TAMPA — It took 20 years in the Arena Football League before Lawrence Samuels won his first game as a head coach.
That’s because Samuels, who spent 17 AFL seasons as a player and two as an assistant coach, orchestrated his first game as a head coach Friday night at the Forum, leading the Tampa Bay Storm to a 62-57 victory against the visiting New Orleans VooDoo.
That makes Samuels 1-0 all-time and gives the Storm a season-opening victory for the first time since 2011 when it also defeated New Orleans.
If Samuels’ first victory is any indication, his Storm will be opportunistic and score in a variety of ways. On Friday, the Storm’s touchdowns included a fumble recovery on a kickoff in the end zone by Rod Isaac, a 42-yard fumble scoop and score by Chris Smith, and a 15-yard rush by 6-foot-2, 270-pound defensive end Dexter Jackson.
In a more traditional vein, Storm wide receiver Justin Hilton shined with nine catches for 147 yards and four touchdowns, including a first half that featured seven receptions, 104 yards and three touchdowns.
“We just want to keep it clicking,” Hilton said in a halftime interview over the loudspeakers to the announced crowd of 10,370. “We’ll make some adjustments and try to keep it clicking.”
In the second half, Hilton scored the Storm’s first TD on a 33-yard pass for a 41-38 lead. After that, Tampa Bay would trail only one more time before cruising to a win.
Storm starting quarterback Randy Hippeard, who went 0-4 as a starter last season, was solid on Friday after throwing two early interceptions.
Hippeard finished with 18 completions in 27 attempts for 288 yards and six touchdowns.
Receiver Joe Hills was held out Friday after offseason knee surgery.
Before kickoff, the team honored legendary Storm coach Tim Marcum, who passed away in December at age 69.