In the battle for second place in the AAF Western Conference – especially on the heels of the San Antonio Commanders’ Saturday night victory over the Salt Lake Stallions – the San Diego Fleet traveled to Tempe to face off against the Arizona Hotshots. For the first quarter at least, the teams were fairly evenly matched, the Hotshots pulled away in the second quarter and never looked back, winning 32-15.
Too bad there was less than 10,000 people in the stands for what was a fairly action-packed game. Here’s how it all went down:
Swapping Scores in the First Quarter
The Fleet started with the ball, and started with a false start on their first play. They were able to overcome this opening gaffe and get a first down, but they still ended up punting on the first drive. Fortunately for the Fleet, Deion Holliman fumbled after a short return, with Demetrius Wright recovering for San Diego on the 15-yard line. Four plays later, Terrell Watson, who had forced the fumble on special teams, scored from three yards out and gave the Fleet an early 6-0 lead.
When the Arizona offense finally got the ball, they proceeded to drive the field using the run, which is somewhat uncharacteristic for this league. They ran the ball on six of eight plays, covering 52 of the 75 yards to pay dirt, with Justin Stockton taking it the final seven yards for the touchdown. After also failing on the conversion try, the game was tied at 6. The teams then exchanged field goals – a 47-yarder for Donny Hageman of the Fleet and a 54-yarder for Nick Folk of the Hotshots – and the first quarter ended in a 9-9 tie.
Punts Don’t Win Ball Games
During the second quarter, the Hotshots scored twice after their defense forced the Fleet into punts. On their first drive of the quarter, Arizona mixed in some more passing, with quarterback John Wolford a perfect 4-for-4 (for 52 yards) on the drive. His final pass of the drive found Thomas Duarte deep down the left side for a 26-yard touchdown completion, and some “trickeration” on the conversion resulted in a 17-9 lead for the home team.
Another three-and-out for the Fleet again set up Wolford for another perfect drive. This time his four passes covered 66 yards, with a face mask penalty helping to move things along. Deion Holliman was able to make up for his early fumble, catching a 15-yard touchdown pass over the middle that gave the Hotshots a 23-9 lead with just over two minutes to go in the half.
Knowing full well that the Hotshots would be starting the second half with the ball, the Fleet went to work to cut into the lead, but Nelson Spruce fumbled after a short completion to turn the ball over. Fortunately for the Fleet, however, Wolford threw an interception two plays later, giving the Fleet new life with less than a minute to play. After two incompletions (and a penalty), Mike Bercovici found Spruce again for 17 yards to move to the Arizona side of the field, then found tight end Marcus Baugh deep over the middle for a 38-yard touchdown reception. The Fleet entered the half trailing 23-15 after failing on the conversion attempt.
Onto the Fourth Quarter
There wasn’t any scoring in the third quarter, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. The Fleet made it all the way to the Hotshots’ one-yard line but failed to punch it in, turning it over on downs. Then, on the Hotshots next play from deep in their territory, San Diego committed a 29-yard pass interference penalty, giving the Hotshots some breathing room. It was all for naught, however, as the Hotshots’ drive eventually sputtered out, leading to yet another punt.
Trailing by a touchdown, the Fleet decided to attempt a field goal on their next drive, but a delay of game penalty apparently pushed them out of Hageman’s range, and he missed a 49-yard attempt wide right. On the subsequent drive, the Hotshots again stuck to the ground, running it on five of six plays, with Wolford scrambling the final 35 yards for a touchdown. After failing again on the conversion – ironic, given their success at converting entering the game – the Hotshots extended their lead to two scores at 29-15.
Mike Bercovici then ended the next two Fleet drives with interceptions in an attempt to bring them back, and the Hotshots added a short field goal off of the first interception, and Arizona walked away victorious and in second place, a game behind the San Antonio Commanders.
John Wolford made a good case for being named Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season with a stellar all-around performance. He completed 15-of-19 passes (78.9%) for 212 yards and two touchdowns (and the interception in the first half). He also added 44 yards on the ground, mostly from that 35-yard touchdown scramble.
Both teams relied a bit more on the run than the rest of the league this week. The Fleet rushed for 108 yards as a team (4.0 per carry), while the Hotshots accumulated 189 yards on the ground (4.8 per carry), their second-highest rushing output on the season thus far. That total made them the first team to exceed 1,000 yards rushing on the season, and they are now averaging a robust 148.9 yards per game on the ground.
Next Week’s Calendar
Next week will be the second consecutive week with inter-conference action, and both teams will be fighting for playoff positions against teams they just played two weeks ago. The Hotshots (4-3) will head to San Antonio for a game against the Commanders (5-2) that will determine first place in the Western Conference… at least for one week. Two weeks ago, the Commanders raced out to a 26-0 lead in the first held and held on to win 29-25. The Hotshots will have revenge on their minds.
In the other game, the Fleet (3-4) will head to Salt Lake for a rematch against the Stallions (2-5) of what may have been the most exciting game in the league this season. The Stallions are the ones looking for revenge in this one, and need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Fleet, on the other hand, will look to win the season series and the potential tiebreaker implications that come with it.
Until next time…