Turnovers, fights mar Storm loss to Orlando
TAMPA - This certainly isn't the way Tampa Bay hoped to be entering the Arena Football League postseason. Though their position in the American Conference playoff picture was cemented Friday when Jacksonville knocked off Spokane to clinch the South Division title and the conference's top seed, the Storm still had a chance Saturday to grab some momentum heading into the postseason against rival Orlando. However, the Predators (8-8) are the ones entering the postseason on a positive note after defeating Tampa Bay 75-60 at the Forum. The Storm (11-5) must recover quickly before next Saturday's first-round playoff showdown at Tulsa. Three Tampa Bay turnovers and an efficient Orlando offense, which scored on its first 11 possessions behind quarterback Nick Hill (19-for-26, 284 yards, eight touchdowns), was the recipe for disaster for the Storm. Tampa Bay trailed by 21 points after the first quarter and never recovered.It was an ugly scene off the field just before halftime, however, that took away from anything that transpired on it. With 41 seconds remaining in the second quarter a skirmish broke out about 10 rows behind the team benches that involved fans and Orlando players Bobby Sippio and Julius Wilson. Both players entered the stands following an Orlando touchdown and were immediately ejected from the game when order was restored. It wasn't clear if any fans also were ejected, though at least one was escorted away from his seat by law enforcement. According to Predators director of communications Adam Soucie, who spoke to both players, Wilson and Sippio went into the stands in defense of Wilson's father, who they claimed was being assaulted by other fans. Wilson was viewed striking at least one fan in the face. The players were being interviewed by police in the team's locker room during the game and were unavailable for comment. There were no arrests made after the game, according to Storm media relations director Jim Robinson. Storm quarterback Brett Dietz finished 32 of 49 for 398 yards and six touchdowns but also threw a season-high three interceptions, two coming on consecutive possessions in the first quarter. Orlando capitalized quickly on each one, with Hill finding receiver T.T. Toliver for a scoring pass on the first play from scrimmage following each turnover. Dietz's third interception was on Tampa Bay's opening possession of the second half, and Hill again capped the drive with a touchdown pass to Toliver, who finished with nine receptions for 123 yards and six touchdowns. Tampa Bay receiver DeAndrew Rubin set single-game franchise records with 17 receptions and 245 receiving yards.
Reporter Adam Adkins can be reached at (813) 259-7616.