TAMPA — It was Star Wars Night on Saturday during Tampa Bay's game against Portland. Unfortunately for the Storm, the Force was clearly not with the home team.
Tampa Bay dug a huge first-half hole and never recovered, losing 61-42 to the Thunder in front of 10,584 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum last night.
After opening the season with back-to-back wins, the Storm is reeling. Tampa Bay (3-5) has lost four in a row and Saturday's came to an expansion team that entered the game with one victory.
"We're just in a slump man," said receiver Joe Hills, who finished the night with seven catches for 104 yards and five touchdowns.
"We're losing the individual battles. The man in front of us is kicking our butt."
To make matters worse, the Storm was carved up by Danny Southwick, a backup quarterback for Tampa Bay in 2011. Southwick, filling in for injured starter Kyle Rowley, finished 24-of-33 for 307 yards and eight touchdowns.
Storm quarterback Randy Hippeard was 14-of-36 for 185 yards, four touchdowns and an interception before leaving the game with a knee injury on a Thunder safety. B.J. Hall came on for Hippeard and struggled, going 4-of-13 for 46 yards with two fumbles and one interception.
The game started with an Amarri Jackson fumble on the Storm's first possession that led to a Thunder touchdown. The Storm also had a fumble and a pair of turnovers on downs in the first half, including a drop by a wide-open Jackson in the end zone on fourth down. At one point in the half, the Storm trailed 33-7.
Tampa Bay played a little shorthanded. Receiver T.T. Toliver and defensive back Chris Smith were placed on the inactive list.
The defense did all it could to keep the Storm in the game. Tampa Bay forced turnovers on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter and pulled within 33-28 on Hills' fourth score just shy of the midway point in the third quarter. This was the closest the Storm would get.
Following a Thunder (2-5) safety, Rod Isaac got his second interception and returned it 32 yards for a score to trim the margin to 42-34 with 31 seconds left in the third quarter.
"We were able to get back into it in the third quarter," Isaac said. "We just had those moments where we just gave up big plays again. We just couldn't put our foot down on them."