HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — It's not often that an Arena Football League game is decided in the first half.
But after a near-perfect opening 30 minutes Friday against the Alabama Vipers, the Tampa Bay Storm made the final two quarters at the Von Braun Center a moot point.
Well, as moot as a point can be in the AFL.
The Storm scored on all five of its first-half possessions and, perhaps more importantly for its long-term success, forced three turnovers. That led to a 21-point lead at halftime and eventual 61-55 victory in front of an announced crowd of 5,994.
Cliff Dukes' recovery of an onside kick with 25 seconds to play sealed the game for Tampa Bay, which until that time had not led by fewer than 13 points in the second half.
"We played pretty well in the first half," said Storm coach Tim Marcum, whose team has won four in a row and five of its past six. "Of course, we've got to keep it close. We can't stand prosperity. Then again, a win's a win."
The turnovers were a particular bright spot for the Storm (6-3), which came into the game near the bottom of the AFL in turnover margin.
Erick McIntosh picked off quarterback Kevin Eakin on the Vipers' opening possession, leading to an 11-yard touchdown pass from Brett Dietz to Hank Edwards. Then, two plays after a Michael Hawthorne fumble recovery, Dietz found DeAndrew Rubin from 13 yards out for a 13-0 lead.
Leading 27-14 late in the second quarter, Hawthorne came up big again. Using every bit of his 6-foot-3 frame, the linebacker stretched to snag another Eakin pass at the Alabama 11-yard line and ran unimpeded into the end zone.
Alabama (5-5) never quite recovered. The Vipers trailed by double figures for almost the entire game, but a missed field goal and a 38-yard Eakin touchdown pass to Larry Shipp left them a touchdown and extra point from a win with 26.7 seconds to go.
Brian Jackson's onside attempt, however, had no bounce and Dukes pounced.
"That bad start was tough to overcome, especially against a quality team," Alabama coach Dean Cokinos said. "Tampa Bay may be the best team we've played. They seem to be putting it all together right now."
Dietz finished 20-of-36 for 258 yards and six touchdowns. Edwards led the way with six receptions for 112 yards and a pair of touchdowns.