AAF Week 7 Recap: Making Hay
The rest of the AAF season is coming on fast, and the time for teams to make a move is now. But in three of those games, the team who were in the higher end of their respective conference standings got a key victory this past weekend. So, who kept pace?
The Orlando Apollos bounce back from their first loss last week in torching the Atlanta Legends 36-6, earning a playoff berth in the process. After the Apollos lost in such surreal fashion to Arizona last week, it was a valid question to ask on how Head Ball Coach Steve Spurrier's guys would respond. They answered that question emphatically in trouncing the hamstrung Legends, who were never in this game once Orlando got rolling very early on. After Atlanta pulled within two in the second quarter, the Apollos hit the gas, scoring 28 unanswered points to trigger the rout. This game was a microcosm of each club over the course of this season. The Apollos hit the ground running, playing crisp ball with both offensive and defensive units making plays to become the class of this budding league. The Legends, meanwhile, have been a discombobulated lot, highlighted by the exodus of coaches from the team. In turn, Atlanta has struggled to remain competitive in a league where everyone is learning to play together. The win gives Orlando (6-1) a berth in the AAF playoffs in three weeks time. Do they continue to be aggressive or do they hold back some to be ready for that pending conference championship game? Given Spurrier's history, a bet on the former would be prudent. The Legends (2-5) would need a lot of help to earn that second Eastern spot, but the best they can hope to do is play spoiler for a squad on the postseason bubble.
The San Antonio Commanders survive a late Salt Lake Stallions rally with a Pick 2 to win 19-15. Your humble scribe has referred to Salt Lake as the AAF's hard luck team. But what transpired deep in the heart of Texas was particularly brutal. The Stallions stood toe to toe with the Western Conference's most consistent team in the cacophonous Alamodome. Down by 8 with nearly five and a half minutes remaining in regulation, Salt Lake's offense, led by QB Josh Woodrum, would march down the field in nine plays & 75 yards (including conversions of a 3rd & 17 and a 4th & 4), hitting RB Terrell Newby on a 21 yard pass for a touchdown to pull within two. The Stallions line up for a game tying two point conversion attempt. Woodrum tried to squeeze a strike to WR De'Mornay Pierson-El, but was intercepted by Commanders DB De'Vante Bausby, who returned it the other way for two points, extending San Antonio's lead by four. And that would conclude the scoring in the game, as the Commanders (5-2) retain their lead in the Western Conference. They show flashes of brilliance, but they play solid ball for four quarters, which is more than enough for the competition in this league. Salt Lake (2-5) regrettably, are finding creative ways to lose. Yes, they do possess the league's most prolific quarterback sackers on their defensive line, but they also make mistakes that are often their own undoing. Upon the league's second season (provided that the NFL or XFL doesn't raid their roster), the Stallions could be a candidate for a turnaround campaign. But that's in 2020. In 2019, however, all they can hope for is an Arizona collapse and a Fleet fade... and that's not likely to happen. Speaking of those two teams,...
The Arizona Hotshots, led by a stellar performance by quarterback John Wolford, win a vital conference game against the San Diego Fleet, 32-15. The Fleet and Hotshots came into this game 3-3, tied for second in the West, and able to get a leg up with a win in Tempe, Arizona. The Fleet have not travelled well, losing every road game this year, while Arizona has been their own worst enemy by virtue of self inflicted wounds of sloppy play & unforced errors on both sides of the ball. One man who would shine would be Wolford, whose passing line (15 of 19 for 212 yards, 2 TD's, & 1 INT) was a model of efficiency that was complemented with 189 rushing yards that would squeeze the life out of the Fleet. Arizona (4-3) has shown the capability of being the best the AAF has to offer, as well as the shortcomings to be an also-ran. It all depends on their execution on the field. San Diego (3-4), on the other hand, has the league's best rusher in RB Ja'Quan Gardner and a solid defense, but inconsistent play at quarterback, either due to injury or performance, have been its Achilles heel. It leaves Fleet fans wondering what might have been had Philip Nelson were not knocked out due to a shoulder injury. The Fleet are not dead yet, but they are playing from behind with only three games to go.
The Birmingham Iron and Memphis Express played to a regulation tie, which led to the AAF's first overtime, where the Express prevailed, 31-25. The headlines entering this game was the AAF debut of Johnny Manziel, the former first round NFL draft pick whose personal problems led to his exile from both the Shield and the Canadian Football League (CFL). Manziel would take the field a handful of times, but the named starter, Brandon Silvers, would be the impact player. Silvers turned in a fine performance (24 of 35 for 266 yards & 2 TD's) and would lead the Express from 11 points down to tie the Iron with seconds remaining 25-25. This would set the stage for the first overtime period in Alliance history. The rules are unique: Each team will get one possession beginning at the opposition's 10 yard line, playing one drive. The only permitted score is a touchdown or a two point conversion. The visiting team will open the extra time. In this case, Birmingham started off to put the pressure on Memphis, but they fell short. The Express carried their momentum into their OT drive, as Silvers would hit WR Daniel Williams on a ten yard strike for a game winning touchdown. The Express (2-5) have continued to battle each week, a testament to the resolve of head coach Mike Singletary's guys. The quarterback position has been a proverbial revolving door for the Express, with Silvers as the team's third starter under center. They find themselves 2 games behind the Iron (4-3) for the second Eastern Conference playoff berth. Birmingham's hold on that spot is tenuous. Their offense can be spotty, which makes them vulnerable depending on who they face and how they play. If the Iron continue to play opportunistic defense, then Birmingham could hang on for a potential third game against the Apollos, more than likely in Orlando.
The home stretch is here with only three games left. Here's the Week 8 matchups with the broadcast info. Don't forget all games are livestreamed on the league's website, aaf.com
Orlando @ Memphis 2pm EDT B/R Live
San Diego @ Salt Lake 6pm EDT NFL Network
Atlanta @ Birmingham 4pm EDT CBS Sports Network
Arizona @ San Antonio 8pm EDT NFL Network
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