SD Game Notes vs. Birmingham
SERIES NOTES: This is the first meeting between teams... Mike Martz faced Tim Lewis twice in the NFL when the former was a head coach and the latter a defensive coordinator... St. Louis churned out 448 yards in a 33-21 win at Pittsburgh on Oct. 26, 2003; then fell, 44-24 at the New York Giants on Oct. 2, 2005 (despite 476 yards).
GAME-WINNING KICK KEEPS FLEET PERFECT AT HOME
The San Diego Fleet (3-2) advanced its home winning streak to three at SDCCU Stadium last Saturday, this time with a game-winning, 44-yard field goal by K Donny Hageman at the clock expired for a 27-25 victory over the Salt Lake Stallions (1-4). The victory marked the first in Alliance of American Football history determined by a time-expiring score... The Fleet built a 24-11 lead with 9:26 remaining in the game when the third interception of the night for CB Kameron Kelly resulted in a 22-yard touchdown return. It also marked the second defensive score of the contest for San Diego, which took a 12-11 lead with 3:06 left in the third quarter on a 41-yard fumble return for a touchdown by FS Jordan Martin.
Down but not out, QB Josh Woodrum guided his offense to a pair of touchdowns in a span of just over three minutes, followed by a go-ahead, two-point conversion to put Salt Lake back up, 25-24, with just 51 seconds remaining. In only his second start of the season, Fleet QB Mike Bercovici led a game-winning drive that was fueled by a 45-yard reception to WR Dontez Ford that put San Diego in field-goal range. Bercovici finished 22-for-43 for 304 yards -- a Fleet singe-game record -- with one touchdown and one interception. Woodrum accumulated 380 passing yards with a touchdown and three interceptions.
@KAETWICE BECOMES @KAETHRICE
CB Kameron Kelly (San Diego State), whose Twitter handle is @kaetwicefrfr, was named AAF Defensive Player of the Week on Tuesday after setting an Alliance single-game with three interceptions against Salt Lake. The 23-year-old returned his record-setting third interception 22 yards for a touchdown to put San Diego ahead, 24-11, with 9:26 remaining in the fourth quarter. Despite playing his entire college career as a four-year starter for the Aztecs, Kelly's first AAF touchdown also marked his first at SDCCU Stadium. The native of Murphy, Texas, also finished the game with six tackles and a team-high four pass- es defended. Coincidentally, the performance came in his third game since switching back to the Fleet defense after playing the first two games exclusively as a receiver. Kelly also became the third Fleet player to earn weekly honors this season joining RB Ja'Quan Gardner (Feb. 26) & LB A.J. Tarpley (Feb 26).
VENI, VIDI, (BERCO)VICI!
After being replaced Week 1 at San Antonio (3-2), QB Mike Bercovici (Arizona State) returned to the starting role Week 5 with the injury to Philip Nelson and led the Fleet to a 27-25 home victory against Salt Lake. San Diego fell behind, 25-24, with less than one minute left, but the 26-year-old orchestrated a 49-yard scoring drive to set up the game-winning field goal. The bulk of the yardage came on a 45-yard connection with WR Dontez Ford on second-and-10. Bercovici finished 22-for-43 with a Fleet single-game passing record of 304 yards, logging one touchdown and one interception. In the opener on Feb. 9, the Northridge, Calif., native competed 15-of-25 passes for 176 yards with two interceptions before giving way to Nelson after three quarters. Of note, the Commanders defense sacked Bercovici six times while amassing 10 QB hits for the game. Nelson sustained a broken left clavicle in the third quarter at Memphis in Week 4.
BUILT FORD TOUGH
After two weeks of team-leading performances, WR Dontez Ford (Pittsburgh) now ranks fifth overall in the Alliance with 253 receiving yards. After a relatively quiet first three weeks, Ford broke out with a season-high three receptions for 71 yards against the Memphis Express in Week 4. In a Week 5 victory over the Salt Lake Stallions, Ford made his presence as a deep threat known when he connected with QB Mike Bercovici for a 45-yard reception with :47 remaining and the Fleet trailing, 25-23. This deep pass along the Fleet sideline set up the game-winning field goal as time expired. The spike in Ford's production is partially due to his change in roles, as Mike Martz moved him into the starting 'X' beginning in Week 5. He finished his fifth game with three recep- tions for a season-high 94 yards, averaging a team-high 21.1 yards per catch.
