In the Alliance of American Football‘s Western Conference, we had two rematches from Week 1 of the season. During the first week, home teams Arizona Hotshots and San Antonio Commanders both came out on top. That happened again during Week 3, with the Salt Lake Stallions prevailing at home against the Hotshots, and the San Diego Fleet defeating the Commanders on Sunday night, winning 31-11 after an inauspicious start to the game in front of nearly 15,000 people at SDCCU Stadium.
Off to a Bad Start
The Commanders won the opening coin toss and deferred, giving the Fleet the ball to start the game. On their first play from scrimmage, Fleet quarterback Philip Nelson threw a deep pass down the left, only to be intercepted by De’Vante Bausby, who returned the pick to the San Diego side of the field. The Commanders didn’t waste any time capitalizing on the turnover, with quarterback Logan Woodside finding Mekale McKay deep down the middle near the end zone for the game’s first score. After a successful conversion, the shell-shocked Fleet trailed 8-0 less than 20 seconds into the game.
On their second possession, the Fleet went three-and-out, punting back to the Commanders and likely still reeling from the first play. The Commanders drive was long and had some drama of its own. Woodside seemingly threw an interception, only to have the play undone by a defensive holding penalty. Five plays later, he threw his second touchdown of the day, only for that play to be nullified by an offensive holding penalty. Another penalty and a sack moved the Commanders back further, and the drive ended when Woodside threw an interception (which was legit this time) to Jordan Martin. After holding the ball for six minutes, the drive was for naught.
28 Unanswered Points
The Fleet capitalized on the turnover, driving 92 yards in just over four minutes. Terrell Watson rushed five times for 39 yards on the drive, but the big play was a deep pass to receiver Laquvionte Gonzalez, gaining 43 yards on a deep pass down the left sideline. The drive was capped off by the short pass to Nelson Spruce for the touchdown, and the fleet trailed 8-6.
The teams traded punts heading into the second quarter, and the Commanders first drive of the quarter ended it yet another interception, with Al Tarpley intercepting Woodside and returning the pick 27 yards for a touchdown. After a Terrell Watson conversion attempt succeeded, the Fleet now led 14-8, and they weren’t done scoring before the half.
After forcing a Commanders punt on the next drive, Nelson again took charge, driving the Fleet for another touchdown. The drive was helped by an illegal defense penalty on the Commanders, but Nelson was in control regardless, completing all six of his passes on the drive for 57 yards, including the last 18 to Spruce for his second touchdown of the game. Watson again came through on the conversion, and the Fleet now led 22-8, the score that we went to halftime.
After the Half
The Commanders had yet another drive derailed by a major penalty. On the opening drive of the second half, the Commanders were moving the ball, with Trey Williams scampering 30 yards on third-and-one to move the ball to the San Diego side of the field. Two short runs led to a third-and-five, and the Commanders came up just a bit short.
I would have expected them to go for it, especially trailing in the game at the time, but there were two penalties on the play. One, an offensive pass interference penalty, was declined, but only because left tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith was called for unnecessary roughness, pushing the ball back 15 yards and forcing the team to punt.
The Fleet again took the ball and ran with it (literally this time). After Nelson proved ineffective at moving the ball through the air – and getting sacked sure didn’t help – he simply handed the ball of to Ja’Quan Gardner, who ran up the middle for 83 yards and the touchdown. It is currently the longest play in league history, and it gave the Fleet a 28-8 lead (they missed this conversion).
Some Life from the Commanders
On the next San Antonio drive, they were again forced to punt (on a drive with two more offensive penalties), but they got a little lucky when Fleet punt returner Laquvionte Gonzalez muffed the punt return, giving the Commanders a second chance with only 11 yards to go to pay dirt.
In need of a touchdown, however, the short drive stalled after Woodside had yet another apparent touchdown taken off the board (this time from a replay review of the catch). They were unable to punch it in, having to settle for a short Nick Rose field goal to cut the lead to 28-11 with about 3:30 left in the third quarter. Those would prove to be their final points of the night.
Fleet Close it Out
After opening the fourth quarter with a field goal to re-extend their lead back to twenty at 31-11, the Fleet managed to halt the Commanders’ last ditch attempts at finding more points in the last 12 minutes of the game. The sacked Woodside twice on the first San Antonio drive after the field goal, forcing a punt after a three-and-out.
After their own three-and-out, the Fleet allowed San Antonio to move the ball, albeit on the ground. Marquis Williams replaced Woodside at quarterback and moved the Commanders down the field, though it wasn’t very efficiently. He ran for 56 yards on the drive, but only completed one pass (of two attempted) and was sacked late in the drive. On a fourth-and-two from the San Diego two, he failed to convert, running over six minutes of the clock in the process. The Fleet took possession and ran out the remainder of the clock and sealed their victory.
Statistical Star of the Game
Philip Nelson recovered nicely from the interception on his first pass, finishing 17 of 25 (68%) for 193 yards and those two touchdown passes to Nelson Spruce. He was buoyed by his defense (two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown), not to mention his running game (202 yards), but he was running the show out there. He’s now thrown for over 400 yards on the season, and seems to be the answer at quarterback for the Fleet for Mike Martz.
Next Week’s Matchups
The Fleet (2-1) go back out on the road next week, heading east to face off against the Memphis Express (0-3). Tied for the Western Conference lead with the Arizona Hotshots, the Fleet have high hopes to move to 3-1 on the season against perhaps the worst team in the league, and seemingly finding their quarterback will hopefully help.
The Commanders (1-2) will have a much tougher matchup on Sunday, heading to face the Birmingham Iron (3-0) at Legion Field. Hopefully, a week of practice will help Logan Woodside find his form from the first two games and not lead to a repeat of this game against the league-leading scoring defense of the Iron.
Until next time…