Arena Football League Philadelphia Soul Tampa Bay Storm

Storm Fall Short Against Defending Champs

In a mostly back and forth affair, the Tampa Bay Storm (1-1) missed several opportunities and were victims of a crucial missed call against the Philadelphia Soul (1-0), ending in a 56-52 loss.

Tampa Bay quarterback Randy Hippeard started off slow for the second straight game, throwing an interception to James Romain, who almost returned it the length of the field for the opening touchdown. Dan Raudabaugh would put the first points on the board, however, thanks to a touchdown pass to Ryan McDaniel. The Storm quickly shook off the opening jitters, as Hippeard found LaMark Brown in the end zone for a one-point lead thanks to a missed extra point.

The two teams traded long scores, including a 55-yard kick return for a touchdown by Kendrick Ings (who had his greatest impact on special teams). However, the teams also traded missed extra points, with Mark Lewis having a particularly rough night for Tampa Bay.

With the Soul leading 20-19, the Storm defense that helped them to a Week 1 win started to show signs of forcing pressure on Philadelphia’s offensive line. The Storm recovered a fumble to give them good field position, but offensive pass interference negated Joe Hills‘ first scoring opportunity of the night. Tampa Bay couldn’t continue the drive, but defensive back Cortez Stubbs gave his team one more shot after intercepting Raudabaugh late in the second quarter.

Hippeard found Brown in the end zone again to take a 25-20 lead, but the Soul took two points right back when Torez Jones found the ball in his hands and ran it back for a defensive conversion, cutting the deficit to 25-22. Philadelphia used that to get the last say of the first half, as Mykel Benson ran for the first of his two scores, giving the Soul a 29-25 halftime lead.

Tampa Bay lost a bit of their composure as the second half started, compiling penalties to help Philadelphia open with a nine-play, 47-yard drive that consumed more than half of the third quarter and ended with Benson’s second touchdown of the night from one yard out. Down by 11, the Storm answered back in style thanks to Hippeard’s legs, as he ran for a 10-yard touchdown to cut Philadelphia’s lead to five after a missed two-point conversion.

The fourth quarter saw tensions rise between the two teams, and a developing battle between Darius Reynolds and Stubbs in the end zone. After two big pass breakups, Renyolds finally won the battle with a touchdown, giving the Soul a 43-31 lead. It only took one play for the Storm to respond, as Hippeard went deep to Ings on a 45-yard scoring pass.

The defense continued to shine again in the fourth quarter, but the shine quickly faded thanks to a comedy of errors. First, a defensive drifting penalty (one of 14 on the night for Tampa Bay, totaling 100 yards) nullified what would’ve been a crucial Tampa Bay fumble recovery. Then, an errant Raudabaugh pass that appeared to go backwards was recovered and run in for a touchdown.

However, the referees ruled the pass incomplete, and a lack of video evidence on the replay cost the Storm the ball, a challenge, and a timeout. Philadelphia reaped the benefits to the tune of a Reynolds touchdown and a 49-38 lead.

With time running out and a long touchdown streak on the line, Hills did find himself in the end zone late in the game. First on a two-point conversion catch following a touchdown that cut the lead to a field goal. Then, after Reynolds returned a failed onside kick for 12 yards and a touchdown, Hills scored a touchdown in his 70th consecutive game (also continuing a streak of a touchdown in every single home AFL game).

Lewis did miss what would be his final extra point attempt of the night, and the ensuing onside kick failed.

At .500, the Storm await their first rematch of the season, as they face their Week 1 opponents, the Cleveland Gladiators, on Saturday, April 22 at Amalie Arena. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET.

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