TAMPA — Little has separated Tampa Bay and Orlando since the War on I-4 began in 1991.
Saturday's game was no exception. And it finished in wild fashion.
Two fourth-quarter fumbles by the Storm proved costly as the Predators won 55-48 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in front of an announced 14,041, the largest home crowd of the season.
"I'm not down on the guys because the effort was there," Storm coach Dave Ewart said. "But we can't keep making the same mistakes. It's like running over poop on a bicycle tire. It just keeps coming back."
The Predators' win, just their third of the season, evened the all-time series at 26. This marks the fourth straight time the teams have split the season series. (The Storm won 53-35 at Orlando on April 20.)
The loss leaves the Storm 7-5 and second in the South Division. First-place Jacksonville entered its game at Spokane late Saturday 8-3.
Tampa Bay got back into the game after it appeared Orlando had it locked up. Up 55-48, a minute to play and with the ball at the Storm 2, Aaron Garcia threw into the end zone. Rashad Barksdale picked it off and returned it to the Storm 4.
After a short gain and an incompletion, Adrian McPherson hit Jason Chery with a pass along the left boards. Chery broke a tackle and crossed midfield. But the rookie fumbled while fighting for extra yards, and the Predators recovered. Orlando then ran out the clock.
"You've got to understand the situation and know where you're at," Ewart said. "But it's not all on him. It's a team loss."
Orlando (3-8) took the first two-score lead of the game after another Tampa Bay miscue. Joe Hills, who caught all three of his touchdowns during the first half, was stripped at the Tampa Bay 14, and Simeon Castille pounced on the loose ball. Garcia hit former Storm wideout Prechae Rodriguez from 3 yards out three plays later for a 48-35 lead with 11:57 left in the game.
In addition to Hills' and Chery's fumbles, the receiving corps dropped several passes. The Storm is missing Greg Ellingson, currently with Hamilton of the Canadian Football League, and Michael Lindsey was ejected from the game during the third quarter for his role in a fight.
"We have to get better (at receiver)," Ewart said. "If (Lindsey) doesn't get kicked out of the game, maybe (Chery) isn't in that situation. But there should have been other guys in there at that time."
McPherson finished 24-of-41 for 314 yards and seven touchdowns. Hills caught 11 passes for 103 yards, and Lindsey had five catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. Rodriguez caught 11 passes for 147 yards and five touchdowns.