HERE'S THE KICKER...
With the game-winning, 44-yard field goal by K Donny Hageman (San Diego State) last Saturday, the Fleet became the first team in Alliance history to win on a time-expiring score. Hageman had misfired on his first attempt against the Stallions before nailing his final three tries from 39, 34 and 44 yards. The 25-year-old converted his first seven tries of the season before missing a 52-yard attempt in Week 4 at Memphis and is currently 11-for-13 (.846) overall. Hageman was the only Fleet player to records points (6) in the opener at San Antonio (Feb. 9) - and he had signed with the Fleet just three days prior to the start of the season. In the Week 2 win over Atlanta (Feb. 17), the former Aztec finished a perfect four-for-four on his attempts, connecting from 46, 43, 26 and 33 yards despite periods of rain and slippery field conditions. Prior to joining the Fleet, Hageman was training with former Chargers kicker John Carney while waiting for an opportunity. As a senior at SDSU in 2015, the 25-year-old was named "Mountain West's Best Under Pressure" by Sporting News.
BOATS NOTES (FROM WEEK 5)
- The San Diego Fleet is the first AAF team to begin the season 3-0 at home
- CB Kameron Kelly made AAF history by becoming the first player with three takeaways in a game
- FS Jordan Martin and CB Kameron Kelly became the first pair of teammates to ever post defensive touchdowns in the same game
- This was the Fleet's first win in which it did not have 100 yards rushing (27)
- The 304 yards of total passing by QB Mike Bercovici was not only a Fleet team record, but the fourth-most in the AAF this season
- After totaling 226 yards in Weeks 2 & 3, RB Ja'Quan Gardner has posted just nine combined rushing yards over his last two games
- The 31 total rushing yards were a season-low for the Fleet. Its previous season-long was 99 yards in its season opener
- The 658 combined passing yards by the Fleet and the Salt Lake Stallions were the most in league history
- The 745 combined total yards were the second-most in league history (828 yards; Orlando vs. San Antonio, Week 2)
FRANK THE TANK
MLB Frank Ginda (San Jose State) made his first start of the season Week 4 at Memphis and filled in admirably for Week 3 AAF Defensive Player of the Week A.J. Tarpley, who was sidelined by a back injury. Ginda, the youngest player on the roster (21), led the team and set a Fleet single-game record by registering 15 tackles. He followed up that performance with nine tackles in the Week 5 win over Salt Lake... The native of Los Banos, Calif., is no stranger to double-digit tackle totals. As a junior in 2017, Ginda led the NCAA and set a Mountain West Conference single-season record with 173 tackles (94 solo) - averaging 13.3 tackles per game. Ginda declared for the NFL draft after three seasons with the Spartans and eventually signed as an undrafted free agent with Arizona Cardinals on April 30, 2018, and later spent Training Camp with the Miami Dolphins before being released at the start of the season.
BROOKS (IS NOT) DUNN
CB Ron Brooks (LSU), the oldest player on the Fleet roster (30), recorded the first punt-return touchdown in the history of the Alliance of American Football when he boot-scooted for a 57-yarder at Memphis on March. 2. It was also the first of his professional career. Brooks logged NFL time with both the Buffalo Bills (2012-15) and the Philadelphia Eagles (2016), but was not called upon to return kicks during his NFL career. The Irving, Texas, native returned 26 kick- offs for a combined 518 yards during his collegiate career with the Tigers, but never found the end zone in this capacity.
ALL THAT STARTS WELL,
In the last four Fleet games, the team that has led after the fourth quarter wound up losing in all four games. This includes trailing, 8-3, after the first 15 minutes of last Saturday's 27-25 win over Salt Lake as well as leading, 14-3, in a 26-23 loss at Memphis in Week 4 (March 2). In fact, the Week 4 defeat marked the only time the Fleet led after the first quarter. Mike Martz's group has been a slow-starting bunch. San Diego trails its opponents, 28-23, in its first quarters through five weeks. However, the Fleet still holds a 88-61 combined advantage from the start of the second quarter on. In the 31-11 win over San Antonio in Week 3 (Feb. 24), the Fleet trailed 8-0 just 19 seconds into the contest before going on a 28-0 run over the next 41:14 and outscoring the Commanders, 31-3, the rest of the way. In the opener (Feb. 9), the Fleet and Commanders were scoreless after one in an eventual 15-6 San Antonio win.
