Apollos defense sets tone in statement win over Iron
BIRMINGHAM - In the battle between The Alliance of American Football's best offense and its best defense, defense won the day. It just wasn't the defense people expected to win the day. The Orlando Apollos' offense gained 468 total yards against the Birmingham Iron's defense, which came into the game allowing the fewest yards and points in The Alliance.
But the Apollos' dominant performance on defense was what enabled the offense to keep getting on the field and gaining all those yards. Orlando gave up 272 total yards to Birmingham, but just 49 of those were on the ground. Nearly every time it looked like the Iron were taking the momentum, the defense made a play to stop a drive. In the end, that allowed the Apollos to walk away from Legion Field on Saturday with a 31-14 victory -- and a perfect 5-0 record.
The Apollos' next home game is Saturday, March 16, when they host the Arizona Hotshots at Spectrum Stadium on the UCF campus. First snap is set for 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. Tempe). The game will be broadcast nationally on NFL Network, but to see it in person, tickets are available here.
Apollos head coach Steve Spurrier said after the game that this performance may have been his team's best yet, and is proof Orlando is a contender for The Alliance Championship. "If we can stay in focus, stay within ourselves, our guys can achieve a lot this year," Spurrier said.
Orlando sacked Birmingham's quarterbacks five times -- a season high -- and hurried them seven more. The Apollos' defense even managed to drive Iron quarterback Luis Perez -- second in the league in passing yards heading into the game -- out of the game after cornerback Keith Reaser ran an interception back 40 yards for a touchdown, his second such play of the season.
The Iron showed signs of life when quarterback Keith Price entered the game to replace Perez. He led the team on two scoring drives, one of which marked the Iron's first passing touchdown of the season. Price threw for 234 yards, but couldn't get the Iron into scoring position more than a couple of times.
The performance by Orlando's defense overshadowed the most balanced performance of the season by its offense. Apollos quarterback Garrett Gilbert threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns, and running back De'Veon Smith rushed for 119 yards on 14 carries. Smith is the only Apollos running back to rush for 100 yards or more in a game this season.
Fellow running back D'Ernest Johnson had a big game, as well, with 122 total yards from scrimmage, including 73 receiving. The running game helped Orlando put together long scoring drives -- all five of its scoring drives spanned at least 66 yards. The Apollos possessed the ball for nearly 35 minutes (34:44) , minimizing any opportunities the Iron may have had to get back in the game.
Gilbert said after the game that the Apollos' maintaining control of the ball began with the offensive line: "I can't say enough about those five guys. De'Veon and D'Ernest did a great job running, but that starts with those five up front."
With the win, the Apollos cemented themselves as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. Next, they'll face one of the best teams in the Western Conference in the Arizona Hotshots.
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Alliance of American Football Stories from March 9, 2019
- Orlando Apollos Remain Undefeated, San Diego Fleet Win as Time Expires - AAF
- Apollos defense sets tone in statement win over Iron - Orlando Apollos
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