The Tampa Bay Storm got off to a winning start Friday when they edged South Division rival New Orleans 62-57 at the Times Forum. It was the head coaching debut of Lawrence Samuels.
Justin Hilton had nine catches for 147 yards and four touchdowns and Randy Hippeard, who won the starting job over Stephen Garcia, threw for six scores.
But it was a defensive play that swung the advantage towards the Storm. Chris Smith recovered a Ryan Perilloux fumble and took it 42 yards giving Tampa Bay the valuable two-score lead, 55-45 with 11:33 left. New Orleans never got the ball back with a chance to go on top.
Andrew Helmick's 29-yard TD catch on 3rd-and-10 with 4:33 remaining was also big. New Orleans did get a score in the final minute but Tampa Bay's Amarri Jackson easily recovered the onsides kick. Then thanks to a lost timeout when Voo Doo head coach Pat O'Hara challenged the Perilloux fumble, the Storm were able to run out the clock.
Hippeard had a shaky start with interceptions, both by Eddie Moten, on his first two drives. But Tampa Bay's defense ended the first drive with a Richard Clebert sack, and Mike Lindsey -- subbing in for one play to give a teammate a breather -- made an interception to stop the second Voo Doo possession.
Hilton's first TD, a 15-yard burst by new fullback Dexter Jackson and a key play, Rod Issac's fumble recovery on a kickoff, gave the Storm a 20-7 lead.
However New Orleans got momentum late in the first half, scoring on a 32-yard touchdown pass with one second left to pull within 34-31. New Orleans took the lead early in the third quarter on a 37-yard TD catch by L.J. Castille, who went for 169 yards on 10 catches with four touchdowns.
Voo Doo starting quarterback Kurt Rocco injured his shoulder on a running play in the third though, turning it over to Arena rookie Perriloux.
Lindsey had a highlight TD catch from his backside and Jackson, making his Tampa Bay return after two years with other squads, was second on the team with four receptions after having none in the first half.
Twins Chris and Donald Smith played well as the Storm's revamped defensive backfield featured hard hitting throughout.
The game aired on WDAE. It included a pregame tribute to legendary Storm head coach Tim Marcum, who passed away last year. Every team will wear a "TM" sticker on its helmets this season in honor of Marcum.
Tampa Bay is at San Antonio next Friday.