TAMPA — It began with Jacksonville. And Saturday night, it ended with Jacksonville.
Randy Hippeard tossed six touchdowns in his return and Tampa Bay snapped its five-game losing streak against the team that initiated the skid, defeating the Sharks 56-35 in front of a season-high 12,501 on Saturday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"We had every right to go out there and fold when things weren't going our way," Storm coach Lawrence Samuels said. "But the guys really responded and paid attention to detail like we always preach."
The Storm, which hadn't won since 63-49 over Philadelphia on April 4, improved to 4-6 and took sole possession of second place in the South Division. Tampa Bay also picked up a game on first-place Orlando (6-4), a 62-61 loser at home to Pittsburgh.
Tampa Bay sits a game behind Philadelphia and Iowa for the American Conference's second wild card with eight weeks left in the regular season. Friday, the Storm faces 2-7 New Orleans, whom it beat 62-57 in the season opener.
"We've had a couple bad breaks here and there this season," Hippeard said. "We're definitely way better than our record shows."
Hippeard, who missed last week's 62-34 loss to Philadelphia with a left knee injury, finished 21-of-29 for 255 yards.
"My knee was a little stiff, but I'll get over it," said Hippeard, a second-year player out of Division II Virginia-Wise.
"Our backs were against the wall. We came out fighting and throwing haymakers."
Tampa Bay also got key plays from defensive back James Harrell. The graduate of Tampa's Plant High recovered a mishandled kickoff in the end zone on the final play of the first half to give the Storm a 42-21 lead. (It came after T.T. Tolliver caught a 26-yard touchdown pass with one second left.)
Harrell also picked off a third-quarter pass, which led to Dexter Jackson's 1-yard touchdown run that made it 56-28.
"The kick by Juan (Bongarra) off the bar was huge," Samuels said of Harrell's touchdown. "The guys went down there, hustled, got that play.
"And then it just snowballed on (Jacksonville)."
Tampa Bay was nearly flawless on offense in the first half, scoring on all five possessions. Hippeard delivered two touchdowns to Joe Hills (five catches, 74 yards, three touchdowns), a pair to Tolliver (seven catches, 81 yards, two touchdowns) and one to Alfred McCullough (his only catch of the game).
"I think Randy played with a lot of poise and let the game come to him," Samuels said. "I think he matured over the time he was off."