Birmingham Iron v San Diego Fleet – Game Recap

After winning last week in a thrilling game on a last second field goal, the San Diego Fleet were hoping to remain undefeated in San Diego with a game against the struggling Birmingham Iron. The Iron had lost two games in a row, and while they were still in position to make the playoffs after the Atlanta Legends lost earlier in the day, a win against the Fleet would go a long way towards helping them potentially make the playoffs.

The Fleet had first place dreams of their own, and also needed a win to match what the San Antonio Commanders had done earlier in the game. Alas, it was not to be, as the Fleet lost 32-29 on the Iron’s last second field goal. It was a back and forth game (at least once the Fleet came back from a 12-point deficit in the third quarter), but they could not find a win. The Fleet fell to 3-3, while the Iron improved to 4-2.

Here’s how it went down:

New Quarterback, Similar Results

Much as I suspected after he relieved an ineffective Luis Perez last week, Keith Price earned the start for the Iron this week. Before leaving late in the first quarter with an injury, he really didn’t do much, though he did get the team in position to miss a field goal on their first drive.

The Fleet struck first following that miss, with quarterback Mike Bercovici finding Dontez Ford deep on first down for a 40-yard gain. The drive stalled out from there, however, and the first points in the game came in the form of a 36-yard field goal from Fleet kicker Danny Hageman, giving San Diego a 3-0 lead halfway through the first quarter.

After exchanging punts, Keith Price was injured on a hit by Damontre Moore, and gave way to Luis Perez, the Iron’s starting quarterback for the previous five games. He promptly finished the drive off with a touchdown, finding running back Trent Richardson out of the backfield from 13 yards out. After failing on the conversion attempt, the Iron led 6-3 at the end of the first quarter.

Anything You Can Do…

Mike Bercovici turned the ball over via interception on the next Fleet drive, throwing a deep pass that was intercepted. The Iron couldn’t take advantage of the turnover, and the teams swapped punts and played some pretty uninspiring football for a few minutes of the second quarter.

The Iron’s next drive started out innocuous enough, with Perez throwing a short incompletion, likely on their way to yet another three and out. Not to be deterred, however, he found L’Damian Washington on the next play and Washington did the rest, outracing everyone on the field to the end zone for an 83-yard touchdown reception, the longest pass play in league history. Another failed attempt moved the Iron lead to 12-3.

Not to be outdone, Bercovici opened the next drive with a long pass of his own, finding Ford for a 72-yard pass down the right sideline to get them to the three yard line. On the next play, the Fleet nearly lost the ball, but had a fortuitous bounce when the forced fumble went out of bounds at the one yard line. From there, Bercovici found Ben Johnson for the touchdown, cutting the Iron lead to 12-9.

Finally, a Third Quarter with Some Action

After adding a short field goal at the end of the second quarter, the Iron entered the break leading 15-9. They started the second half with the ball, and Perez again went to work, going 5-for-8 for 61 yards. They were also aided along the way by a roughing the passer penalty that moved the ball to the ten yard line. After Perez’s last pass got the ball to the two yard line, Trent Richardson did Trent Richardson things, taking two carries to get the ball over the goal line for his ninth rushing touchdown of the season.

The Fleet answered immediately, with Dontez Ford picking up another 70-yard reception to make it a little easier to finish off the drive. Terrell Watson finished off the drive, and Bercovici found Brown on the conversion, to reclose the gap to 21-17. The Fleet then intercepted Perez on the next drive, giving themselves a short field, which they promptly took advantage of. No 70-yard pass was needed this time, and Bercovici found Watson out of the backfield, and the Fleet had their first lead since 3-0, going ahead 23-21.

Third Quarter Turnover into Fourth Quarter Points

On the next Fleet possession, it was Bercovici’s turn to throw an interception, and the Iron ended the third quarter driving towards pay dirt. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Fleet near the end of the third quarter moved the ball to the short side of the field to begin the fourth quarter. L’Damian Washington then caught his second touchdown of the game – this one a bit shorter – going 23 yards for the score. A successful conversion put the Iron back on top at 29-23.

All the punts that afflicted the other games this weekend in the third quarter simply shifted to the fourth in this one, with the next four drives ending in punts. The Fleet took the ball with 7:02 remaining in the quarter and again quickly moved it down the field. The Fleet avoided a turnover when a backwards pass was dropped (but recovered) and three plays later, the drive ended with another Bercovici touchdown pass, this time to Francis Owusu for 13 yards. They missed the very important conversion, and the game was tied at 29 with 4:32 remaining in the game.

After his early benching last week, Luis Perez probably felt like he had something to prove. He couldn’t let this game slip away, so he expertly milked the clock on the final drive, preventing the Fleet from possessing the ball again. He went 3-for-3 on the drive for 25 yards, added another 16 yards on scrambles, before handing the ball over to Trent Richardson to burn out the rest of the clock. With three seconds left, Nick Novak came on to kick the game-winning 44-yard field goal, and the Iron walked away victorious.

Statistical Leaders

Luis Perez finished the game with 359 yards passing, the second-highest single-game total in the league this season. He did it while throwing nearly 50 times, and also added his first touchdowns of the season. The two interceptions didn’t come back to harm him in the end, but it was the reason why he was pulled so quick last week, so it’s definitely something that he needs to work on.

Mike Bercovici, his quarterbacking counterpart on the other sideline, also went over 300 yards on the game, finishing with 311 yards. It was his second straight game with over 300 yards, and extreme departure from his Week 1 struggles.

Two receivers – one on each team – were over 100 yards, aided by three very long passes. L’Damian Washington of the Iron had 128 yards on four receptions (and two touchdowns), including that league long 83 yard touchdown. Dontez Ford of the Fleet had two catches over 70 yards, and finished with three catches for 182 yards. He left the game with an injury after his last long reception, so hopefully it’s not that serious and he’ll be back in action next week.

Next Week’s Games

The Fleet (3-3) hit the road, heading to Tucson to face off against the Arizona Hotshots (3-3) in a battle for second place in the West. The Iron (4-2) will also be on the road, facing the Memphis Express (1-5) in a game that could feature the first appearance of new Express quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Until next time…

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