TAMPA — Not much has separated Tampa Bay and Orlando through the years. Saturday night was no exception.
Quarterback Randy Hippeard punched in the go-ahead score on fourth down and defensive back Rod Issac picked off a pass with less than a minute to play as the Storm won its fifth in a row, 35-34 over the Predators in front of 11,890 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"This one was particularly big," Hippeard said. "(Orlando has) pretty much owned the South (Division) this year. Coming into our house, we didn't want that to happen to us."
Tampa Bay matched its longest winning streak since 2010. It trails the all-time series 28-27.
"I told you we were bringing back that old South Division rivalry," Storm coach Lawrence Samuels said. "The guys responded well."
The win made Tampa Bay 8-6, tied with Orlando for first in the division. The Predators, by virtue of their two wins over the Storm this year, hold the tiebreaker.
The Storm holds a two-game lead over Philadelphia and Iowa for the American Conference's final wild-card spot. Friday it travels to 12-1 Cleveland and faces it again July 26. The Storm's other remaining games are at San Jose (9-4) and at Spokane (7-7).
"This game really meant something toward the playoffs and the future," defensive back James Harrell said. "We felt we had to get that one."
The Storm, which twice had been turned away at the goal line, was in danger of making it three times when it trailed 34-28 in the fourth. But Hippeard (25-of-38, 220 yards, two touchdowns) dropped back on fourth and goal from the 3-yard line, found open space and dived into the left corner of the end zone with 3:12 to play.
"They were grabbing us all night, and they did it again," Hippeard said. "I saw the crease and saw the goal line; just had to dive to make sure we got in there."
The Predators took over at their 13. But Harrell drilled Larry Brackins across the middle, and Isaac hauled in a deflection with 51 seconds left to seal the win.
Tampa Bay blew two chances to seize control of the game in the second half following Orlando turnovers. Hippeard was stuffed on a fourth-down sneak from the 1, and Joe Hills (10 catches, 81 yards, one touchdown) fumbled at the goal line on fourth down.
"But the defense stepped up big," Samuels said.
The Storm recorded a sack for the fifth straight game. Lineman Uriah Grant recovered a fumble, and Tampa Bay picked off three passes, including a pair by Harrell. The graduate of Tampa's Plant High has five interceptions over the past five games.
The 34 points were Orlando's fewest of the year and the fewest the Storm has allowed this year.
Said Samuels: "It was a good defensive Arena Football game."