The Tampa Bay Storm hosts ArenaBowl XXIX Champion, Philadelphia Soul, in its 2017 home opener this Saturday, April 15 at AMALIE® Arena on AMALIE Motor Oil Field. The game will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network and will be streamed on the Lightning Power Play. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. EST.
This will be the 18th meeting between the Storm and the Soul, and the ninth in Tampa. Philadelphia leads the overall series 12-5, with the team’s latest win coming in the 2016 postseason, where the Storm fell to the Soul by a score of 63-41. The Storm holds a 4-4 record when hosting Philadelphia, with the last home win coming on June 7, 2014 when the Storm won 56-49.
The Storm enters this week’s matchup coming off a 46-40 win in the season opener versus the Cleveland Gladiators. The game marked the team’s first road win since the 2015 season, when the Storm defeated the Gladiators 52-48 in a week 13 matchup.
This past weekend was a full team win, with the offense and defense clicking on all cylinders. The Storm defense set the tone early, shutting out the Glads in the first quarter. Storm defensive lineman Caesar Rayford scored the first touchdown of the season, with a 4-yard interception return. He would finish the night with 4.0 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. Overall the Storm defense did a stellar job, with the offensive line recording 4.0 sacks on the night. For perspective, the Storm tallied a total of 8.0 sacks all season in 2016.
Offensively, the team was led by Randy Hippeard. After stalling on the first two drive, Hippeard began moving the ball up and down the field at will. He completed 71.0% (22-of-31) of his passes for 205 yards and six touchdowns. His top target of the night was LaMark Brown, who led all receivers with nine catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns. His teammate, Joe Hills also got in on the action, catching seven passes for 53 yards and a game-high three touchdowns. Hills now has a receiving touchdown in 69-consecutive regular season games.
This week, the Storm will face its toughest challenge when the team hosts the defending ArenaBowl Champion, Philadelphia Soul. The Soul returns to 2017 with limited roster turnover. Offensively the team is led by quarterback Dan Raudabaugh. Known for his quick release, the Storm defense will need to adjust its playing style if it wants to get stops and put pressure on the opposing offense.
Raudabaugh’s top targets, Darius Reynolds and Shaun Kauleinamoku, both return from 2016. Last year, Reynolds led the team with 112 catches for 1,447 yards and 38 touchdowns, while Kauleinamoku reeled in 99 passes for 1,304 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Soul will look different as it’s missing two All-Arena talents. Philadelphia will be without All-Arena selection, and Defensive Lineman of the Year, Jake Metz who recently signed with the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League. Metz led the League with 9.0 sacks in 2016. Also missing from the defensive backfield is All-Arena selection, and Defensive Back of the Year, Tracy Belton. Belton, who led the League with nine interceptions in 2016, was acquired by the Washington Valor this past offseason.
While the AFL season is young, there is new life running through the Storm and it feels like there is a new day in Tampa Bay. The team is coming off what could be considered a momentum building win. It will face a tough test in week two, but fans can be sure that the team will be up for the challenge.