In our preview for this game yesterday, we talked about the Salt Lake Stallions defense propensity to give up big plays a reason for their struggles this season. We also mentioned that chances were the Stallions would be playing in front of the biggest crowd they had seen all season, and wondered if that would affect them.
Both things seemed to have some bearing on the results Saturday night. For much of the game, the teams were pitched in a defensive struggle, with neither side coming through when expected. But the San Antonio Commanders, buoyed by an Alliance-record crowd at the Alamodome, finally came through in the end, and made the big plays when necessary, walking away victorious – and in first place in the Western Conference – by the score of 19-15.
Here’s how it all went down:
It’s Good Defense, Not Poor Offense
The teams exchanged points on their opening drives. The Stallions took the ball first, driving the length of the field using a mix of pass and run before their first false start penalty of the night short-circuited a 4th down attempt. They settled for a 32-yard field goal from Taylor Bertolet to take the early 3-0 lead.
The Commanders immediately answered, with two long passes covering most of the drive. First, a 24-yard completion to De’Marcus Ayers moved them deep into Stallions territory and the cusp of the red zone. After a run that went nowhere on first down, Logan Woodside found Mekale McKay, his favorite target this season, for the final 21 yards of the drive for the touchdown, and the Commanders took a 6-3 lead.
I Said it was Good Defense…
On their next drive, the Stallions punted, but managed to get the ball back when Woodside threw an interception to Cody Brown along the right sideline. They nearly gave it right back, with Joel Bouagnon and Josh Woodrum fumbling a hand off. Bouagnon managed to fall on it to maintain possession, however, but the the drive stalled and the Stallions opened the second quarter with a 53-yard field goal by Bertolet to pull even at 6.
It was Woodrum’s turn to throw an interception on the Stallions’ next drive (after a Commanders’ punt). Like seemingly all of Woodrum’s interceptions this season, it happened in the red zone, and the Commanders immediately drove down the field with the help of a long completion to tight end Evan Rodriguez. But all was good for the Stallions, as Cody Brown intercepted a pass at the goal line for the Stallions… only for it to be overturned due to a roughing the passer penalty. The Stallions defense did manage to hold the Commanders to a field goal to close out the first half, preventing a touchdown even though the Commanders ran five consecutive plays inside the 10-yard line. Score was 9-6 Commanders at half time.
Third Quarter is For Punting
The Commanders punted on their opening drive of the second half, and the Stallions managed to pull even with another long field goal from Bertolet. Another Commanders’ punt led to a Bertolet miss from 54 yards, and them teams remained tied at 9 through the end of the third quarter, with the teams trading punts on four consecutive drives until things started happening again.
After yet another Stallions punt, the Commanders were able to put together a drive, and it was helmed by backup quarterback Marquis Williams. One thing the Stallions were able to do was get to Logan Woodside all game, and on their sixth sack of him, he was knocked out of the game with an apparent shoulder injury. Williams changed things up a bit, and the Stallions could not adjust to his pace of play, with Williams accounting for two first downs on scrambles.
On third-and-16, the Stallions’ defense was hoping to get off the field and turn things back over to the offense when Williams found Trey Williams out of the backfield. The running back ran virtually untouched all the way to the end zone for the 36-yard touchdown, and after a successful conversion, the Commanders took a 17-9 lead with 5:25 remaining.
One More Big Play
Woodrum came out throwing on the subsequent drive, going 5-for-7 for 82 yards and a touchdown to Terrell Newby on a wonderful pass. But it was his last pass of the game that would ultimately be the team’s downfall. On the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, Woodrum forced a pass to De’Mornay Pierson-El that was intercepted on a great jump by De’Vante Bausby, who ran untouched all the way to the other end zone. The two points moved the Commanders’ lead to 19-15, but with 1:54 left, the Stallions still had a chance.
At least they probably would have if they attempted an “onside” conversion next. Instead, since they had all three timeouts remaining, they decided to leave it up to the defense to stop the Commanders, needing a quick punt to get the ball back. Unfortunately, on third-and-3, Marquis Williams found some space off left tackle for five yards, dooming the Stallions chances. The Commanders entered the victory formation and that was that.
For the second game in a row, the Commanders came away victorious despite being outgained on the offensive side of the ball. Josh Woodrum was 22-for-35 for 229 yards, with a touchdown and one interception (that counts in the stats). But the Stallions biggest hurdle to a productive day was offensive penalties, especially pre-snap penalties because of crowd noise.
On their penultimate drive of the game, they had two consecutive false start penalties, which resulted in a third-and-20. On that third-and-20 play, Woodrum was sacked for a 12-yard loss, fumbling the ball in the process. The Stallions recovered, but they still had to punt the ball, which led to the Commanders’ winning touchdown drive.
Mike Purcell had two sacks for the Stallions (of their six total), but Defensive Player of the Week Karter Schult was nearly statless on the night, registering a lone quarterback hit during the game. I don’t know if the Commanders were scheming to keep him out of the backfield, but whatever they did seemed to work.
Next Week’s Slate
The Commanders (5-2) again get to play at home, likely in front of another raucous crowd, against the Arizona Hotshots (3-3). It will be the rematch of Week 5’s epic Hotshots comeback that came up just short in the end. The Salt Lake Stallions (2-5) will likewise be playing a rematch against the San Diego Fleet (3-3), the team from Week 5, another exciting game that came down to the wire. The Stallions are in must-win mode and need to win every game from here on out to have any chance of reaching the playoffs.
Until next time…