Sunday, July 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Storm

Storm loses opener to Cleveland

TAMPA — The season started the way the last one ended.

Tampa Bay opened its Arena Football League season with a 60-44 loss to Cleveland on Friday night in front of 9,727 at Amalie Arena.

The Gladiators ended the Storm's 2014 year with a 56-49 loss that knocked Tampa Bay out of playoff contention.

The loss was the Storm's fifth consecutive dating to last season. Three of those defeats have come against Cleveland, the defending American Conference champion.

The Storm was its own worst enemy Friday. It coughed up the ball four times, and all four turnovers led to Cleveland touchdowns. Quarterback Jason Boltus lost two fumbles, was sacked four times and threw an interception.

"If we correct those mistakes, we go toe-to-toe with them," Storm coach Lawrence Samuels said.

Cleveland opened a 7-all game in the first half thanks to the Storm miscues.

Collin Taylor hauled in a 29-yard touchdown pass to put the Gladiators up 13-7 in the first quarter. Kendrick Ings fumbled on the Storm's next possession, and five plays later, Cleveland made it 19-7 on a 24-yard Andrae Thurman touchdown catch.

Willie McGinnis then stripped Boltus inside the Tampa Bay 5-yard line. Joe Phinisee pounced on the loose ball in the end zone for a 25-7 Gladiators lead.

Tampa Bay cut its deficit to 25-21 on a 28-yard Ings TD catch in the second quarter, but two more Cleveland touchdowns — sandwiched around a Boltus fumble — made it 39-21 at the half.

Tampa Bay never got closer than 16 the rest of the way.

"It really was a low point in the game for us," Samuels said. "I was looking forward to trying to get a score back before the half. We had a little protection problem there and got the ball knocked out."

Boltus, making his Storm debut, finished 30-of-54 for 383 yards and six TDs. T.T. Toliver led the team in receiving, with 12 receptions for 161 yards and three scores. Toliver has 989 career catches, two shy of Barry Wagner for fourth on the league's all-time list. Jarvis Williams had 11 receptions for 121 yards and two TDs.

Gladiator wideout and former USF standout Amarri Jackson, who played for the Storm in 2014, caught four passes for 51 yards and two touchdowns.

"I think it was first-game jitters and we got the first one behind us," said Storm defensive back James Harrell, who intercepted a second-quarter pass. "We'll be ready for Round 2. This was the first round."

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