SDCCU Stadium- San Diego, California
After both the Arizona Hotshots and San Antonio Commanders were victorious this weekend, head coach Mike Martz and the Fleet needed a victory to maintain their spot atop the Alliance of American Football league’s western division.
Unfortunately for the Fleet, however, they were unable to do so. In what was one of the better games in the AAF this season, as San Diego fell to the Birmingham Iron by a score of 32-29. After a game-tying touchdown from Mike Bercovici to Francis Owusu in the fourth quarter, the Iron milked the clock and set up a Nick Novak field goal for the win.
This loss moves the Fleet’s overall record to 3-3 and drops the team into a tie with the Hotshots for second place in the Western division. Meanwhile, the Iron improved to 4-2 on the year and hold onto their second-place spot in the Eastern division.
The biggest takeaway from this game was the standout performance by Birmingham’ quarterback Luis Perez. After starting quarterback Keith Price went down with an injury in the first quarter, Perez entered the game and provided a new dynamic through the air that Price just simply could not. The Iron made it a priority to establish the run early with Price in the game but quickly switched to an aerial attack once Perez came in as they threw the ball 53 times and had 23 rushing attempts in the game.
Perez entered the game and instantly gave the Iron a chance to win this battle with the Fleet. His success through the air allowed Birmingham to exploit the Fleet’s defensive weakness, their secondary, and also opened up some running lanes on the ground for Trent Richardson. Perez showed great poise for the majority of the game, as he was constantly forced to throw under pressure or out of the pocket because of the dominance of San Diego’s defensive line.
Perez completed 27 of his 49 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns while also throwing two interceptions. His first touchdown was a dump-off pass to running back Trent Richardson that he would take all the way for a touchdown. He then proceeded to hit L’Damian Washington on an interior slant route that would result in an 83-yard touchdown, the longest passing touchdown in AAF history. Perez threw a beautiful deep pass to Washington at the beginning of the fourth quarter, which would ultimately result in his third touchdown in the game.
Birmingham’s offense on the night was mostly made up of check down passes and intermediate routes. They only took six deep passes in the game, one of which resulted in a touchdown, as the Iron decided to stay away from the deep ball for the majority of the game. Perez decided to keep the majority of his passes short and sweet, picking apart the Fleet’s defensive backs on short comeback routes or dump off passes to Trent Richardson.
Head coach Tim Lewis made it an emphasis to get his big-time playmakers the ball early and often. Trent Richardson had 16 carries for 46 yards on the night and also caught seven passes for 44 yards. He would turn a dump off pass from Luis Perez into a 13-yard touchdown and stumbled into the end zone for a three-yard touchdown early on in the third quarter. Wide receiver L’Damian Washington had a monster game, catching four passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Both of these players and Perez had a significant impact on the success that the Iron offense had in this game.
The Fleet defensive line had a huge role in securing this tough battle against the Iron. The entire defensive line dominated up front, pressuring whoever was under center for Birmingham on nearly every passing attempt and consistently forced the pocket to collapse. Luis Perez was consistently hit and forced to make uncomfortable passes on the run. They ended the night with three sacks and hit Luis Perez fifteen times.
A sack on the Iron’s first drive would push Birmingham into deep field goal range and ultimately forced a miss. Both of Luis Perez’s interceptions came on plays caused by the Fleet defensive line. The first one, which was intercepted by outside linebacker Travis Feeney, was a result of a collapsed pocket that was caused by interior pressure. The second interception came after Perez threw the ball up in the air while being dragged down to the ground by a Fleet defensive lineman. Without their dominant play on the night, the Fleet would not have much of a chance to make this game competitive.
While the Iron offense showed signs of life, they received some much-needed help from three fifteen yard penalties and one running into the kicker penalty. All of these penalties would result in extended drives and three of them would ultimately result in points being put on the board. Had it not been for these four penalties this game might not have been very competitive, to say the least.
Fleet quarterback Mike Bercovici had an interesting day in his second-full start with the Fleet. He completed 17 of his 34 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns while also throwing two interceptions.
Bercovici started the second drive with a bang, hitting wide receiver Dontez Ford for a 40-yard completion that vaulted the Fleet into the red zone. San Diego should have had a touchdown on his second passing attempt of that drive, but tight end Marcus Baugh dropped a wide open pass in the end zone. He found Ford again in the second quarter for a massive 72-yard gain that would set up a one-yard touchdown to tight end Ben Johnson. Bercovici would hit running back Terrell Watson for a 12-yard touchdown following an interception by the Fleet defense. His third and final touchdown pass to wide receiver Francis Owusu was an excellent pass that would tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
Most of the Fleet offense came from standout wide receiver Dontez Ford. The former Pittsburgh Panther caught three passes for 182 yards and no touchdowns. Despite not being able to hit paydirt in this game, all three of Ford’s catches resulted in the Fleet putting points on the board. His 40-yard catch in the first quarter would ultimately result in a field goal, and his other two catches set up easy Fleet touchdowns. Ford exited the game in the third quarter after a defender landed on his ankle and he did not return to the game. His impact on the offense, however, was felt all throughout the game.
His two interceptions in the game were both poorly thrown passes. The first one was just a blatantly underthrown pass that was easily intercepted by Bradley Sylve. His second interception came when standout defensive back Jamar Summers jumped a route and picked the pass off with no problem. Bercovici’s decision-making needs to improve if the Fleet wants to seriously contend for an AAF championship.
The Fleet did not have much success running the ball in this game. San Diego ran the ball 23 times and only mustered 67 total rushing yards, well below their average of 114 rushing yards per game. This should be a testament to how well the Iron’s defensive line played, but the Fleet just did not seem interested in establishing the running game. They shied away from it for the majority of the first half and did not really give any of their running backs the momentum needed to have success on the ground. Getting the running game involved is a necessity for the Fleet, and if they continuously fail to do so, they will not win many games moving forward.
The Iron defense continued its season-long dominance in this game. While it was a high scoring affair, Birmingham’s defense was solid throughout the night. They made the appropriate tackles and made Mike Bercovici uncomfortable all night long. Both of their interceptions directly resulted in the offense putting points on the board and the secondary forced Bercovici to throw into tight spaces all night. Their defensive line made it difficult for the Fleet to run the ball effectively. The Iron made the timely plays on the defensive side of the ball when they needed to be, which ultimately led to the Iron’s victory.
San Diego finds themselves in a must-win matchup against the Arizona Hotshots next week. With the Fleet being tied for second place in the Western division, they must beat Arizona to maintain their spot in the playoff picture. Meanwhile, the Iron travel to Memphis next weekend to face up against a struggling Express team.