TAMPA — The biggest crowd of the season showed up Saturday for the Storm game, many still buzzing from victories by the Lightning and Rays earlier in the day and looking for a sweep from Tampa Bay area teams. But for the third time in as many home games, Storm fans left the St. Pete Times Forum disappointed.
Tampa Bay came unglued just before halftime and the sloppy play carried into the third quarter as Dallas defeated the Storm 67-61 before 12,226.
"It's frustrating, but I thought the guys fought until the very end," coach Dave Ewart said. "We've got some things to clean up, and I'm not sure how we're going to do that right now."
The Storm's early second-half struggles continued. Tampa Bay has yet to top seven points in any third quarter this season and has been outscored 86-26.
"I don't know what it is and why we're having trouble in the third," Ewart said.
The Storm looked like it might buck its trend of third-quarter woes, recovering a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half. Four plays later, Grant Gregory (24-of-42 for 275 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions) found Huey Whittaker (15 catches, 195 yards, five touchdowns) on a 4-yard score to make it 34-33 Storm.
But Dallas reeled off 20 consecutive points, punctuated by Dusty Bear's recovery in the end zone on another botched kickoff. The Storm did not get closer than 12 points until Michael Lindsey caught a 33-yard TD on the game's final play.
"They scored two (touchdowns) off special teams and another from their defense," Ewart said. "We just gave them those 21 points."
Tampa Bay scored on its first four possessions, including a pair of TD strikes from Gregory to Whittaker. Fullback Eric Ortiz's 1-yard TD run gave the Storm its biggest margin of the half at 27-12 with 6:26 to play.
But after Derrick Ross' 2-yard TD plunge, Gregory threw interceptions on consecutive possessions. The first was a botched screen that Dallas defensive lineman Justin Warren returned 15 yards for a TD to cut the Storm lead to 27-26.
On the next possession, Gregory was again intercepted. Tampa Bay's defense held, and Remy Hamilton's 44-yard field goal try caromed off the crossbar, but Greg Ryan recovered in the end zone to make it 33-27 Dallas.
"That took all of our momentum away," Ewart said. "I mean, we get the stop and the guy misses the field goal then that happens."