Hotshots hand Apollos their first loss of the season, 22-17
ORLANDO - The Orlando Apollos' Week 6 matchup with the Arizona Hotshots came down to one thing: hunger. Arizona came into the game hungry for its first win in exactly a month after losing three games in a row. Orlando had to decide whether it was hungry to maintain its perfect record and overcome adversity to do it.
In the end, the Hotshots' hunger to save their season proved to be stronger than the Apollos' hunger to maintain theirs, and the Hotshots handed the Apollos their first loss of the season, 22-17.
Initially, things looked like they would go well for the Apollos, as they have for a good portion of the season. Orlando opened the game with a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive that took nearly seven minutes. It seemed like the Arizona defense had no answer for Orlando running back D'Ernest Johnson early on.
Then, Arizona got the ball. While the Hotshots struggled to get in the end zone on their first two drives, kicker Nick Folk managed to hit two 50-plus-yard field goals to tie the game. The Apollos answered back with a field goal of their own, but the wheels fell off after that.
Orlando's apparent "bend-but-don't-break" strategy on defense stopped working, and Arizona put together a long touchdown drive. Then, Apollos quarterback Garrett Gilbert threw his first interception of the season. It didn't lead to any points, but Gilbert, under duress quite often, nearly threw several more the rest of the night.
Things didn't get a whole lot better for the Apollos in the second half. The offense continued to look out of sync, and Apollos linebacker Terence Garvin -- one of the leaders on defense -- was ejected from the game for throwing a punch.
Despite losing Garvin, Orlando's defense responded, stopping Arizona's offense and giving its own offense multiple opportunities. The Apollos finally capitalized on one in the fourth quarter, with a six-play, 98-yard touchdown drive to take the lead with less than 10 minutes to play.
Arizona roared back, scoring a touchdown and a two-point conversion with 5:17 left in the fourth quarter to retake the lead.
But, the Apollos weren't done yet. They managed to drive down into Arizona territory, but Gilbert was sacked and fumbled just after the two-minute warning. The Hotshots recovered, but Orlando forced a punt with 55 seconds left on the clock.
The Apollos took over on their own 18-yard line, and after an incomplete pass, Gilbert found tight end Sean Price wide open down the right sideline for a 48-yard play. Price managed to get to the Arizona 34-yard line, but stayed in bounds, which to a spike by Gilbert to stop the clock. Another completion, this one for 236 yards to Jalin Marshall, got Orlando down to the Arizona 8-yard line with less than 10 seconds to go, but a false-start penalty when the Apollos tried to spike the ball led to a 10-second runoff, ending the game.
The Apollos fell to 5-1 on the season, and the Hotshots improved to 3-3. Orlando heads to Atlanta in Week 7 to face the Legends. That game is set for 2 p.m. Eastern time, Saturday, March 23. The game will be broadcast on TNT.
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Tom Alexander covers the Orlando Apollos for The Alliance of American Football. Follow him on Twitter @TheTomAlexander.
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