If there was any doubt Chris Smith is the Storm's defensive MVP, it was erased Saturday night.
Without Smith, who had six interceptions in five games, the Storm suffered greatly and lost 77-65 in Orlando. Tampa Bay did not stop Orlando until the closing minutes and by then it was too late.
Jason Boltus threw for nine touchdowns, four to former FSU receiver Greg Carr. Orlando won the battle for first place in the South Division, going to 4-2 while the Storm dropped their second straight and are 3-3.
Tampa Bay was stopped on its first possession but scored on the final play of the first half, a Randy Hippeard strike to T.T. Toliver, and then opened the third quarter with a TD to make it a 41-39 game.
It looked like the next team with a stop would get the win, and Tampa Bay had every chance but faltered in the pivotal sequence of the night. Boltus threw three straight incompletions -- more than he had all night -- and Orlando faced a 4th-and-11 from its 2-yard line. Boltus threw up a desperation ball that had little chance of being complete, but Storm DB Rod Isaac practically tackled Greg Carr for a pass interference call.
Instead of the Storm having the ball on the doorstep down a point, Orlando wen ton to score on a 2nd-and-30 pplay. Then Orlando chose to try and onside kick and it paid off, with a recovery and ensuing TD for a 61-46 advantage.
Hippeard ended up wtih some gaudy stats, 380 yards passing and nine TDs, five of them going to T.T. Toliver who caught 12 passes for 136 yards.
Joe Hills had five catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns but was ejected late in the first along with an Orlando player for a fight.
Greg Carr had 145 yards receiving and four TD for the Predators, who got six catches, 132 yards and three scores from former Hurricanes WR Kendrel Thompkins.
The Storm actually had a chance to make it a one-score game after the first stop, as a Michael Lindsey TD catch cut the deficit to 10 in the final minute. But on the two-point conversion try Carr, fittingly, picked off the ball and ran it back for two points of his own.