TAMPA — The last time the Storm took the field, it fumbled while trying to run out the clock and watched as Orlando scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 50 seconds to steal a victory.
Friday night against Philadelphia, there was no such drama.
Tampa Bay led wire to wire and pulled away from Philadelphia in the third quarter, defeating the two-time defending American Conference champions 63-49 in front of 11,102 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The 63 points were a season high, and the victory improved the Storm to 3-1. It also moved Tampa Bay into a first-place tie with Orlando in the South Division and helped to ease some of the sting from last week's 56-52 loss to the Predators.
"Last week left a bitter taste in our mouth," said Storm quarterback Randy Hippeard, who threw seven touchdown passes. "The line gave me all day to throw the ball, and receivers were breaking open and making plays on the ball."
Tampa Bay seized control late in the third quarter. Former USF receiver Amarri Jackson hauled in the second of his three touchdown catches of the game (14 yards) to put the Storm ahead 42-28 at the 8:08 mark of the quarter.
Tampa Bay forced a turnover on downs on the ensuing Soul possession, and two plays later, Hippeard connected with Justin Hilton in the back corner of the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown and a 49-28 lead with 3:36 left in the third.
Tampa Bay scored on every first-half possession it had except one, taking a 35-21 lead into the break. Hippeard tossed four scoring passes in the half to different receivers. On defense, lineman Richard Clebert, another former Bull, recovered a fumble to stop a Soul drive, and the Storm also forced a turnover on downs.
"Our defense played lights out," Storm coach Lawrence Samuels said.
Chris Smith continued making splash plays for the Storm, accounting for Tampa Bay's other first-half touchdown. The second-year defensive back got his league-best sixth interception of the season and returned an errant onside kick 5 yards for a TD to put the Storm up 21-7.
"Chris is playing at a very high level right now," Samuels said. "Any time he's playing like that, it's a plus for our defense."
Hippeard finished 22-for-35 for 276 yards and the seven touchdowns. Jackson, the reigning Arena Football League offensive player of the week, had 10 catches and 143 yards. Hilton caught six passes for 59 yards and two scores. Samuel Tranks had four catches for 57 yards and a touchdown.
Tampa Bay's next game is April 11 at Jacksonville.