A late turnover cost the Storm a chance at what would have been their most impressive victory of the season. Tampa Bay fell 48-41 at conference-leading Cleveland on Friday.
Tampa Bay had overcome a 27-14 halftime deficit to tie the game, but could never take the lead. Down 41-34 with three minutes left and driving for a possible tying score instead Tampa Bay turned it over, with Amarri Jackson fumbling.
Cleveland's Shane Austin threw his fifth touchdown pass after the one-minute mark, and although Joe Hills caught his third TD of the game in response for Tampa Bay the onside kick was recovered by Cleveland.
The Gladiators are 13-1 and in line for the top seed in the American Conference, while Friday's loss increased the likelihood the Storm may have to settle for Wild Card entry into the Arena playoffs. That would probably mean a repeat trip to Cleveland.
Tampa Bay is 8-7 with three games left, the next two at tough teams San Jose and Spokane after a bye. Saturday's Philadelphia-Iowa winner will close to within a game but the Storm have the tiebreaker over both teams.
Cleveland looked to have taken control of the game when, with the Storm aiming for a possible halftime lead, LaRoche Jackson returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown at the buzzer putting his team up 27-14.
But Tampa Bay was not deterred, getting long TD catches from T.T. Toliver and Jackson around Darian Payne's fumble recovery to have the game tied midway through the third quarter.
Randy Hippeard threw for five touchdowns, three to Hills to lead the Tampa Bay offense.
Jean Fanor made several big plays on defense, grabbing an early interception, making a key hit on fourth down in the fourth quarter, and forcing a fumble on a third quarter kickoff that Cleveland barely recovered.