The final game of Week 7 in the Alliance featured two players that were former first round picks of the same team in the NFL – though not the same year – the first blocked punt in league history, an eleven-point comeback and the first overtime game in Alliance history. But it also resulted in the winning team keeping extremely slim playoff odds alive, and beating one of the teams above them in the standings to do so.
The Birmingham Iron entered the game expecting to win to remain one game back of the Orlando Apollos to potentially set up a season-ending game for the Eastern Conference. The Memphis Express found themselves in last place and all but eliminated from the playoff race, but with a brand new, big name quarterback to keep the fans interested for the rest of the season. But in a result that few expected, the Express were the ones on top at the end, coming back from an eleven-point deficit to force overtime and win 31-25 in front of 13,758 fans plus in Memphis.
Here’s how it all went down:
Iron Strike First
With their stout defense forcing a Memphis punt on the first drive of the game, the Iron took over deep in their own territory. Luis Perez was back in under center as the starter for the Iron (after relieving an injured Keith Price last week). He immediately went to work, leading the Iron on a 11-play, 94-yard drive that featured a little bit of everything. He went 5-for-8 on the drive for 67 yards, and Birmingham was helped by three Memphis penalties. The final play of the drive was an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Braedon Bowman, and the Iron led 8-0 after their first drive.
Memphis’ second drive was much more successful than their first, with quarterback Brandon Silvers going a perfect 7-for-7 (for 87 yards) on the drive. Terrence Magee finished the work on the first play of the second quarter, and after a successful conversion, it was all tied at 8-8. However, Perez and the Iron wasted little time retaking the lead, with two long completions – 28 yards to Quinton Patton and 46 yards to Jamal Robinson – moving the ball to the one yard line, allowing Trent Richardson to grab his league-leading 10th rushing touchdown with minimal effort. He also added the conversion, and the Iron were back on top 16-8.
Punt Show Starts Early
If you’ve read any number of my other game recaps, it always seems that the third quarter of every AAF game is dominated by punting. In this game, however, the punts were moved back to before halftime, with the teams exchanging punts on the next four drives after the Iron scored. Perhaps wanting to mix it up, Express coach Mike Singletary turned the offense over to Johnny Manziel with a little over seven minutes to go in the half.
Johnny Football started off looking to run, and gained twenty yards on his first two carries of the game. After an incompletion on his first pass attempt, he managed to find Alton Howard deep for a 36-yard completion, and the Express seemed to be on their way to a score. It was all for naught, however, when Austin MacGinnis hit the right upright on a 34-yard attempt, and the teams entered halftime with the Iron leading 16-8.
The First Time They Trailed by Eleven
The Iron started the second half with the ball, and again Perez was effective at moving the offense down the field. He even helped convert a 4th-and-2 to keep the drive alive. Still, the drive eventually stalled out, and Nick Novak made a 48-yard field goal to push the lead to 11… or not! Nullified by a 15-yard “leverage” penalty, the Iron seemingly had another chance… only to see their drive peter out a little closer to the end zone. Novak came back in and converted a 24-yard field goal to give the Iron the 19-8 advantage.
After a three-and-out for the Express led by Manziel, the Iron again had the ball, and managed to pick up one first down. But the drive again stalled, in part thanks to a holding penalty that nullified a long completion. Unable to get all the yardage back, the Iron punted, only to have the punt blocked by DeMarquis Gates and scooped up by Terrell Bonds and returned 50 yards for the score. It was the first blocked kick returned for a touchdown in league history, and after a failed conversion, the score was 19-14.
The Second Time They Trailed by Eleven
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Iron were driving, only to seemingly lose the ball on a Luis Perez interception. However, the play was nullified by a defensive offside call, and exacerbated by an unnecessary roughness penalty to boot. Trent Richardson did Trent Richardson things, gaining eight yards on four carries, before Perez found Wes Saxton for a short touchdown to take the lead back up to 11 at 25-14.
This time, the Express finished their comeback. Silvers led the team down the field, capping the drive with a MacGinnis field goal to get back within a score. Then, the Express defense held the Iron to a three-and-out, and Silvers took over again with 3:09 left in regulation. He subsequently went 6-for-9 (for 58 yards) on the final drive of regulation, and capped it off with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Reece Horn with under 30 seconds to play. A successful conversion, followed by an Iron kneel, and we had the first overtime game in Alliance history, with the teams tied at 25 entering the bonus period.
For overtime in the AAF, the league uses the “Kansas Playoff” rules, at least during the regular season. Each team will begin on their opponent’s 10-yard line and be given one possession (four downs) to score a touchdown, with no field goals allowed. If it remains tied after each team has had their possession, the game ends in a tie.
The Iron were up first, and the inconsistency that has plague Luis Perez reared its ugly head at the worst time. He threw incompletions on his first two passes, and was sacked for an 8-yard loss on third down. With one play left, and needing a touchdown, Perez again threw incomplete, giving the Express a chance to complete their comeback and win the game.
Silvers also started with an incompletion, but on second down, he found Dan Williams for the winning touchdown. We would not be having our first tie in the AAF, and Memphis would walk away victorious and keep their long-shot playoff chances alive.
The Express quarterbacks – especially Brandon Silvers – were the dominant force in this game. In fact, Silvers performance, especially down the stretch, could make it difficult to turn things over to Manziel on a full-time basis next week. Manziel was about 50/50 in the game when it came to moving the ball, though he would have been responsible for some points while in there had MacGinnis not missed a field goal. Still, he led the Express in rushing (20 yards on two carries, but still), and didn’t turn the ball over, a departure from his inauspicious CFL debut last year.
Silvers, on the other hand, was also turnover free, and led the team back from a deficit and won the game in overtime. He finished the game 24-of-35 (68.6%) for 266 yards and two touchdowns. His favorite target was Reece Horn, who caught nine passes for 113 yards and a touchdown, his second straight game over 100 yards.
Coming Up Next Week
The Express (2-5) get to test their mettle next week against the Eastern Conference leading Apollos (6-1) as Memphis tries to somehow get in the playoffs. I don’t think Manziel will be starting now, especially after Silvers’ strong performance, but I could see him used as a change-of-pace quarterback. But an Apollos win…
…and a Iron (4-3) loss to the Atlanta Legends (2-5) would clinch the top seed for the Apollos with two weeks to go, rendering their Week 10 matchup moot, as they would know the game was going to be played in Orlando. Either way, Birmingham could go a long way to eliminating the Legends (and the Express) with a win next week.
Until next time…