Sunday, May 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Storm

Storm's turnaround puts it in playoff hunt

TAMPA — What a difference a month makes.

The Storm was reeling May 17 after losing 62-43 on the road to Philadelphia, Tampa Bay's fifth consecutive defeat. That put the team at 4-6 and sinking rapidly in the Arena League's American Conference.

"As coaches, we just stayed positive," Storm coach Lawrence Samuels said.

"There are always going to be tough times during a season. We just had to get back to doing the things we believe in as an organization."

Four wins in as many weeks later, Tampa Bay finds itself right back in the thick of things. The Storm will look to make it five wins in a row tonight against South Division leader Orlando when it hosts the Predators.

"These young guys are learning to deal with adversity," Samuels said. "They have been down in some of these games (during the winning streak) and have overcome it. It has been enjoyable to watch."

The play of QB Randy Hippeard has been a big reason for the Storm's turnaround. Hippeard has a 62 percent completion rate during the win streak with 24 touchdowns and five interceptions. Hippeard's numbers have been good but his moxie has been better.

Hippeard was twice knocked out of the June 7 home game against Philadelphia. At one point, he was carried to the sideline by two Storm linemen before returning to throw three fourth-quarter touchdowns in the team's 56-49 victory.

"The guys really rallied around him after that," Samuels said. "The team believes in him. The coaches believe in him. He's been phenomenal the last four weeks and it's a credit to his determination and leadership."

But Hippeard hasn't had the lone hand in the turnaround. Tampa Bay's defense has come up with some huge stops of late, including a pair of goal-line stands against Philadelphia and another against Iowa last week. Following a Storm interception in overtime against the Barnstormers, Tampa Bay's defense forced a turnover on downs, setting up an 11-yard Hippeard scoring run to win 62-56.

"It really hasn't been just one phase of defense, it's been a collective effort," Samuels said. "They are playing for one another and that's a big thing."

Playoffs: With consecutive wins against Philadelphia (6-7) and Iowa (6-7), the Storm is a game up on both teams in the wild-card race and holds the tiebreaker against both. The division winners in each conference, along with teams holding the next two best records, regardless of division, advance to the postseason.

Magic number: The Storm's 62 points against Iowa was the second time in three games it has scored at least 60. The Storm is 4-1 this season when it reaches that mark.

Garcia Returns: Former Jefferson High and South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia re-signed with the team. This is Garcia's second Storm stint this season. He appeared in one game (1-of-4, 6 yards) and was released in April. To make room, QB Sammuel Lamur was released.