Defensive performance gives San Antonio victory against Birmingham
BIRMINGHAM — As the rain slowly dripped away, football began to pour out onto Legion Field. As the San Antonio Commanders looked to end their two-game losing streak, they knew a win wouldn’t come easy against the undefeated Birmingham Iron.
In what could only be described as a defensive matchup, both teams struggled to find momentum in the first half. Coming down to a handful of plays, the Commanders defense did just enough to hold off the Iron 12-11, giving Birmingham its first loss of the season.
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.
“The Iron have a very solid football team,” Commanders head coach Mike Riley said. “They hare a very sound and physical team. They are really hard to score against. I was really proud we won the game.”
San Antonio was given little favors thanks to Iron’s punter Colton Schmidt. Pinning them at the 1-yard line, the Commanders would drive 78 yards down the field and strike first with a 39-yard field goal by Nick Rose. It would become the longest drive in Commanders history, running 21 plays, including an impressive catch by Alonzo Moore from a deflected pass., and taking 9:34 off the clock.
Looking to limit his mistakes, quarterback Logan Woodside looked calm in the pocket from the first snap. Going 11 of 25 for 106 yard, the Toledo alum evaded sacks, picked up first downs and drove San Antonio down the field with his arm.
“I thought Logan did a great job of competing and making some plays,” RIley said. “We didn’t move the ball as effectively as we wanted to but that was due to how the game was going and our strong running game.”
The Commanders defense was able to pressure Iron quarterback Luis Perez into making several rushed throws. Cornerback De’Vante Bausby looked strong in man coverage against the Iron receivers, finishing the game with two total tackles and three pass deflections.
But a big surprise came from both offensive lines. Between the Iron and Commanders, each team allowed just one sack with both coming in the first quarter.
“The offensive line did a heck of a job blocking” Commanders running back Trey Williams said. “They created several big holes and we just hit them.”
After a strong 14-yard run by Kenneth Farrow II to begin the second half, San Antonio struggled to find an offensive identity. The Commanders would fail to collect first downs and eventually be forced to punt on two straight drives.
“I think we got back to the basics,” Farrow said. “We were kind of struggling the past couple of weeks because we were shooting ourselves in the foot. I thought today we were able to avoid that.”
On what looked to be a promising drive for the Iron thanks to several penalties on the Commanders defense, Perez finally made the mistake that was bound to happen. Looking for DeVozea Felton, Perez was intercepted by Commanders cornerback Zack Sanchez, giving the Commanders a chance to take the lead.
“I saw him rolling out and there was a tight end in front of me and then I just saw the ball in the air,” Sanchez said. “It was a good ball but I knew he was going to make a mistake.”
San Antonio would break free into the open field thanks to a 26-yard run by Farrow, sending him over 100 yards for the day. Four plays later, running back Trey Williams juked his way free for a 12-yard touchdown run, giving San Antonio a 9-3 lead.
And while the Iron looked to come back, the Commanders defense made it near impossible to make any plays. Eliminating the pass and forcing them to run, San Antonio held the Iron to back-to-back punts before causing a fumble recovered by linebacker Darnell Leslie.
But there’s a reason they call Birmingham’s defense “The Iron Curtain.” From the 1-yard line, San Antonio was stuffed five times before settling for a 20-yard field goal by Nick Rose to give them a 12-3 lead.
“There’s a reason Birmingham is the leading red-zone defense in the league,” Riley said. “We tried it all and it didn’t work. At some point you have to block them to get in the end zone.”
In the end, the Iron tried to keep their hopes alive with The Alliance’s fourth-and-12 onside conversion play. Following a 1-yard touchdown run by Trent Richardson, the Iron looked to keep their undefeated season alive.
Perez looked deep for L’Damian Washington and fired a bullet into double coverage. Commanders safety Orion Stewart intercepted the ball and sealed victory for San Antonio.
“Everybody wants to think they have the best team in the league,” Riley said. “What it looks like to me is whoever plays the best ball that day is going to win.”
And while the Commanders might not have been perfect, they picked up a much-needed win. Moving forward in the Western Conference, the team now can regroup, reassess and start their journey back to the top. After Arizona’s loss to Atlanta Sunday night, the Hotshots, Fleet and Commanders all are 2-2, with Salt Lake one game back at 1-3.
Perhaps Riley put it best. In The Alliance, anyone can win on any given Sunday.
He concluded, “This league is even Steven all the way around. You might have some favorites, maybe Orlando because they’re undefeated, but it looks to me like anybody could beat anybody any single week.”
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Cole Thompson covers the San Antonio Commanders for The Alliance of American Football. Follow him on Twitter @MrColeThompson