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Storm buries Pharaohs 68-32

Before Saturday night's Arena League game at the ThunderDome, Tampa Bay owner Woody Kern guaranteed fans the Storm would beat Memphis, promising them a free ticket to the team's next home game if it did not.

Buy your own tickets, Storm fans.

Tampa Bay used six first-half touchdowns to roll past Memphis 68-32, breaking a two-game losing skid and snapping a two-game winning streak by the Pharaohs.

"These guys played a great game," Kern said. "It got me off the hook."

A crowd of 14,209, though, didn't go home empty-handed: Because Tampa Bay scored 60 or more points and won, everyone received a free cruise-line pass on the way out.

The waters had been rocky lately for the Storm, which went scoreless in the fourth quarter while losing its past two games.

Had the Storm lost, it would have marked the first time in the franchise's five seasons that it had dropped three straight, and the first time a Tim Marcum-coached Arena League team had lost three in a row.

Instead, George LaFrance caught four of Jay Gruden's five touchdown passes, Tony Jones ran for two touchdowns and Marcum notched his 60th Arenaball victory as the Storm improved to 5-2. Memphis fell to 4-3.

"It's great to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter," said Marcum, whose club got three of them.

LaFrance pulled in his final TD pass, a 4-yarder, with 33 seconds remaining, sending Storm fans off to the high seas.

"That was our whole goal," LaFrance said. "To play a complete game."

The secondary also concerned Marcum all week.

Eddie Brown is out for the season with a knee injury. Tracy Sanders but did not dress, to allow his dislocated shoulder to continue healing, and Wayne Williams' elbow injury kept him out Saturday.

That left a secondary of Corey Dowden (slowed by an ankle sprain), Tracey Perkins and Tony Harris for Memphis to exploit, which it did early on.

On its opening drive, Memphis moved through the defense as if it weren't there. Three passes, three completions, one touchdown _ a 17-yarder from Troy Kopp to virtually uncovered Darren Hughes.

Another of Marcum's concerns: the Storm's passing game. It was ranked 10th among 13 Arena League teams, and Gruden was intercepted three times in last week's loss to Las Vegas.

So the Storm relied on its running game to produce four of its first five touchdowns, and that opened up the passing game.

Fullback Cedric McKinnon rumbled 22 yards to answer Hughes' touchdown. And after a 40-yard field goal by Memphis' Brian Lee, Jones, McKinnon's backup, barreled in from 8 yards.

Ivan Caesar recovered a fumble to get the ball back again late in the opening quarter, and the Storm converted early in the second to go up 20-10 when Gruden recovered Jones' fumble in the end zone on what was to have been a short run up the middle.

Tampa Bay and Memphis then traded touchdown passes, with Gruden throwing 14 yards to newly acquired Grantis Bell three plays after a fumble recovery by McKinnon, and Kopp hooking up on an 11-yard throw to former Storm receiver Bret Cooper.

Before the half was over, Jones scored his second touchdown on an 8-yard run set up by Gruden's 30-yard completion to LaFrance, and Gruden threw 30 yards again to LaFrance for a touchdown of his own. Jorge Cimadevilla kicked his fourth of six extra-point attempts after LaFrance's TD, and Tampa Bay led 40-18.

LaFrance also had second-half scoring catches of 13 and 6 yards, and finished with seven catches for 104 yards; Stevie Thomas returned an interception for Tampa Bay's final TD.

"Everybody," said Gruden, who was 17-of-26 for 252 yards, "has to feel good about this one."

Kern should certainly agree.

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