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Pro Football – Apollos defense sets tone for statement win over Iron

By Tom Alexander / The Alliance
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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Tom Alexander covers the Orlando Apollos for The Alliance of American Football. Follow him on Twitter @TheTomAlexander.



MARCH 9, 2019


Opening Statement…

“They’re a good football team. We matched up well against a good one. They came into town and did a fantastic job getting their players ready. We have to get better. It’s a little bit like a measuring stick. You like to think sometimes you’re doing the right things and you’re prepared and ready to go till you run into a buzzsaw like that that beat you offensively and defensively.

Special teams wise, I think our punter (Colton Schmidt) did a nice job. We did miss a field goal though. So, I say they won all three phases. They make you offensively…(Apollos head) Coach Spurrier does a fantastic job and has a very good quarterback, a very good receiver, a running back, offensive line, they make you defend the entire field. We didn’t do a great job of that.

Offensively, I thought we got a spark with (Iron quarterback) Keith (Price). Bringing in Keith was the right thing to do and he proved he was up for the challenge and he could get the team going a little bit and give it a little life. That was a very positive thing. (Iron running back) Brandon Ross had a nice 30 yard touchdown run. (Iron running back) Trent (Richardson) got another touchdown and (Iron wide receiver) Quinton Patton got another 2-point conversion. That was good. We’ll just keep working with them.

Our team is energized to say the very least. Hopefully, the ability to measure up against the best of the business right now gives them a measuring stick of where they are. We’ll come back to work, give them a day off, we got a long week, so I’ll give them Sunday off. We’ll come back in on Monday and drive towards the next five and that’s where we are.

We have two guys that we’re looking at right now. (Iron offensive lineman) Korren Kirven with a lower leg injury and we’ll update you as the week goes along. (Iron defensive back) Ryan White looks like he might have a concussion, but we’ll enter him into concussion protocol and we’ll keep you updated as the week goes along.”

On the reason for the passing being stagnant the past few games..

“I don’t know. If I knew that, it wouldn’t have been. We’ll just keep looking at what we’re doing and (Iron QB) Luis (Perez) is not out of the picture by of any stretch of the imagination. It’s obviously a situation where I’m going to have to evaluate it all the time. We’ll continue to work, but with an added emphasis on who gets to stay in and I’m all about that. When you have your opportunity, if it rolls, then you get to stay in and I’m okay with that.”

On making the decision to put in quarterback Keith Price…

“During the course of the week in practice, we had given a number of reps with the first group, so it was not a shock to anybody on our team. Of course we weren’t going to blast it to the media, but we had contemplated during the course of the week that this might be something we go to if something needs to happen.”


On the feeling of being called to go into the game…

“I mean, I prepared for it. First, I want to thank God. I’m not even supposed to be here. I was just ready for the opportunity. Obviously, what I did wasn’t good enough to get a win, but I’ll be better.”

On what the opportunity to play means to him…

“Just be ready, I wasn’t expecting this. I’m not even expecting to be here right now, if I’m going to be honest with you. So, I’m so blessed. We’ll be rolling next week; it’s a loss, it’s going to sting. But, we have San Diego next week.”

On receiving support from Iron quarterback Luis Perez…

“He’s a great dude. He can spin it. He’s one of the better quarterbacks in this league. We’ve all been through it where things aren’t going your way. He’s going to get back on track and he’ll be back out there doing his thing.”


Opening Statement…

“Our guys played well today. We thought we’d have to play really well today to beat Birmingham up here and we played the best game of the year. Offensively, I would say mixing the runs and the passes and all that left a few points out there on some drives and it irritates me a bit but I guess that going to happen sometimes. Defense played well. They gave up two drives, and fourteen points but it is a pretty good days work. Proud of the team. Our kicker Elliot Fry, he has not missed yet, he is eleven for eleven. Pretty good kicker. We have a pretty good team if we can stay in focus and stay within ourselves so hopefully our guys want to achieve a lot this year because I think we have a chance to.”

On Apollos running back De’Veon Smith’s performance…

“We gave Deveon the game ball, and he is a good back. He breaks arm tackles, he runs up in there and our offensive line run blocking was really good today. Pass blocking was pretty good also. But De’Veon and (running back) D’Ernest (Johnson) and even (running back) Ryan Green got in there at the end a little bit but those two are really good backs. Today was mainly De’Veon’s day to do most of it.

On the Iron making a quarterback change early on in the game…

“You don’t really adjust to them. You just try to play the coverages against what they are doing. He (Iron quarterback Keith Price) was flying it around pretty nicely. He can scramble out of the pocket and make plays happen. They did some good things offensively.  Unfortunately, we did a lot of good things offensively also.”


On the running game setting up the passing game…

”Well it starts off in front. The offensive line did a heck of a job all night. I feel like it has been good all season. Can not say enough about those five guys. Obviously, (running backs) De’Veon (Smith), D’Ernest (Johnson), and Ryan (Green) did a nice job running but that starts with those five up front.”

On what he saw he could exploit in today’s game…

“I don’t know if it was exploiting anything. You are absolutely right our secondary has done a really nice job all season. We did something with play action pass, setting up the run and that started with our offensive line doing a really nice job of creating those holes early on. We were able to create some space with some play action passes and our receivers as usual, our tight ends got the ball, which was awesome and they did a great job making plays and fining open areas. ”

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