CRUISER & BRUISER
The Fleet backfield duo of RB Ja'Quan Gardner and RB Terrell Watson has the second-highest combined rushing output in the AAF this season at 279 yards -- trailing Orlando's pair of D'Ernest Johnson (251) and De'Veon Smith (239) by only 11 yards... The 5-7, 205-pound Gardner ("Cruiser") ranks second in The Alliance with 290 rushing yards while the 6-1, 245-pound Watson ("Bruiser") ranks eighth with 189 yards.
THE CONSTANT GARDNER
Despite being bottled up for nine yards on 18 carries the past two weeks, RB Ja'Quan Gardner (Humboldt State) continues to rank second in The Alliance with 290 rushing yards as well as place fifth with 5.5 yards per carry (minimum 20 carries). The 23-year-old is the only Alliance player with back-to-back, 100- yard rushing performances (Feb. 17, Feb. 24) and owns two of the league's top-five, single-game rushing outputs this season (104, 122)... Gardner was named The Alliance of American Football Offensive Player of the Week on Feb. 26 after his record-setting, Week 3 performance against San Antonio -- when he notched the longest scoring play in Alliance history with an 83-yard touch- down run in the third quarter en route to a then-single-game rushing record with 122 yards on just 12 carries (since topped by a 142-yard performance by San Antonio's Kenneth Farrow II on March 3 at Birmingham).
RB Ja'Quan Gardner (Humboldt State) and RB Terrell Watson (Azusa Pacific) dominated in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) between 2013 and 2015. During that span, they combined for 6,221 yards. Watson won the GNAC Offensive Player of the Year in back-to-back years (2013-14) and Gardner followed him with a win in 2015. Gardner also won the award in 2017, when he rushed for 1,289 yards. Both backs eclipsed the 2,000-yard plateau in a single-season as Watson led all NCAA levels with 2,212 rushing yards as a senior in 2014 and Gardner followed with Division-II best 2,266 rushing yards as a sophomore in 2015. Together, the two backs combined for an astonishing 11,118 rushing yards and 148 rushing touchdowns during their Division-II collegiate careers. Watson went on to accumulate 36 yards and a touchdown in his NFL career with Philadelphia (2016) and Pittsburgh (2017). Gardner spent time in NFL training camp with the San Francisco 49ers this past summer be- fore being released at the start of the season
IF I COULD BE LIKE 'MIKE'
Middle linebacker A.J. Tarpley (Stanford) was named The AAF Defensive Player of the Week for Week 3 after reversing the tide against San Antonio. His 27-yard touchdown on an interception return in the second quarter proved to be the game-winner (San Antonio held an 8-6 lead at the time). The pick was the first of the year for Tarpley and the defensive score marked the first in Fleet history. The 26-year-old also finished with five tackles - one for a loss - and a pass defended. The former Buffalo Bill now owns 13 tackles through three games. More on Tarpley's triumphant return to football appears below.
THE TARP GOES BACK ON THE FIELD!
LB A.J. Tarpley (Stanford) had a unique ending to his NFL career. On the final play of the Buffalo Bills' 2015 season (aside from one kneel-down), Tarpley intercepted a pass from QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to seal a 22-17 home victory in Week 17 to knock the New York Jets out of playoff contention. It was also his last play - as the Plymouth, Minn., native announced in April 2016 that he was retiring from football after just one season due to having suffered his third and fourth career concussions. In fact, Sports Illustrated published his story in an article titled "Why I Walked Away from Football at 23." The 26-year-old began a career selling distressed bonds on Wall Street; a job he quit this past June in hopes of an NFL comeback. The Alliance season-opener at San Antonio (Feb. 9) marked his first game action since Jan. 3, 2016 - a span of three years, one months and six days. In his rookie season with Buffalo, he appeared in 15 games (two starts) and recorded eight tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions (picked off Dallas' Kellen Moore in Week 16).
