Oh, man what a game!
You typically don’t turn the ball over FIVE TIMES – including two that were returned immediately for touchdowns – and lose a game on a last second field goal. But that’s exactly what the Salt Lake Stallions did in this one, losing to the San Diego Fleet 27-25 in front of 20,000+ at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego.
For the Stallions, this game definitely had the look of their game against the Birmingham Iron during Week 2: a first half lead in a low-scoring affair, being undone by turnovers deep in the other team’s territory, and eventually succumbing in the second half. And for the first 25 minutes of the second half, it looked like the Stallions would fail to come back yet again.
Save the Fireworks for Later
The Fleet missed a field goal on the opening drive,and the Stallions went three-and-out. The Fleet scored first, this time with Donny Hageman connecting from 39 yards. Their small lead didn’t last long, however, with the Stallions immediately driving the field, a run capped of by Joel Bouagnon‘s three yard touchdown run and a Josh Woodrum conversion to take the 8-3 lead. The next drive for the Fleet ended with another Hageman field goal, which would turn out to be the last scoring of the half.
Not for a lack of effort on the part of the Stallions though.
Following the Fleet field goal, the Stallions had a sustained drive and made it down inside the Fleet 10-yard line, only for Woodrum to throw an interception to likely Defensive Player of the Week Kameron Kelly. Then, shortly before the half and one play after having a Joel Bouagnon touchdown taken of the board because of a penalty (a chop block), Kelly again picked Woodrum inside the 20, ending another chance at points for the Stallions. Still, the halftime score was 8-6 in favor of the Stallions, but it should have been at least 14-6, because of those two interceptions.
Second Half Fireworks
The Stallions extended their lead with a Taylor Bertolet field goal on their second drive of the second half, but otherwise, it was a third quarter dominated by punts. With five minutes left in the quarter, the Stallions started a drive after a punt, and had yet another big gain wiped out by a penalty. On the next play, Terrell Newby was stripped, with Jordan Murray returning the fumble 41 yards for the touchdown.
The Stallions again started a drive, and Josh Woodrum was injured on a hit that was flagged for roughing the passer. Austin Allen relieved, and joined the turnover party, fumbling on a sack by Damontre Moore, giving the Fleet a short field. They wasted no time, scoring on the first play on an 18-yard pass completion from Mike Bercovici to Ben Johnson. This extended the Fleet lead to 18-11… and we still had the fourth quarter yet to come.
What a Fourth Quarter…
San Diego began the fourth quarter with the ball, making it down inside the red zone. It was the first sustained drive for the Fleet since the first half, and the Stallions defense needed to hold the Fleet to at least a field goal. Fortune smiled on the Stallions with an interception by Will Davis, giving the Stallions the ball back down by a touchdown.
They seemed poised to move the ball again, with Josh Woodrum returning to the game… to throw an immediate interception to Kameron Kelly (his third of the game), only this time Kelly returned it for a touchdown. The San Diego lead was now 24-11, but luckily for Salt Lake, there was still 9:30 left in the game.
On the next drive, Woodrum was finally out of turnovers (he accounted for four all by himself), and he managed to lead the Stallions on a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Joel Bouagnon’s second touchdown of the night. A failed conversion left the Stallions down seven, meaning that they would need a touchdown and a conversion to have any chance of winning the game.
The Final Five Minutes
Salt Lake’s stellar defense continued, forcing the Fleet into a three-and-out immediately after the touchdown. However, San Diego was able to run nearly three minutes off the clock, giving Salt Lake the ball with just over two minutes remaining. Surprisingly, the Stallions had all three of their timeouts left, as well as a quarterback that managed to hold onto the ball again, and they drove down the field and back into the red zone.
On 4th-and-goal from the 11, Woodrum found tight end Nate Truesdell just short of the goal line covered by two Fleet defenders. A penalty flag immediately flew, with the Fleet being called for illegal contact, giving the Stallions one final set of downs to try and go back on top for perhaps the last time. With 57 seconds left, Woodrum again found Truesdell near the goal line, only this time, Truesdell extended the ball over the plane to pull the Stallions with one point at 24-23.
Coming Down the Home Stretch
Needing the conversion to take the lead – remember, there are no kicked extra points in this league – Woodrum took the snap and rolled to his right looking for a target. Finding none in front of him he looked back across the field, where Kenny Bell raised his hand while running a crossing route through the end zone. Woodrum hit him in stride, and the Stallions took their first lead since leading 11-6 after the Bertolet field goal.
On the next drive, with the Fleet only needing a field goal to claim victory, the Stallions defense finally broke. On the second play, Bercovici found Dontez Ford deep down the left for 45 yards, immediately placing the Fleet in field goal range. After a couple of plays used to position the ball, they lined up to kick a 44-yard field goal, which would end the greatest game in AAF history regardless of the outcome. Donny Hageman approached the ball and sent it flying, and the ball went just inside the left upright, given the Fleet the 27-25 victory.
This was the first game in league history with two quarterbacks throwing for over 300 yards. Josh Woodrum of the Stallions went 31-of-48 for 380 yards (a new league record), with a touchdown but those very costly interceptions to Kameron Kelly. Mike Bercovici went 22-of-43 for 304 yards, with a touchdown and an interception of this own.
Joel Bouagnon scored twice in a very Trent Richardson-like game (11 carries for 36 yards) to push his season total to five, three behind the Iron running back. But the Stallions defense deserves mention as well, despite all those Bercovici passing yards. They held the Fleet to 31 rushing yards on 23 carries, and two weeks after winning Offensive Player of the Week, running back Ja’Quan Gardner was held to three yards on nine carries. That is not a typo. The Stallions defense should not be on the hook for all 27 points, but it will look like that regardless.
Next Week’s Games
The Stallions (1-4) will return home to Rice-Eccles Stadium for a game against the Memphis Express (1-3), who play tomorrow afternoon looking to avoid also entering next week at 1-4 (Note: They lost and fell to 1-4). The Stallions will likely need to win out the rest of the season to have any shot of making it to the postseason – I think the Western Conference playoff teams will likely both be 6-4 – and beating Memphis would be a good start.
The Fleet (3-2) will look to extend their three-game home winning streak against the Birmingham Iron (3-2), who will be coming off two straight losses, including yesterday’s loss to the undefeated Orlando Apollos. The Fleet will enter than game at least tied for the conference lead, and could be facing a team starting a new quarterback.