The second game between the Atlanta Legends and the Orlando Apollos ended nearly identical as the first. During Week 1, Orlando displayed the offense that would soon dominate the league, rolling up 363 yards of total offense and 40 points. Atlanta, on the other hand, showed signs of a poor defense that would eventually become the only Alliance team to have three thirty point losses during the course of the season.
For one half on Saturday afternoon at least, it seemed like things would be a little different the second time around. Sure, the Apollos drove the length of the field on the first drive of the game and went up 8-0 before Atlanta had even touched the ball. But Atlanta managed to take their opening drive to the house as well, and were within two points with nearly three quarters remaining. Unfortunately for the 11,000+ in attendance in Atlanta, however, those were the last points the Legends would score, with the Apollos reeling off 28 unanswered points to walk away victorious 36-6.
Here’s how it all went down:
Keeping it Close… for a Half at Least
The first Orlando drive was a solid punctuation on what may be an MVP season for Apollos quarterback Garrett Gilbert. He was methodical in leading his team down the field, completing 7-of-7 passes for 86 yards before ceding to De’Veon Smith for a one-yard touchdown run. After a successful conversion, the Apollos led 8-0 after a 10-play drive that took 6:42 off of the first quarter clock.
Not to be outdone, Legends quarterback Aaron Murray was also perfect on his team’s first drive, completing all nine of his pass attempts for 52 yards. In a departure from his Apollos counterpart, Murray concluded his first drive with a touchdown pass, finding Malachi Jones for an 8-yard completion on the first play of the second quarter. After failing on the conversion attempt, the Legends trailed 8-6 but looked every bit ready to compete on the day.
Another long Apollos drive followed, though Gilbert was not perfect on this one. Still, he went 6-for-8 for 58 yards, including a couple of drive saving completions on third down, and De’Veon Smith scored on another short touchdown run. After a missed conversion, the Apollos led 14-6 with 6:31 left in the first half. The first half would end with that score, and Atlanta would start the second half with the ball with the opportunity to get even.
Yeah… About That…
Atlanta opened the second half with high hopes… and promptly punted after a three-and-out “aided” by a false start penalty. The Apollos took over, and unlike their two first half drives – that took a combined fifteen minutes – they wasted little time scoring again, aided by a 47-yard completion to Rannell Hall. De’Veon Smith scored his third touchdown of the game one play later, and the Apollos led 20-6 after failing on the conversion yet again.
The next Legends drive started well enough, with the team picking up two first downs. which was quite an accomplishment after moving backwards on their previous drive. The good fortune wouldn’t last, however, with Murray throwing an interception on the fifth play of the drive to Deji Olatoye, who added insult to injury by returning the interception for a touchdown. Just like that, and with just under seven minutes left in the third quarter, the Legends now trailed 28-6 after Gilbert ran in the conversion himself. The rout was on.
Last Pass for a Reason
Still, the Legends persisted, if only to shrink the margin of defeat. On their next drive, Murray drove the team down the field, starting the drive 5-for-6 as the Legends threatened in Apollos territory. However, three straight completions doomed the Legends to failure, especially considering that the last incompletion was technically a completion to the other team, with Cody Riggs intercepting the ball at the one yard line.
I’m sure you know the drill at this point. The Apollos took over deep in their own territory, but still managed to score their final points of the game on the drive. This time, it was the three-headed running back combo of Smith, D’Ernest Johnson and Akeem Hunt doing the damage, as the three combined to take the ball the entire length of the field before ceding to Gilbert for his first touchdown pass of the game to Charles Johnson. The backs combined for nine carried and 104 yards (there was a couple of penalties) on the 96-yard drive. After Johnson scored the conversion, the Apollos led 36-6.
Matt Simms came in to replace the mostly ineffective Murray and didn’t do much better (obviously), and the game ended at that score after a series of punts and an Atlanta failure to convert on 4th down. The Apollos moved to 6-1 on the season, clinching the league’s first playoff spot, while the Legends fell to 2-5, with a likely playoff elimination looming as early as next week.
Garrett Gilbert added to his MVP resume, though with the large margin, he probably didn’t get to fill that stat sheet as much as usual. Still, he completed 19 of 23 passes (82.6%) for 217 yards and that touchdown to Charles Johnson. He now has 11 touchdowns against one interception on the season, and has been far and away the best quarterback in the league this season.
The three-headed running back for the Apollos ran for 133 yards on 29 carries (4.6 yards per carry) and De’Veon Smith’s three touchdown, and allowed the Apollos to burn the clock for much of the second half.
Aaron Murray may have had a high completion percentage (72.7%), but he only threw for 135 yards (8.4 yards per completion) and had those costly two interceptions. The Legends can definitely not play from behind, as evidenced by this game… and the other two that they’ve lost by more than four touchdowns.
Next Week’s Games
Barring a major catastrophe by the Birmingham Iron over the next few weeks, the Apollos (6-1) will likely meet the Iron in the playoff semifinals, a week after closing the season against their rivals in Orlando. Next week, however, the Apollos will travel to face the Memphis Express (1-5) in what could be Johnny Manziel’s first start in a lost season for the Express.
The Legends (2-5) will look to keep their very slim playoff chances alive next week in a face-t0-face game against the aforementioned Iron (4-2) in Brimingham. Lose that game, and the Legends will be officially eliminated from playoff contention. They need to win out, while hoping that the Iron do the same, to make the playoffs this season.
Until next time…