In the final game of Week 5 action in the Alliance, the San Diego Commanders rushed out to a 26-0 halftime lead but needed to hold on down the stretch as the Arizona Hotshots attempted to mount a comeback.
That comeback came up a little short, with the Commanders holding on to win 29-25 in front of less than 10,000 fans at Sun Devil Stadium in Tucson. The Commanders are now tied with the San Diego Fleet at the top of the Western Conference with 3-2 records, while the Hotshots find themselves alone in third place at 2-3.
Here’s what went down in the desert:
It Helps to Hold onto Possession
Arizona started the game with the ball, and their second-ranked offense was moving efficiently, moving the ball quickly to the San Antonio side of the field. On third-and-9, quarterback John Wolford was intercepted by Commanders’ safety Derron Smith, who returned the interception for the touchdown to take an early 6-0 lead.
On the ensuing Hotshots drive, they went three-and-out, giving the ball to the Commanders’ offense for the first time in the game. After efficiently moving the ball with a healthy mix of runs and passes, Logan Woodside connected with Mekale McKay deep down the middle for a 54-yard touchdown reception. After a Woodside run for the conversion, the Commanders led 14-0 with five minutes left in the first quarter.
More Turnovers, and Not the Fruit Kind
The Hotshots were again moving the ball on their next drive, though mostly on the ground. This proved to be a bad idea, apparently, because Justin Stockton fumbled the ball, again giving the ball back to the Commanders, only this time with a short field. Mixing runs and passes yet again (which is an oddity in this pass-dominated league), Woodside led the Commanders down the field yet again, with Kenneth Farrow II accounting for the final yard and scoring a touchdown. After a failure on the conversion, the Commanders led 20-0 and looked like they would be scoring all game long.
Another Hotshots turnover ended their next two drives as well. Wolford threw the ball deep, only to be intercepted by De’Vante Bausby at the four yard line. He fumbled on the tackle, briefly giving hope to the Hotshots of re-possessing the ball deep in their territory, but the loose ball was covered by the Commanders and they took over deep in their own territory.
After forcing a three-and-out and a Commanders’ punt, Wolford was again intercepted on the next drive, again by Derron Smith. Woodside wasted little time in scoring, connecting with Alonzo Moore on a 57-yard completion on first down that moved the action to the red zone. Tight end Stehly Reden caught a five-yard touchdown, and just like that, the Commanders led 26-0, a seemingly insurmountable lead they would take into halftime.
Good Thing They Play Two Halves
It looked like the Commanders’ onslaught would continue with the second half. They took the ball first and drove the field expertly, burning about seven minutes off the clock before Erick Dargan intercepted a Woodside pass on the two-yard line and returned it 36 yards to the 38. After a challenge upheld the interception, it was finally the Arizona offense’s time to shine. After sputtering a bit trying to run the ball, Wolford completed two long passes, the first for 22 yards to Marquis Bundy and the next a 45-yard touchdown to Rashad Ross down the left sideline. The shutout was averted, and the Hotshots closed the lead to 26-8.
Three punts later and two field goals later, the Commanders led 29-11 with just under eight minutes left in the game. Wolford found the form that he was lacking in the first half, looking more like the second-rated passer in the league in leading yet another touchdown drive. This time, it was tight end Thomas Duarte on the receiving end after a four-and-a-half minute drive, and a successful conversion cut the Commanders’ lead to ten at 29-19.
Another Turnover Seals It
The Hotshots then attempted the Alliance’s version of an onside kick, and actually converted it… only to fumble the ball away ad give it back to the Commanders. The Commanders only managed to run 25 seconds off the clock before punting it back, giving the Hotshots another chance to close the gap.
And close the gap they did, but it was probably a little too late to have any real impact. The drive appeared to end on yet another turnover, but an interception was nullified by a defensive penalty, giving the Hotshots a second chance. On the next play, Wolford was again intercepted, but with this play overturned on a deep pass interference penalty that placed the ball on the one yard line. Tim Cook ran it in from there, and the Hotshots were in business, trailing 29-25. A sack on the onside attempt and the Commanders were able to kneel to end the second craziest finish to a game over the weekend.
John Wolford overcame that poor first half to perform much better in the second half, though he was also a little lucky in that two interceptions on consecutive plays were erased by penalties. He remains the second-rated quarterback in the league behind Orlando Apollos standout Garrett Gilbert after completing 19 of 33 passes for 246 yards (with two interceptions and three costly interceptions).
But Logan Woodside was even better on the other sideline, throwing for 290 yards (on 21 of 27 passes) and two touchdowns (and one interception). The Commanders defense was the star of the game – at least for the first half – with Derron Smith grabbing those two interceptions and forcing six turnovers overall. In the end, the Hotshots just ran out of time and the Commanders held on for the victory.
Next Week’s Schedule
The Hotshots (2-3) will go on the road to face the Apollos on Saturday night, hoping to become the first team to beat the Eastern Conference leaders on the season (5-0). The Commanders (3-2) will face the Atlanta Legends (2-3) on Sunday afternoon, trying to keep pace with the San Diego Fleet (3-2) at the top of the Western Conference.