The final game of the Alliance of American Football’s Week 2 schedule was the only matchup between winless teams, with the Atlanta Legends traveling to play the San Diego Fleet.
Both teams managed only six points during the first week, though the Fleet was a tad bit more stingy on defense, surrendering only 15 points to the San Antonio Commanders. The Legends, on the other hand, gave up 40 points to the Orlando Apollos, the most points scored in the league thus far. Both teams improved on their offensive output, with the Fleet coming out on top 24-12 in this one, but it’s hard to say if the teams have improved or if it was simply a product of two bad teams playing each other.
Legends Win… the First Quarter
The Legends opened with the ball, and held onto it for nearly eight minutes of the first quarter. After 15 plays, and 64 yards, the drive eventually stalled out, resulting in a Younghoe Koo field goal to take the early 3-0 lead. Then, on the following San Diego drive, Carlos Merritt intercepted Fleet quarterback Philip Nelson, giving the Legends a short field.
The Legends wasted no time exceeding their point total from last week, with two Matt Simms passes finding their targets and moving the 45 yards to pay dirt. Receiver Malachi Jones was the recipient of the touchdown pass, scoring from 19 yards out, and after the failed conversion, the Legends held an early 9-0 lead, looking much more competent through one quarter than they did throughout the entirety of their game the week prior.
The Second Quarter is for Punting Apparently
The teams exchanged punts for four drives in the second quarter, gaining a total of 42 yards over the course of those four drives. Finally, the Fleet had a sustained drive that took them up to the two-minute warning, though it too fizzled and they settled for a Donny Hageman 46-yard field goal to get on the board.
The Legends started the subsequent drive with just under 1:40 on the clock. They made a good effort at moving the ball down the field, though it did take four completed passes for them to gain 16 yards. On the next play, Simms was intercepted by safety Ryan Moeller, who returned the interception eight yards to the San Diego 48.
With 51 seconds in the half, and only one touchdown remaining, Nathan Philips set out to get his team at least in field goal range. A 17-yard completion on second down moved them to the fringe of Hageman’s range at the 35 yard line. Three plays later, after gaining nine yards on a pass and calling their final timeout, Hageman converted a 43-yard field goal to close the gap to 9-6 at halftime.
San Diego Wins the Second Half
The Fleet were able to pull even on the first drive of the second half, aided by a 31-yard defensive pass interference on the opening play that moved them into Atlanta territory. Two more Philips’ passes got the Fleet to the five yard line, but ineffective line play doomed them to failure, resulting in yet another Hageman field goal to end the drive. The score was now tied 9-9.
San Diego’s defense held the Legends on their next drive and forced a punt, and their ensuing drive saw them move the ball slowly but surely, holding onto the ball for six minutes. It was all for naught, however, once they lost the ball on a fumble, giving Atlanta the ball once again. They held on to the ball through the end of the quarter, and Younghoe Koo kicked a go-ahead field goal to start off the fourth quarter.
The Fleet would then outscore the Legends 15-0 down the stretch. They answered the Koo field goal with a 12 play, 75 yard drive, eating nearly six minutes off the clock and capping it off with a 8-yard rushing touchdown by Ja’Quan Gardner. They then forced a three-and-out on the next drive, and were fortunate to recover the muffed punt, allowing them to drive 60 yards in six plays, again ending with Gardner in the end zone.
With four minutes left in the game, the Fleet led 21-12, it was up to Matt Simms to bring the LEgends down the field twice, while also hoping for some help from the defense. Simms threw an incomplete pass on first down, was sacked for a six-yard loss on second, and after a draw went next to nowhere on third down, faced a 4th down with 13 yards to go from his 22 yard line. He was again sacked, ending the Legends’ chances for victory, as the fleet were able to run down the clock, add another Hageman field goal, and seal up the game.
The Fleet’s Ja’Quan Gardner was the star of the game, rushing for 104 yards on 15 carries, and those two game-deciding touchdowns. On the other sideline, Matt Simms showed some improvement from Week 1 – 15 of 28 for 126 yards and two interceptions – but it’s easy to improve when you performed that poorly in the previous game. Still, he completed 17 of 25 passes for 160 yards, with that one touchdown and an interception. Despite being tied for the league lead in interceptions, there were times in this one where he looked like the better quarterback.
The Fleet will play host next Sunday to the San Antonio Commanders. The Commanders will attempt to go 2-0 against the Fleet after that Week 1 victory. Atlanta will look for their first win against the undefeated Birmingham Iron and try to avoid starting a 10-game season at 0-3.