Commanders struggle following opening big play, fall to Fleet
SAN DIEGO — On the first play of the game, San Diego Fleet quarterback Philip Nelson would be intercepted by the San Antonio Commanders’ De’Vante Bausby. The next play, Commanders quarterback Logan Woodside would find his go-to target, Mekale McKay, for a 47-yard touchdown.
All it took was 19 seconds for fans to wonder how Sunday’s matchup between these two Western Conference foes could potentially play out.
Unfortunately, multiple penalties, lack of pass protection and blown coverage hurt the Commanders in the first half. In the end, offensive inconsistencies would derail San Antonio and ultimately lead to a 31-11 victory for the Fleet.
The San Antonio Commanders return home from a four-game road trip on Saturday, March 23, to host the Salt Lake Stallions at 8 p.m. ET (7 p.m. local) in a game televised on NFL Network. For tickets to that and all Commanders games, click here.
“We’re obviously very disappointed with the outcome of the game,” Commanders head coach Mike Riley said. “We had high expectations coming in and expected a good game. We had an interesting start, but then it’s pretty easy to decipher what happened next.”
Woodside would finish 12 of 23 for 151 yards with a pair of interceptions. His first came during the team’s second drive that started strong and ended in disaster. After what would have been a 14-yard touchdown to wide receiver Greg Ward Jr., two pass interference calls along with a sack led to a third-and-30 play.
“I missed a few throws early on,” Woodside said. “I never got a good rhythm. Credit to San Diego’s defense. They did a good job containing us.”
Two drives later, Woodside threw the ball in the direction of linebacker A.J. Tarpley, who returned it 27 yards for a touchdown and gave San Diego a 14-8 lead.
“The crowd made an impact tonight for sure,” Woodside said. “We had some communication issues upfront. I have to be better for the offensive line. It’s not all on them, it’s mostly me so I’m going to have to take credit for that.”
Led by Nelson, the Fleet scored on their third drive with a 3-yard touchdown to Nelson Spruce. Spruce finished with four receptions for 50 yards and two touchdowns, including an 18-yard score near the end of the second quarter. Meanwhile, running back Ja’Quan Gardner added to his impressive start, finishing with 122 rushing yards and an 83-yard touchdown run. It is the longest in Alliance history.
On defense, San Diego finished with four sacks including a big hit by defensive tackle Shakir Soto on a crucial third down during the second quarter.
The Commanders might have found a new weapon for their offense moving forward. After missing the first two games with a foot injury, running back Trey Williams made his presence felt against the Fleet’s defense. After picking up a first down on a nine-yard pass, the Texas A&M product started the third quarter with a 30-yard run into San Diego’s territory. Williams finished with 75 yards on seven carries.
The Commanders’ running back room, known for their ability to score, struggled to find any rhythm on the ground. Williams, Kenneth Farrow II and David Cobb combined for 110 total yards.
“We have to learn from this,” Williams said. “We (made) a lot of mistakes that really cost us. We had a lot of times we could have taken advantage of the defense. I feel like we beat ourselves.”
Thanks to late theatrics, San Antonio added some excitement for fans inside SDCCU Stadium. After failing to convert on third down, Commanders linebacker Nick Temple recovered a muffed punt by LaQuvionte Gonzalez, setting the Commanders up inside the Fleet’s 20-yard line.
However, they were forced to settle for a field goal after officials overturned a touchdown catch by Ward.
“We never gained our rhythm after the first overturned touchdown,” Riley said. “I never felt we were really ever consistent. After the start of the game, we never really had the momentum to turn it around.”
But San Antonio will hope to bounce back. With their first of four games away from the Alamo City, they will need to learn to recover quickly and learn from their mistakes. In a fierce Western Conference, the Commanders still have a chance to compete.
In the end, the Commanders learned a tough but valuable lesson; one big play won’t lead to a win.
“I know we have good players,” Riley said. “There’s always going to be those things in the film that we can learn from. We’ll get back at that and I expect us to really bounce back from this.”
Change of Command: Offensive lineman Fred Lauina suffered a knee injury during a late drive in the second quarter and was replaced by Mason Gentry. Lauina did not return.
# # #
Cole Thompson covers the San Antonio Commanders for The Alliance of American Football. Follow him on Twitter @MrColeThompson