TAMPA — In an opening loss to Jacksonville on March 23, Storm quarterback Adrian McPherson ran for a game-high 58 yards and tied a team record with five rushing touchdowns.
Saturday, the former Florida State standout showed off his arm.
McPherson threw for eight scores and the defense came up with big plays as the Storm defeated Cleveland 69-47 in front of an announced 10,142 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"We all knew when the lights come on, he has that little extra aura," coach Dave Ewart said of McPherson. "And he's only going to get better."
McPherson was an efficient 20 of 33 passing in the opener but looked much sharper Saturday. The former Bradenton Southeast star was 25-of-38 for 362 yards and added 31 yards and two scores on the ground.
"I've been in (the Canadian Football League) the last five years," said McPherson, who played in the Arena League before that. "I've had two weeks of training camp here, so it's going to slowly come for me."
Joe Hills was his main target, catching 10 passes for 155 yards and three scores. Former Robinson High wideout Greg Ellingson caught five passes for 95 yards and two scores, and Michael Lindsey had five catches for 55 yards and two TDs.
Tampa Bay (1-1) again mustered little pass rush but had some key defensive plays, forcing five turnovers. Linemen R.J. Roberts and Rodney Beamon each recovered fumbles, defensive back Jean Fanor picked off a pass late and defensive back Chris Smith had two interceptions, one in the end zone on the final play of the first half.
Three of those turnovers led to scores. The defense forced also forced a critical turnover on downs late, and Paul Griffin blocked an extra point try in the first half.
"(The defense) bailed us out," McPherson said.
Tampa Bay took control midway through the third quarter. McPherson hit offensive lineman Alfred McCullough on a screen pass for a 17-yard score and a 42-34 lead. Then after Beamon's fumble recovery, Ellingson hauled in a 15-yard TD pass to make it 49-34. Cleveland (0-2) never got closer than eight the rest of the way.
"We did okay defensively, but I'm not satisfied there," Ewart said. "We don't have any veteran players, really, defensively, so we're searching for leadership. But there's no doubt in my mind that we're going to get better at it."
McPherson punched in a 1-yard TD and hit Hills for two first-half scoring strikes, including one on which the 6-foot-5 wideout flipped over the end zone wall to give the Storm the lead for good at 28-27.
"(Hills) is just a beast," Ewart said.
The Storm hits the road for the first time Saturday to face Utah. It returns home April 12.