The Atlanta Legends were hosting their second home game of the season, and it was against fellow Eastern Conference straggler Memphis Express. Both teams managed to win their first games of the season last week, which removed the most pressing issue this week, but with both clubs trailing the red hot and undefeated Orlando Apollos (who have to be considered the favorite for the inaugural title, right?).
Over 10,000 fans were on hand at Georgia State Stadium to watch a back-and-forth game between the two worst teams in the AAF. After the barnburner in San Diego Saturday night, it was good to see the Sunday games follow suit, and the Legends came out on top 23-20, moving into sole possession of third place in the Eastern Conference (2-3), while the Express joined Salt Lake at 1-4.
Legends Waste Little Time
The Express went three-and-out on their first drive, and new Legends starter Aaron Murray responded with a scoring drive, albeit it was only a Younghoe Koo field goal to take the early 3-0 lead. This lead held, with the teams taking turns looking like the last place teams with inept offenses that they are.
It wasn’t until the first turnover of the game – a fumble by Legends receiver Justin Thomas – that the Express showed signs of life, taking advantage of the resulting short field to find the end zone for the first time in the game. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger found Reece Horn deep for 29 yards, and was roughed on the play, moving the ball to the seven-yard line. Zac Stacy ran it in from there, and the Express took a 6-3 lead.
Roughing the Passer… So Hot Right Now
The Legends next drive was also aided by a roughing the passer penalty, though it was in the midst of a much longer drive. That penalty came on Murray’s seventh pass of the drive (of which he completed five for 63 yards), and moved the Legends to the two yard line. A short touchdown run by Tarean Folston and a conversion gave them the lead back at 11-6.
After an exchange in punts, Memphis again drove for a touchdown, though a more accurate description would be they had a 56-yard pass to Sherman Badie bookended by a lot of inefficient offense. Either way, they got down to the goal line, and Stacy scored his second touchdown of the game, moving the Express back ahead 12-11. Some more punts, and a Younghoe Koo field goal late, the Legends led 14-12 at halftime.
Express Take the Lead Again…
The Express scored first in the second half, scoring after a 10-play drive that was again aided by a roughing the passer penalty right before the score. Mettenberger went 4-for-4 on the drive for 55 yards, and the penalty on the final pass moved the ball to the one-yard line. The quarterback ran it in from there for the touchdown, and after the Express’ lone two-point conversion on the day, they led 20-14 with 3:41 left in the third quarter.
Tarean Folston was the star of the next Legends scoring drive. He rushed three times for 31 yards, including a 27-yarder – and caught a 2 yard touchdown pass from Murray to pull the Legends even at 20-20 with just under 12 minutes left in the final quarter.
The teams traded punts, then Atlanta intercepted Mettenberger on their next drive, giving the ball with 3:22 left in the game. Murray expertly led the Legends down the field, mixing passing (2-for-2 for 16 yards) and rushing (Folston had three rushes for 36 yards), but the drive stalled when they reached the red zone. Younghoe Koo came in to kick his third field goal of the game with 13 seconds left, sealing the victory for the home team.
In his first start of the season, and not far from where he played college football at Georgia, Aaron Murray threw for over 300 yards, completing 27 of 43 passes for 306 yards and a touchdown. Tarean Folston added 83 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown (and 23 yards and a touchdown receiving) to pace the Legends skill players.
For the Express, Zach Mettenberger piloted a pretty blasé offense, with the Express only gaining 217 total yards of offense. They were able to take advantage of the short field after a fumble, as well as some pretty killer penalties, but Memphis was dominated offensively in this game, regardless of the final score.
Next Week’s Schedule
The Memphis Express (1-4) will again match up against a team with the same record when they travel to Utah to face the Salt Lake Stallions (1-4) on Saturday afternoon. Atlanta (2-3) will stay home for the second consecutive week, welcoming the San Antonio Commanders (3-2) coming off their win on Sunday night.