TAMPA — Tampa Bay was 45 seconds and a couple of rushes up the gut from starting the season 3-0 for the first time since 2001.
A fumble by quarterback Randy Hippeard gave Orlando new life, however. And the Predators scored the winning touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Jason Boltus to Greg Carr with six seconds left to escape the 53rd installment of the "War on I-4" with a 56-52 victory in front of 10,896 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Saturday.
Orlando took a 27-26 lead (including the playoffs) in the series that dates to 1991.
"That loss goes to the back of your mind, and you worry about next week," Storm defensive back Chris Smith said.
Hippeard (17-of-32, 288 yards) threw seven touchdowns, including a 45-yarder to Michael Lindsey with 3:30 remaining to give the Storm a 10-point cushion.
Boltus found Kendal Thompkins for a 29-yard touchdown — on fourth and 19 — with 50 seconds to go to pull the Predators within three points.
Tampa Bay (2-1) appeared to have the victory wrapped up after recovering the ensuing onside kick. But Hippeard fumbled on first and goal from the 8. Orlando moved 40 yards in six plays, culminating in the sixth touchdown pass for Boltus (28-of-44, 337 yards) as the Predators became the lone Arena League team with a 3-0 record and moved into sole possession of first place in the South Division.
"We made a mistake at the end, but overall, I think we were good as a team," said the Storm's Amarri Jackson, who caught six passes for 83 yards and five touchdowns. "I don't know what the film's going to show Monday morning, but from my eyes, I thought we played pretty well.
"We just have to move forward and get ready for (Philadelphia on Friday)."
The Storm grabbed the lead, at 33-28, on its first drive of the second half when Jackson caught a pass from Hippeard at the 10 and juked a pair of defenders to reach the end zone. Smith picked off a pass at the goal line on Orlando's ensuing drive, and Jackson scored again, this time from 8 yards, for a 39-28 lead.
The Storm held Orlando scoreless in the third quarter with help from Smith's second interception of the game and league-leading fifth of the season. The Predators made it 39-34 on the first play of the fourth, a 22-yard run by Thompkins.
Jackson caught his fifth touchdown, this one from 17 yards, on the Storm's next drive to push the lead to 45-34.
Tampa Bay took its first lead, at 26-21, with 1:51 to go in the second quarter after Hippeard connected with Jackson on a 13-yard touchdown. Jackson's touchdown was the third of three straight scores for the Storm after falling behind 21-6.
But Orlando scored on the last play of the half, Carr's 14-yard touchdown catch from Boltus, to take a 28-26 advantage into the break.