Apollos Defense, Rushing Attack Key Berth Day Celebration in 36-6 Road Win Over Atlanta
By Tom Alexander, AAF Staff Writer // March 24, 2019
Apollos Travel to Face Johnny Manziel and Memphis Express next week
ABOVE VIDEO: Highlights of the Orlando Apollos 36-6 win over the Atlanta Legends on Saturday.
ATLANTA, GEORGIA, – With three games to play in the inaugural AAF season, the Orlando Apollos bounced back from their first loss last week to defeat the Atlanta Legends for the second time this season and in the process clinched the league’s first playoff berth.
Orlando has gained more yards through the air than any other team in The Alliance of American Football this season, but one might not guess that by looking at the stats from the 36-6 win over the Legends on Saturday.
Orlando ran the ball 31 times for 152 yards Saturday, the second-most rushing attempts in a game the team has had all season, and its third-highest rushing total of the season.
All three of the Apollos’ running backs made significant contributions. D’Ernest Johnson led the way with seven carries for 54 yards.
Akeem Hunt added nine carries for 39 yards, and De’Veon Smith carried the ball 13 times for 40 yards and three touchdowns.
Smith is just the second player in The Alliance to have three rushing touchdowns in a single game. The first was back in Week 3 when the Birmingham Iron’s Trent Richardson had three rushing touchdowns.
That game was also against Atlanta. Apollos head coach Steve Spurrier has spoken often about the talent of his backfield this season, but he says the offensive line had just as much to do with the success on the ground this week.
“We gave a game ball to our offensive line coaches (guards/centers coach Jim Stephens and tackles coach Todd Washington). That was, by far, the best game by our offensive line, pass protection and run blocking, and, of course, our runners ran well.
“When something wasn’t there, they found a way to make yards. It’s always good when you’re able to run the ball the way we were able to, especially in the second half when we got a lead,” Spurrier said after the game.
The Apollos’ defense didn’t start out well, allowing Atlanta to score on its opening drive and struggling to generate a pass rush for most of the game.
ABOVE VIDEO: The Ol’ Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, talks about the win against the Legends, making the playoffs and the keys to the game.
However, the defense turned the momentum in the Apollos’ favor in the second half, when cornerback Deji Olatoye intercepted Legends quarterback Aaron Murray and returned the ball 65 yards for a touchdown.
That gave Orlando a 22-point lead and began a downward spiral for Atlanta.
On the next drive, Atlanta drove the ball to Orlando’s 9-yard line, and nearly scored a touchdown. Legends tight end Keith Towbridge dropped a touchdown catch, and two plays later, Apollos cornerback Cody Riggs intercepted Murray at the goal line.
That play drove Atlanta to replace Murray with Matt Simms. Atlanta never really threatened to score after that because Orlando’s defense played much better in the second half. It finished the day giving up just 255 yards of total offense.
The Apollos’ running attack was the star of the game, but their passing game still produced positive yards.
ABOVE VIDEO: QB Garrett Gilbert talks about the offensive line, getting back to being a starting quarterback and the great play of the defense.
Orlando quarterback Garrett Gilbert completed 19 of his 23 passes for 217 yards and a touchdown. He had a fair amount of time to throw throughout the game and wasn’t sacked at all.
“The offensive line did a fantastic job today keeping me on my feet all day long. Our receivers did a nice job creating space downfield. I think it comes down to the five guys up front doing a great job all afternoon,” Gilbert said.
The win clinches a spot in the Eastern Conference championship game for Orlando, which improved to 6-1 with the victory. However, Spurrier said after the game that his team’s job is not finished.
“We’ll be in the playoffs somewhere, but we’ll try and get home field the rest of the way as we go through. Our guys really played well (today). I was telling the guys, I don’t remember the last time one of our offenses scored touchdowns on four of the first five possessions,” he said.
Next week, the Apollos travel to Memphis, where they’ll face head coach Mike Singletary, quarterback Johnny Manziel and the Memphis Express. Orlando won its first game against the Express at home, 21-17, back in Week 3.
First snap is set for 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 30. The game will be streamed on Bleacher Report Live.
The Apollos’ next home game is Saturday, April 6, when the Apollos host the San Diego Fleet. First snap is set for 8 p.m. Eastern time, 5 p.m. San Diego, at Spectrum Stadium on the UCF campus.
The game can be seen nationally on NFL Network. Click here to buy your tickets.
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