In the only matchup between 1-0 teams, the Orlando Apollos went on the road to face the San Antonio Commanders. of the four matches played during Week 2, this one proved to have the most offensive fireworks.
During Week 1, the Apollos led all AAF teams in scoring, putting 40 points on the board against the Atlanta Legends. The San Antoni Commanders, on the other hand, scored the fewest points of the winning clubs during the week, winning 15-6 over the San Diego Fleet. Entering the game, I expected Orlando to come out on top, and that prediction was looking in peril when the Commanders took the lead with midway to go in the third quarter. In the end, the Apollos offense (and defense) came through, prevailing 37-29 at the Alamodome in front of over 29,000 fans.
Commanders Strike First
After a three-and-out on the Apollos first possession, the Commanders took possession on their own 41 after a punt. Running back Kenneth Farrow II was the star of the drive, gaining 44 yards (33 rushing and 11 receiving) of the 59 yards on the drive, including the final 15 yards on a touchdown up the middle. He was injured following the touchdown, but we would be able to return to the game later. After failing on the conversion, the Commanders led 6-0 half way through the first quarter.
After another three-and-out by the Apollos, Commanders quarterback Logan Woodside was in control of the subsequent drive. With his lead running back on the sideline temporarily, Woodside moved the team down the field, with a big, 29-yard reception by receiver De’Marcus Ayers on the second play of the drive moving the team to the Orlando side of the field. A mixture of short passes and runs moved the Commanders into the red zone, but an interception in the end zone appeared to end the drive without points for the commanders. Fortunately for the home team, however, there was a penalty for defensive pass interference before the pass was thrown. Given a second chance, Woodside capitalized with a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Evan Rodriguez, and after failing on two attempts at the two-point conversion, the Commanders led 12-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Apollos Time to Shine
After possessing the ball for only 1:59 in the first quarter, Coach Steve Spurrier had to be hoping for a better showing from his offense once the second quarter started. And came through they did. On the ensuing drive, quarterback Garrett Gilbert was quick and methodical in answering the Commanders’ first quarter performance. On the third pass of the drive, Gilbert found receiver Charles Johnson down the left side for a 54-yard gain, moving down to the six yard line. Three plays later – and after a beneficial pass interference penalty of their own – running back De’Veon Smith ran it in for the touchdown, then added the conversion as well. The Apollos had closed the lead to four with only two minutes elapsed in the second quarter.
The teams would exchanged field goals over the next two drives: a 50-yarder from the Commanders’ Nick Rose, and a 35-yarder from the Apollos’ Elliott Fry. After forcing the Commanders into their first punt after a three-and-out, the Apollos took control at their own 23 with a chance to take the lead with a touchdown, and just over four and a half minutes to do it.
Gilbert again took over, and found his favorite target Charles Johnson on his three completions of the drive, accounting for 79 of the 87 yards of the drive. The last 21 yards of the drive was a pass along the right side that Johnson took in for the score, his first of the season, and the Apollos, after another failed conversion (expect this statement a lot this season), took their first lead of the game at 17-15.
One Final Drive Before the Half
There was a little under two minutes left in the half, and the Commanders took full advantage of that time remaining. The first play of the drive, a 23-yard completion to Aaron Green, was marred by the first major injury in the AAF season, with Apollos linebacker Ryan Davis, Sr. taken off on a stretcher with an apparent neck injury. Davis was responsive as he left the field, but it was still a little scary for a moment.
The injury delay didn’t deter the drive of the Commanders, with Woodside running the two-minute drill to perfection. Short passes managed to get the team down into the red zone once again, and despite a intentional grounding penalty that pushed him back 10 yards, Nick Rose connected on a 38-yard field goal as time expired to secure the 18-17 half-time lead for the Commanders.
San Antonio Commands Another Quarter
The second quarter saw time of possession split almost exactly, but when San Antonio started the second half with the ball, they apparently did not want that to be the case again. Their opening drive went 56 yards over 11 plays, and ended with another Nick Rose field goal. But more importantly, it took another 5:30 off the clock. Then, on the next Orlando possession, the Commanders forced a fumble on a sack by linebacker Jayrone Elliott, which was subsequently returned 8 yards for a touchdown by lineman Joey Mbu. The defensive score, along with a converted two-point conversion, pushed the Commanders lead to 29-17.
The Apollos would drive and add yet another field goal – Elliott Fry’s third of the game – but the Commanders would end the third quarter with a 29-20 lead. They had to be feeling pretty good; they had nearly doubled their offensive output, at least points wise, and had mostly shut down one of the more prolific offenses in the league. But only scoring 29 points against a team that scored 40 last week would prove to not be enough.
The Apollos Complete the Comeback
Orlando was driving when the third quarter ended. And even though the quarter felt dominated by the Commanders, the teams had yet again finished nearly equal in time of possession for the quarter. That drive eventually stalled out, and Elliott Fry came on to convert his third field goal of the game, which moved Orlando back within a touchdown.
San Antonio couldn’t move the ball on their next drive, undone by having too many men on the field after securing a first down. A punt returned the ball to Orlando at their own 21 yard line, and Garrett Gilbert owned the subsequent drive. He completed six straight passes, covering all 79 yards, capping it off with a 23-yard pass to Jalin Marshall, his second of the season. Another failed conversion capped things off, but the record-tying comeback (matching the 12 point deficit the Arizona Hotshots had managed the night before) was complete, with Orlando tying the score at 29-29.
San Antonio came out firing in an attempt to reclaim the lead in their next drive. Unfortunately, Woodside fired the ball straight to Apollos’ cornerback Keith Reaser, who returned the interception 38 yards for the touchdown. It was the second straight game that an Apollos player scored a defensive touchdown. The offense came out and added the two points this time, and the Apollos went ahead for the first time at 37-29, a lead they would not relinquish.
Garrett Gilbert threw for nearly 400 yards (and those two touchdowns), the first AAF quarterback to throw for over 300 yards in a game. I would expect Gilbert to be the next offensive player of the week for his efforts… unless they decide to reward his favorite target Charles Johnson, who caught seven passes for 192 yards (27.4 yards per catch) and a touchdown.
The Commanders, as a team, outgained the Apollos on the ground by nearly a 3-to-1 ratio (175 yards to 66). Kenneth Farrow II led that ground attack with 74 yards on 13 carries (and a touchdown), and was the star on offense for most of the game. Logan Woodside added another 223 yards through the air, but that late interception was directly responsible for the loss. He is now tied with Matt Simms of the Atlanta Legends for the league lead in interceptions with three, one statistical category you don’t want to lead.
What Comes Next
San Antonio goes on the road for the first time this season, heading to San Diego for a rematch against the San Diego Fleet. That game will close out week 3 on Sunday. Orlando will return home for a game against the Memphis Express on Saturday night, giving them a great chance to go 3-0 early in the season.