JACKSONVILLE – The Storm (2-14, 0-8) came to Jacksonville on Saturday night seeking its first road victory of the season and first ever victory in the city, but instead came away with a 54-35 loss to the Sharks (7-9, 5-3) in front of 10,324 at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
After falling behind 6-0 early, the Storm grabbed some momentum. Jason Boltus, returning from an injury that caused him to miss a game and a half, found T.T. Toliver for a touchdown twice in two drives to give Tampa Bay a 14-13 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Nick Addison stripped the ball away from the return man and returned it for a touchdown to extend the Storm lead to eight. But from there, it was all Jacksonville.
The Sharks cut into the Tampa Bay lead early in the second quarter with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Grady to ex-Storm receiver Joe Hills. The two connected once more after the Jacksonville defense got a stop to take a 27-21 lead into halftime. Hills finished the night with seven catches for 92 yards and four touchdowns. He eclipsed 2,000 receiving yards on the season during the fourth quarter, becoming the sixth player in AFL history to reach that mark.
The Storm had a chance to take a lead early in the second half after a big kick return by Kendrick Ings, but the offense turned the ball over on downs for the third time. Tampa Bay turned it over on downs five times on the night, all of which came after the first quarter. The Sharks took control the rest of the way, scoring on four straight possessions to put any hope of a Tampa Bay comeback to rest. After a 21-point first quarter, the Storm managed just two touchdowns the rest of the way.
Boltus struggled in his return from injury, bobbling multiple snaps while completing just 17 of 36 passes for 231 yards and four scores. Toliver caught four passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns, while Kendrick Ings and Prechae Rodriguez caught one touchdown apiece.
With a 67-59 win over Orlando, the Philadelphia Soul clinched the American Conference’s first seed, so the Storm will head north next weekend to take on the Soul in the first round of the postseason. Tampa Bay fell to Philadelphia 47-17 on the road in May before coming up just short in a 56-51 loss the Soul on July 16.
Kickoff for next week’s postseason game is set for Sunday evening at 6 p.m.