The Memphis Express (0-2) went on the road this week to face off against the undefeated and conference-leading Orlando Apollos (2-0). Would the game follow the trends established in the teams’ two prior games? Or would Memphis flip the script and come away with their first win on the young season?
For Express fans, the season didn’t start off all that great, as the Express were the only team thus far to score zero points in a game. They turned it around last week, scoring their first points of the season against perhaps the best team in the league, only to falter down the stretch in the biggest come-from-behind victory in the Alliance’s (short) history.
This game started more like the Week 1, with the Express in a 9-0 hole at halftime. They managed to outscore the high-scoring Apollos in the second half, but the first half deficit was too large to overcome. The Apollos were able to hold on for the 21-17 victory, becoming the first 3-0 team in the league. The Express have the dubious distinction of being the first 0-3 team in the league.
Orlando Strikes First
It did not take long for the Apollos to resume their high-scoring ways, scoring a touchdown with less than two minutes elapsed in the game. A defensive face mask penalty on the first tackle of the game nearly moved them to midfield. Two Garrett Gilbert passes moved the ball quickly to within the five yard line, and D’Ernest Johnson ran it in from four yards out for the first points of the game. After Gilbert was sacked on the ensuing conversion, the Apollos lead stood at 6-0.
On the first Memphis drive, much maligned quarterback Christian Hackenberg was intercepted on a deep pass attempt, giving the ball back to the Apollos with a short field. The next drive was not quite as successful as the first, though they were able to eventually get down to the five yard line. However, after a couple of negative plays and a pass completion for no gain, the Apollos settled for a field goal attempt. After a pre-snap penalty, Ernest Fry converted a 31-yard field goal to take a 9-0 lead.
Fast Forward to the Third Quarter
After another interception by Hackenberg in the second quarter, the Express made a switch to former LSU quarterback and former Tennessee Titans Zach Mettenberger (because apparently the Express need to have the most letters combined for their quarterbacks). He promptly led the Express on a touchdown drive, with the score coming on a 30-yard pass to Devin Lucien, the first passing touchdown for the Express this season. After a failed conversion, Memphis was within a field goal, trailing 9-6.
Orlando didn’t waste any time extending their lead yet again. On the second play of the next drive De’Veon Smith took the handoff and ran 28 yards off left tackle, moving the Apollos to the other side of the field yet again. It wasn’t long before Gilbert found Rannell Hall down the right sideline, covering 37 yards for his fifth touchdown pass of the season. Another failed conversion later, and the Apollos were back up by nine at 15-6.
And on to the Fourth!
The Express finished a drive with a field goal to start the fourth quarter, again closing the gap. But again, the Apollos responded to the Express score, capping a nine-play drive with a Garrett Gilbert 21-yard run. Memphis started the next drive trailing 21-9, and needed two scores with less than nine minutes left.
Mettenberger again led a touchdown drive, overcoming a holding penalty early in the drive, as well as a 12-yard sack. On a third-and-18, Mettenberger found receiver Gerrard Sheppard down the left side of the field for a 40-yard touchdown, followed by an actual two-point conversion to get back within four points at 21-17.
The drive did take nearly nine and a half minutes, however, not giving Memphis much time should they be able to get the ball back… which they did not. Orlando converted three first downs and was able to run down the remainder of the clock, going into the “victory formation” from the one-yard line after the final Memphis timeout at 1:25 left.
After throwing for nearly 400 yards last week, earning Offensive Player of the Week honors, Apollos quarterback Garrett Gilbert came back down to Earth a bit, throwing for only 207 yards (and 1 touchdown). But he also added that rushing touchdown, meaning that he has now thrown for five touchdowns, caught one (on an “Orlando Special” play during Week 1), and ran one in.
Don’t know if it will be enough to repeat the honor, but he has to be considered a (very) early favorite for Most Valuable Player should he be able to maintain this level of performance for the rest of the season.
Next Week’s Games
Orlando will travel to Salt Lake City for a Saturday afternoon game against the Salt Lake Stallions, who won their first game of the season on Saturday afternoon. The Stallions have to hope for another game that starts with temperatures close to freezing; the temperature difference at kickoff between the games on Saturday was nearly 50 degrees, and if it’s cold again next week, Orlando may be in trouble.
Memphis, on the other hand, will be looking for the first win of the season (again) against the San Diego Fleet, who close out Week 3 a little later today against the San Antonio Commanders. Memphis has yet to put together a complete game, winning halves or quarters but not a game yet (obviously). They are now three games behind Orlando, and if they fail to come through next week, the playoffs will likely not happen for Mike Singletary’s team.
Until next time…