The San Diego Fleet coaching staff was finally able to see its players in action during the team’s first preseason game Sunday night. They lost to the Orlando Apollos 31-28 after a late rally fell just short on the Alliance of American Football’s version of the onside kick.
It didn’t look great early for head coach Mike Martz and his team, as they fell behind quickly and stayed behind for most of the game.
Other then an early 30-yard touchdown toss from quarterback Mike Bercovici to wide receiver Francis Owusu, there wasn’t much going right for the Fleet. They were behind 23-6 heading into the 4th quarter after four turnovers, one returned for a touchdown, and giving up seven sacks to the Apollos.
After a Fleet touchdown to begin the 4th quarter made it 23-12, the Apollos drove all the way down the field and scored. This made the score 31-12 and created a lead that the Apollos wouldn’t give up despite the Fleet’s best attempts.
The Fleet stuck around and made it interesting in the final minutes. They scored with two minutes and thirty seconds left and closed Orlando’s lead to 11. The Fleet was then successful on the onside conversion that featured a 17-yard catch by Fleet wide receiver Dontez Ford, which led to another San Diego touchdown. This time it was receiver Brian Brown who was on the receiving end of that 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Ross, cutting the Apollos’ lead to three.
With only a little time left, the Fleet attempted yet another onside conversion. This time they couldn’t convert as Dontez Ford fell a yard short of the first down marker. With the ball back, the Apollos kneeled on it three times to close out the game, which ended with a final score of 31-28.
While the final score isn’t what the Fleet wanted, Mike Martz was proud of his players. Mike Martz told team reporter Jeff Goldberg, “I told our players, this was a great game for us….. I was very proud of the way we competed.”
And compete they did.
While the offensive line played less than stellar for most of the game, the unit as a whole picked it up in the 4th quarter. After giving up seven sacks, they helped the offense score 22 points in the 4th quarter and put up over 400 total yards in the game. Martz told Goldberg that they were in the process of shuffling guys around the offensive line and it was those guys’ first time really playing together.
Martz was also pleased with Mike Bercovici, who seems to be taking control of the quarterback competition. Bercovici threw 31 of the 47 total passes thrown by Fleet quarterbacks and led the rest of the quarterbacks with 19 completions, 235 yards, and one touchdown pass.
Bercovici wasn’t the only standout from Sunday night’s scrimmage. Ja’quan Gardner also had a touchdown on a 9-yard scamper through the middle. Dontez Ford had himself a day, compiling 131 yards on 12 receptions while seemingly cementing himself on the roster. Former NFL linebacker A.J. Tarpley also had a sack early in the scrimmage.
With roster cutdowns coming, the Fleet must waive 23 players by noon tomorrow to reach the mandatory 53 players. Sunday’s scrimmage was an important test for players trying to find a spot on the roster. With some positives and negatives on each side of the ball, the Fleet look to take the next step towards the beginning of the AAF season and their first game against the San Antonio Commanders.