CLEVELAND — Randy Hippeard threw for six touchdowns, including on three straight fourth-quarter possessions to keep a two-score advantage, and the Storm won their season opener 46-40 over Cleveland on Saturday night.
Dexter Jackson's sack to end the third quarter gave the Storm a stop, the only for either team in the second half. Hippeard made it stand up by squeezing in a 6-yard touchdown pass to Kendrick Ings for a 32-21 lead.
Tampa Bay answered the next two Gladiators scores, with Hippeard pulling a Houdini on the game clincher. After Cleveland pulled within 39-28 in the final minute, Alvin Ray Jackson recovered the onside kick. On third down, Hippeard was about to be sacked but managed to flip a 6-yard scoring pass to Lamark Brown, who did a spin move to get open.
Joe Hills caught three touchdown passes, including a big one with 10 seconds left in the first half to put Tampa Bay ahead 19-14. Cleveland did take a 21-19 lead early in the second before Tampa Bay got a Brown touchdown and the big stop. Brown led Storm receivers with nine catches for 121 yards.
Hippeard went 22-of-31 for 205 yards after a slow start that included an interception in the end zone. The only first-quarter points came on Storm defensive lineman Caesar Rayford's 4-yard interception return.
Tampa Bay hosts defending Arena champ Philadelphia next Saturday at 7 p.m.