The Tampa Bay Storm (10-3) started out strong and finished even stronger against the Cleveland Gladiators (4-9), jumping out to a quick lead en route to a 57-27 win, their first win by more than 13 points this season.
Joe Hills got the first order of business out of the way early, scoring on a 36-yard pass to extend his touchdown streak to 80 games, and giving the Storm a 7-0 lead. The joy was short lived, as Cortez Stubbs injured his knee going into the boards on the first defensive play of the game. He did not return, and there were no further updates on his injury.
Alvin Ray Jackson gave the home fans something new to cheer about, as he intercepted Arvell Nelson and returned the ball for a touchdown and a two-score lead.
Nelson finally got Cleveland on the board late in the first quarter, finding Michael Preston in the end zone on fourth down. The extra point didn’t go so well, however, as Drew Basil eventually corralled a high snap and threw an interception.
Kendrick Ings answered right back, as he got wide open from defenders to give Tampa Bay a 21-6 lead. The Gladiators put together a good drive, thanks in part to Collin Taylor making a catch between two defenders, but Devin Wilson couldn’t make a 4th down catch in the corner of the end zone to start the second quarter. To add injury to insult, Wilson suffered a concussion on the play, and did not return to the game.
Marrio Norman gave Cleveland a quick boost thanks to a 32-yard pick-six, but the Storm used second-perfect clock management to withstand a strong Gladiators defensive effort. Randy Hippeard went around the left side to score a touchdown from inches away to give the home team a 28-13 halftime lead.
From there, Tampa Bay kept pulling away. Alvin Ray Jackson snatched another interception to start the third quarter, and Kendrick Ings helped the Storm cash in by catching a touchdown pass. Jackson kept his incredible night going by recovering the ensuing kickoff inside Cleveland’s red zone, and LaMark Brown got into the end zone for the first time just two plays later. Before fans could settle in from halftime, the Storm extended their lead to 41-13.
Michael Preston made the highlight of the night, beating Jackson and catching a ball in between his thighs inside the two-yard line. Not being touched, Preston showed the ball to the referee and appeared to score. However, the referees ruled him short, and Arvell Nelson finished the drive with a quarterback sneak.
After a failed onside kick, Joe Hills quickly got open and caught his second touchdown of the night. Then, to cement Defensive Player of the Week honors, Alvin Ray Jackson started the fourth quarter by recovering an Arvell Nelson fumble. The offense got going quickly, but lost LaMark Brown on the drive due to another injury. The drive stalled thanks in part to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and Mark Lewis came out to attempt a 39-yard field goal, which he made to extend the lead to 51-20. Michael Lindsey added to the fun by recovering the kickoff off the bar and running into the end zone.
Tanner Marsh came into the game after the score, and started off by fumbling his first snap. Things didn’t get better, as his first pass was nearly intercepted. Jordan Miller, who committed a roughing the passer penalty just prior, redeemed himself with a third-down sack. Right after the one-minute warning, backup quarterback Chris Bonner returned the snap-fumbling favor, and Nick Seither scooped the ball up and ran 44 yards into the end zone for the last touchdown of the night.
The Storm now go through their final bye week of the season before ending the regular season in Philadelphia taking on the Soul. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 5, and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.