Defensive tackle Gelen Robinson (Purdue) is the son of Glenn "Big Dog" Rob- inson II, who averaged 20.7 points per game during his 11-year NBA career after being selected the first overall pick in the 1994 NBA Draft by the Mil- waukee Bucks out of Purdue University. Gelen's brother, Glenn Robinson III, entered the NBA in 2014-15 and is currently a member of the Detroit Pistons. Although not blessed with the family height, the six-foot-one, 294-pounder was an extremely rare, three-sport athlete for the Boilermakers. Robinson wrestled in the heavyweight division, competed in track & field in shot put and discus and appeared in 46 football games.
SAN DIEGO COMMANDS THE REMATCH
The San Diego Fleet (2-1) remained undefeated at home following a 31-11 rout of the San Antonio Commanders (1-2) at SDCCU Stadium on Feb. 24. An interception by the Commanders and a touchdown pass from QB Logan Woodside on the first two plays of the game set the Fleet behind, 8-0, just 19 seconds into the contest. However, the deficit did not last long as San Diego posted 28 unanswered points over the next 41:14 of play. QB Philip Nelson and WR Nelson Spruce got things started when they hooked-up for the first of their two touchdown connections with 3:11 to go in the first quarter. The Fleet took the lead for good just over seven minutes later on pick-six by LB A.J. Tarpley that covered 27 yards into the end zone. The play marked the first defensive score in team history. In the third quarter, RB Ja'Quan Gardner recorded the longest scoring play in AAF history when he sprinted for an 83- yard touchdown run. He concluded the night with 122 rushing yards - the highest single-game total in the league this season. Nelson finished 17-for-25 for 193 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
On Sept. 25, 2018, The Alliance announced the nickname of San Diego's new professional football team - Fleet. The name was selected as a way of paying homage to the city's strong and inspiring Naval community. More than 35,000 men and women work at Naval Base San Diego and 54 Navy ships are home- port in America's Finest City. The logo shows appreciation for local shipmen and shipwomen, with a single chevron that pays tribute to hard-working pet- ty officers and to battleships from the Pacific fleet. The colors and typography are unique to professional athletics, mirroring those of Navy ships and the signature San Diego sunshine and Battleship Gray.
Drawing from the athletic prowess of the Golden State, 26 (50%) players on the roster call California home - ranging from as far north as Sacramento and as far south as San Diego County. A total of 20 (38%) players attended college in California: San Diego State (8), San Jose State (4), USC (2), Stanford (2), Azusa Pacific, Cal Poly and Humboldt State. Of the eight SDSU alumni, three - DE Alex Barrett, OT Daniel Brunskill and DB Kameron Kelly - were a part of the 2016 Aztecs squad that ranked No. 19 in the Associated Press poll during the season. This marked the first time SDSU cracked the top 20 since 1977. On the coaching front, Head Coach Mike Martz is a native San Diegan who graduated James Madison H.S. and both played and coached at San Di- ego Mesa College. Additionally, Defensive Backs Coach Eric Allen is San Diego native who starred at Point Loma H.S. before his 14-year NFL career. Although growing up in Los Angeles, Wide Receivers Coach Az-Zahir Hakim was a four- year football letterman at SDSU - where he amassed over 3,600 all-purpose yards as a receiver and return man before his nine-year NFL career.
The San Diego Fleet quickly attracted NFL attention before the season began, as they were the first team in The Alliance of American Football (AAF) to pro- mote not only a player on the roster, but a member of the coaching staff. The Fleet drafted Josh Johnson (University of San Diego) first overall in the inau- gural AAF QB Draft on Nov. 27, but he was quickly signed by the Washington Redskins on Dec. 5, 2018. At Washington, he started four games and passed for 590 yards and three touchdowns. On the coaching front, Jon Kitna held the role of offensive coordinator before being hired by the Dallas Cowboys as their quarterbacks coach midway through Fleet Training Camp. Kitna, the 2003 NFL Comeback Player of the Year with the Cincinnati Bengals, ended his 13-year NFL career with the Cowboys (2009-13). Jon's brother, Matt Kitna, remains on the Fleet coaching staff as assistant offensive line coach.
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Alliance of American Football Stories from March 13, 2019
- Salt Lake Stallions Announce Additional Week 6 Roster Moves - Salt Lake Stallions
- SD Game Notes vs. Birmingham - San Diego Fleet
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