The Fleet Sail on to a Victory Over the Commanders
On Sunday at 5:00 PM (PT), the San Antonio Commanders (1-1) flew into San Diego to take on the Fleet (1-1). This was the second time the two teams faced off, they played week one and the Commanders truly "commanded" the game. In that game the Fleet didn't score a single touchdown and the Commanders won 15 to 6. In that game, the Commanders dominated defensively. Linebacker Shaan Washington delivered the first ever hit to go viral in the league's young history. He took the helmet off of quarterback Mike Berkovici coming off the edge as the 5th defender to rush. I got a chance to ask Washington how he felt about delivering the first big social media hit and he said, "It was just amazing, especially for the fans. I owe it to my teammates for holding down the coverage to make the quarterback hold onto the ball. It was just amazing!" Similar to Washington, the entire team felt amazing after their first ever win in their inaugural game.
In week 2, the script flipped. The Fleet got their first ever win in their home stadium, while the Commanders lost a close game to the Apollos. Quarterback Logan Woodside threw a game deciding interception to Apollos CB Keith Reaser. While the Commanders struggled in week 2, the Fleet thrived! In their first ever home game, the Fleet dominated the run game. Running back Ja'Quan Gardner had over 100 yards and had the greatest running back performance in the AAF as of yet. Head Coach, Mike Martz, got his run game going but still hadn't scored a touchdown through the air. This was an area to attack for the Commanders and was an obvious game plan heading into Week 3.
The beginning of this game had a completely different feel than to weeks prior. Martz was planning on leaning on the run game, then eventually pulling the ball and throwing it over top. Martz was going to play his game, similar to what he did back with the "Greatest Show On Turf". For the Commanders, they were ready to come back from a tough loss to the Apollos. These are two completely different mindsets that the teams had, and this would end up dictating the game.
Before every game, I like to be on the field as long as possible. So usually I miss the first two or three plays of the game, which is fine right... not in this case! Two of the biggest plays happened while I'm in the elevator up to the press box. Think of your ideal start to a game, does it sound a little like this? 1st and 10 at the 25 yard line, Phillip Nelson drops back and airs it out deep on the left side... INTERCEPTION, De'Vante Bausby! Returns it to the Fleet's 47 yard line. Next thing you know, the ball is in the end zone. QB Logan Woodside threw a bomb to WR Meckale Mckay. This had to be the ideal start for the Commanders and it started to look like it would be a similar result to the week one matchup.
But this is when tides began to turn and the Fleet began to sail. The following Commander drive, Woodside sailed a pass on 3rd and 35 that would be intercepted by star Safety, Jordan Martin. Martin high pointed the ball like a center at the tip off. This interception gave the Fleet optimism, and that is exactly when everything started to click. The Fleet's offense got into rhythm and the defense started to lock down. Besides a long pass to WR Laquvionte Gonzalez, head coach Mike Martz began to lean on his two dynamic running backs. The Fleet went on an 8 play, 92 yard drive at the end of the first quarter. With three minutes left in the first quarter, the Fleet had been hammering the run game. The Fleet were on the 3 yard line and everyone knew that they were going to hand it straight up the middle. This caused Martz to call a surprise pass. Martz had Phillip Nelson roll out and with the line's perfect protection, Nelson was able to find wide receiver Nelson Spruce wide open on a circus route in the corner of the end zone. There it was, the Fleet's first ever touchdown pass... Nelson to Nelson!
In the second quarter, the Fleet got on the board thanks to their defense. Line backer AJ Tarpley read the quarterback's eyes and jumped the hook and took the ball 27 yards to the house. It was the exact play you'd want your linebacker to make. Now the Fleet were up 14-8, but the Fleet wanted to get one more touchdown by the end of the half. Quarterback, Phillip Nelson, completed multiple passes on third down and you can tell that Nelson was in a rhythm. With just over 2 minutes left in the first half, Nelson hit Nelson Spruce for their second touchdown of the game. This was awesome, the Fleet's passing game finally got going. The play call was on an old fashion, two man crossing route combination. The tight end ran a corner and Spruce ran a post, this confused the defensive backs which led Spruce wide open in the middle of the end zone. The final score of the second half was 22-8, the Fleet were ahead.
The Fleet controlled the rest of the game allowing only three more points to be scored by the Commanders. The Fleet began to pound the ball. Running Back Ja'Quan Gardner had the play of the game. It was on a simple draw play on their own 27 yard line. Gardner went untouched, 83 yards to the house. Gardner looked like the Flash running past everybody. After the game, Gardner told me, "It started at the line, they did a great job. I just found the open hole and I just hit... For me it felt like I was running forever, but it was amazing." Gardner now has the most rushing yards in the league's young history, and is showing that he can be an NFL running back. The Fleet would tack on another field goal in the fourth quarter and would end the game winning, 31-11. The Fleet had a complete game and this is the game that you could say they "clicked".
Next week the Fleet (2-1) will be taking on the (0-3) Memphis Express and the Commanders (1-2) take on the (3-0) Birmingham Iron.