Orlando made it a point to upgrade its defense this offseason and the unit didn’t disappoint in its debut. The Predators put forth a stifling defensive effort as the team opened the 2016 season with a 76-25 road victory over the rival Tampa Bay Storm.
Orlando denied the Storm offense seven times on the night, notching three interceptions and a fumble recovery while forcing three turnovers on downs. In the secondary, newly-acquired DB Varmah Sonie posted two picks and a team-high 7.5 total tackles while DB Paul Stephens returned another interception 13 yards for a score. Four-time All-Arena DL Mike Lewis also made his presence felt, recovering a fumble in the end zone for another defensive touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter.
The offense more than kept pace with the dominant defensive performance, scoring on all nine of its possessions. QB Randy Hippeard threw for 241 yards and six touchdowns before being relieved in the fourth quarter by QB Bernard Morris, who tossed two more scores of his own.
WR Greg Carr returned to the form that made him the AFL’s 2014 Rookie of the Year, hauling in Orlando’s first three touchdowns of the game before finishing with seven catches for 113 yards and four scores. WR Brandon Thompkins registered six receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns while WR LaMark Brown gained 105 yards on a team-high nine catches, including a 15-yard score. Former UCF offensive linemen Jordan McCray even got in on the action, coming up a four-yard touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter.
The Arena Football League’s 3,000th game proved to be historic for the Orlando franchise, as the win also marked the Predators’ largest margin of victory in the “War on I-4” rivalry.