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Despite a few close calls, the Orlando Apollos were able to defeat the Memphis Express 21-17 at their home Spectrum Stadium making this the third straight victory of their inaugural season in the American Alliance of Football.
Although his team seems to be among best in the AAF thus far, Orlando Head Coach Steve Spurrier isn’t ready to rest on any laurels three weeks into the season.
“We’re not out-coaching anybody, that’s for sure,” Spurrier told the media after the game. “I think we have a good team if we play within the rules, play smart, don’t give up 50-yard touchdowns and run the ball a little bit better.”
Orlando Quarterback Garrett Gilbert threw for 205 yards and a touchdown and scrambled for another. The former Southern Methodist standout leads the AAF in passing yards and has yet to throw an interception.
Apollos running back D’Ernest Johnson led the game in rushing yards with 79 and a touchdown. Linebacker Terence Galvin recorded his third interception of the season, which leads the AAF.
Memphis fell to 0-3 on the season. Starting Quarterback Christian Hackenberg after a first half in which he threw two interceptions and the Express were shut out.
Express Head Coach Mike Singletary, the NFL Hall-of-Famer and former coach of the San Francisco 49ers, expressed disappointment at his team’s start to their season – and their franchise.
“This is obviously not the outcome we wanted, Singletary said. “We just have to continue to prep and to get better.”
The attendance at Spectrum Stadium was 20,394 people – 203 more in the stands than their inaugural home game on February 9th.
The Apollos’ first drive was marked by success over the air, with Gilbert having no trouble moving the chains with his arm. Orlando was able to take a 6-0 lead less than two minutes into the game after the Johnson touchdown run.
Memphis’ ensuing drive was stopped short after Hackenburg’s first pass of the game was intercepted by Cornerback Keith Reaser.
Gilbert continued to have no problem pushing the ball downfield, finding Tight End Scott Orndoff on two consecutive first downs before a field goal extended the Apollos’ lead to 9-0 with 7:34 remaining in the 1st quarter.
The Express responded with a quick three-and-out. Orlando’s next drive ended with three-straight incomplete passes by Gilbert, which Memphis was able to capitalize on with their first first-down of the game on a drive that ended with a missed field goal by Kicker Josh Jasper to close out the 1st quarter.
The Apollos’ began the 2nd quarter with a punt that pinned the Express down on their 2-yard-line. Hackenberg was able to get things going with a 46-yard pass to Dontez Byrd. However, a sack by Linebacker Andrew Ankrah killed the Memphis drive and they punted back to the Apollos with 10:08 remaining in the half.
A key drop by Charles Johnson coupled with an unsuccessful 3rd down scramble by Gilbert led to a failed 4th down attempt by Orlando – with Running Back De’Veon Smith stuffed up the middle.
Memphis’ offense received the ball on the Apollos’ 49-yard line. A 13-yard end-around by Wide Receiver “Pig” Howard put Memphis in the red zone. However, Hackenberg was picked off yet again by Galvin.
On the following drive, the Apollos weren’t able to benefit on the turnover and were forced to punt with 4:44 remaining in the half.
The Express were able to drive downfield as the clock winded down, but a holding call near midfield with less than 90 seconds left doomed Memphis and they punted with 52 seconds remaining in the first half.
Orlando was also unable to convert and went into halftime with a 9-0 lead.
Memphis began the 2nd half with Zach Mettenberger at Quarterback, the former starter for the LSU Tigers in college and the Tennessee Titans in the NFL.
The Express’ offense play with new energy and they were able to drive into Orlando territory. Mettenberger was able to throw a 30-yard pass to Devin Lucien just five minutes in the half for Memphis’ first points of the game. They narrowed the Apollos’ lead to 9-6.
The Apollos seemed to adjust their offense to begin the half, and they quickly were in Memphis territory after a 28-yard run by Smith. On 4th and 8, Gilbert was forced from the pocket and sailed a 37-yard touchdown pass to Wide Receiver Rannell Hall. Orlando took a 15-6 lead with 6:28 remaining in the 3rd quarter.
Memphis’ next drive was marred by two penalties that at one point left them with a 3rd & 33 before the Express punted back to the Apollos.
Orlando’s offensive productivity halted somewhat, and they punted back to Memphis with 1:38 remaining on the 3rd quarter.
The Express’ ensuing drive was aided by a 48-yard pass interference penalty on the Apollos’ defense. Memphis pushed deeper and deeper into Orlando territory before a failed 3rd down conversion led to a Jasper field goal that cut the Apollos’ lead to 15-9 with 14:08 remaining in the game.
Orlando was able to chew clock with a few first-down scrambles by Gilbert and a 16-yard run by Johnson. Gilbert was eventually able to evade multiple defenders on a 21-yard touchdown run that put Orlando up 21-9 with 8:58 remaining in the game.
Mettenburger was able to close the gap with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Gerrard Sheppard with 3:26 remaining to make it 21-17. But the Apollos next drive was able to chew off enough clock, and Gilbert took the victory formation on the Memphis goal line to secure Orlando’s 3rd straight win.
The Apollos will travel to Salt Lake City to take on the Stallions, who recorded their first ever win today against the Arizona Hotshots.
The game will take place on Saturday, March 2nd at 2 p.m. EST and will be broadcast on Bleacher Report Live.