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ArenaBowl redux: Predators rout Storm

Tampa Bay is eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by old nemesis and defending champ Orlando.

The site, the opponent, the outcome _ it was like a nightmare suddenly come to life for the Storm.

Tampa Bay spent all season putting distance between itself and last season's 62-31 ArenaBowl loss to Orlando. And seemingly, with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, it could not have been in better position to add even more space between it and the memory.

And then Saturday night.

The Storm's 41-19 first-round playoff loss to Orlando before 10,706 at the Ice Palace featured nothing short of a collapse. Tampa Bay _ which, like last season, beat the Predators twice during the regular season _ again was sent into the off-season searching for answers.

"There's gotta be something we can take away from this game as men that will help all of us," Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "We can't change the outcome of this event. We've got to search and figure out what (we) can take away from this disappointment. . "

Eighth-seeded Orlando scored all its points in the second half as the Storm (11-4) let a 10-0 first-half lead dissolve.

Adding a twist to the Arena League's most intense rivalry: Orlando (8-7) rallied around quarterback Connell Maynor, a backup to Orlando coach Jay Gruden with the Storm from 1994-96. In just the second start of his career, Maynor threw four touchdowns and frustrated the Storm's pass rush with his mobility.

A usual Storm strength _ line play _ was a weakness. Tampa Bay registered just one sack and allowed five, four in the second half.

"It all starts with defensive pressure," Gruden said. "Defensively, we kept our intensity, and that's what it takes."

Storm quarterback Peter Tom Willis, who had six interceptions in last year's championship game, threw three this time, two in the second half.

"I'm as disappointed as you can be," he said. "But you've got to stand up and take it. I'm the quarterback, and we lost the game."

Maynor fueled Orlando's second-half revival after a first half that went into the books as the lowest scoring in post-season. He hooked up with Barry Wagner for a pair of third-quarter scores. The second, a 33-yarder, gave the Predators their first lead, 14-13 at the 6:20 mark.

Early in the fourth quarter, the duo took over where it left off. Wagner again got a step on Storm defensive specialist Tommy Henry and made a diving grab of a 33-yard pass as Orlando went up 21-13.

The breaks seemed to snowball on Orlando's side.

Case in point was the touchdown that put the Predators up 28-13.

Ty Law advanced a reception from Maynor to the Storm 5, where Tampa Bay's Stevie Thomas hit the receiver from behind. The ball bounced forward out of Law's hands into the grasp of Orlando receiver Jack Jackson.

"I could never have imagined the way it went tonight," said receiver Charles Wilson, who had a touchdown catch in the first quarter.

Tampa Bay pulled within 28-19 on Les Barley's 2-yard run with 5:32 left.

Jackson's second touchdown, a 12-yard catch from Maynor with 1:34 to play, gave Orlando a 35-19 lead.