TAMPA — So far, so good for Lawrence Samuels.
The first-year coach and former Storm star earned his first career win in his debut as Tampa Bay defeated South Division rival New Orleans 62-57 in its season opener before a crowd of 10,370 Friday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"This was a confidence booster for the guys," Samuels said. "We faced some adversity and came through to win the game."
It was the first career victory for quarterback Randy Hippeard, who went 0-4 as a starter last season. The victory also helped to erase some of the bad memories left from an eight-game Storm losing skid to end 2013.
"It feels good to get that first one," Hippeard said. "I think we played well offensively, and it's always good to get that first win, especially for Coach Samuels."
Hippeard finished 18-for-27 for 288 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. Justin Hilton was Hippeard's main target, recording team highs in receptions (nine), yards (147) and TDs (four). "Justin came in a couple games after me last year, and we've had a connection ever since," Hippeard said.
All-Arena receiver Joe Hills, who set franchise records for receptions (133), receiving yards (1,861), receiving touchdowns (42) and points scored (262) in 2013, did not dress but is expected back next week.
The play of the game came with 11:12 to play. VooDoo backup quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, who went in for injured starter Kurt Rocco midway through the third quarter, attempted a sneak on fourth and 1. But the ball squirted loose, and defensive back Chris Smith returned it 42 yards for a TD, giving the Storm a two-score lead at 55-45.
Hippeard threw interceptions on the Storm's first two possessions but bounced back to finish the first half 9-for-14 for 146 yards and three TDs, all to Hilton. Tampa Bay's defense forced a turnover on downs thanks to a Richard Clebert sack and picked off two passes, and Rod Issac recovered a fumbled kickoff in the end zone for a TD, helping the Storm to a 34-31 halftime lead.
Michael Lindsey and Smith each had an interception for the Storm. Uriah Grant and Clebert finished with a sack apiece.
The night started with a tribute to former Storm coach Tim Marcum, who died in December. Storm radio's Jack Harris, team president Derrick Brooks and AFL commissioner Jerry Kurz spoke. It was announced that all teams will wear a "TM" sticker on their helmets this season and there will be a moment of silence before each game on opening weekend. In addition, there was a video tribute, and a banner honoring Marcum was hung in Section 128.
"I give credit to Derrick Brooks and the organization for putting on a display like that," Samuels said. "(Marcum's) legacy will stand forever."