TAMPA — The Storm has traditionally had a rivalry with Orlando, but the newest in-state Arena League team is quickly becoming its biggest headache.
Tampa Bay looked crisp early but struggled as Friday's game wore on, and it lost to American Conference South Division rival Jacksonville for the third time in as many tries going back to last season, 54-30 before an announced crowd of 10,304 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"You can't score six points in the second half and expect to win," coach Dave Ewart said. "Not in this league."
Unlike last week against Utah, when the Storm didn't score an offensive touchdown until 13 seconds were left in the first half, Tampa Bay (1-3) wasted little time Friday. Quarterback Grant Gregory marched the Storm down the field on its first possession and on the fifth play of the drive hit Huey Whittaker (eight catches, 85 yards, two touchdowns) for a 4-yard score.
"Grant's starting to see (the game) a little faster now," Ewart said. "It's only his second game, and I thought he did okay."
After Jacksonville (3-1) turned the ball over on downs at its 9-yard line on its first possession, Gregory (27-of-32, 285 yards, four touchdowns) found fellow USF alum Amarri Jackson in the corner of the end zone for a leaping catch to make it 14-0.
Early in the second quarter, Tampa Bay led 21-6.
"We came out pretty hot in that first half," Gregory said. "I was much more comfortable (than against Utah), but I left some things out on the field."
The Storm scored on its first four drives and led 24-20 with 5:44 left in the half. But Jacksonville quarterback Aaron Garcia gave his team its first lead when he hit Jomo Wilson for a 12-yard touchdown with 12 seconds left to give the Sharks a 26-24 halftime lead.
Tampa Bay had a chance to take the lead when former Gator Wondy Pierre Louis picked off Garcia at the Sharks' 9-yard line 37 seconds into the second half. But the Storm's offense couldn't capitalize, and Kyle Chilton missed his second field-goal attempt of the game, this one from 24 yards.
"Our kicker left points out there (Friday)," Ewart said. "Inexcusable. … It's unacceptable."
The tide turned significantly with Jacksonville ahead 40-30 with 2:48 left in the third quarter. Storm receiver Michael Lindsey caught a screen pass but was stripped of the ball, and Jacksonville recovered.
On the next play from scrimmage, Sharks fullback Kirby Griffin rumbled in from 8 yards out on the final play of the quarter to put the Sharks up 47-30.
With starting nose tackle Richard Clebert inactive because of a knee injury sustained Wednesday at practice, the Storm had trouble getting pressure on Garcia. For the first time this season, Tampa Bay did not record a sack. Jacksonville had three.
"We were down a guy (Friday), but that wasn't an excuse," Ewart said. "We didn't have much of a pass rush. It's kind of hard to ask your DBs to play man-to-man with no pass rush."
Storm receiver Hank Edwards finished with team highs in catches (nine) and yards (93) and caught a touchdown.