of an upset win with under a minute to go, the offense stalled. Boltus, who completed 27 of 46 passes for 254 yards and four touchdowns on the night, missed on three straight throws, with the third ending up in the arms of Orlando’s Kent Richardson.
Despite scoring over 30 points for the first time this year and playing its best game of the season, the Storm missed a big opportunity in the final minute as the loss drops them to 0-6 and marks a fifth straight loss in the “War on I-4” rivalry with Orlando.
Tampa Bay will have nine days before their next game, which is a Monday night matchup with the Cleveland Gladiators (2-4, 0-1) at home on May 23.