Commanders wrap up road stretch with victory over Legends

image from @aafcommanders

Editor’s note: This story was updated Sunday night after the Birmingham Iron beat the San Diego Fleet 32-29

The San Antonio Commanders wrapped up the dreaded four-game road stretch of their schedule with their third straight victory and return home at the top of the standings.

The Commanders defense came up with a series of big plays for the second week in a row as they knocked off the Atlanta Legends 37-6 on Sunday at Georgia State Stadium.

The Commanders (4-2) went 3-1 on the road stretch of the schedule. They play at the Alamodome on Sunday at 7 p.m. (Central) against the Salt Lake Stallions (2-4). The Commanders have sole possession of first place in the AAF West. San Diego and Salt Lake are both 3-3.

“We just finished 3-1 on the road on a four-game road trip, which I think is pretty impressive for us,” Commanders quarterback Logan Woodside said. “We’ve got a chance to go back and play a really good Salt Lake team back in San Antonio. We’re excited about going back and playing in the Dome.”

Commanders defensive backs De’Vante Bausby, Zack Sanchez and Derron Smith all came up with interceptions. Smith had an interception return for a touchdown for a second straight week. Duke Thomas added a first-half fumble recovery.

The Commanders scored touchdowns after their first three takeaways.

“We’ve got some good players and they made plays today,” Commanders coach Mike Riley said. “They’re athletic and they’re savvy. Derron Smith is a very unique football player.
(Zack) Sanchez made another interception. Those guys, if you make a mistake around them, they’re going to make you pay. They play with a lot of confidence.

“Getting turnovers is one thing. Being able to capitalize with points, that was really the game today. We got the ball in some good situations for our offense. We did take advantage of it and made it count got a good early lead because of it.”

Greg Ward Jr. gave the Commanders a special teams score when he returned a punt for a league-record 79-yard touchdown. The Commanders’ offense did not have any turnovers.

“I was really proud of our team today,” Riley said. “I think we kind of stayed on top of it. It was fun to see basically all the parts of our team, offense, defense, and special teams all contribute to winning the game. It was definitely a team win, a team effort.”

Woodside completed 17 of 23 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns.

“I think it’s just another week with this offense and these guys,” said Woodside, who was the AAF offensive player of the week last week. “I just tried to take it personal to study more and try to do everything I can in practice to make myself better. Obviously with the defense we have it have makes it tough on us in practice. So it always good to to go against those guys every week.”

Wide receiver Mekale McKay and tight end Evan Rodriguez had the Commanders’ touchdown catches. Tight end Cam Clear led the team in receptions with five for 45 yards.

“What we hoped to do is run the ball OK. We didn’t really run the ball as well as we wanted to today,” Riley said. “But we ran. We like to run.

“Then we like to have play-action passes that go down the field. Then we need some ball-control passes. One of the best things about our game at least early in the game, we hit some consistent ball-control routes that got some first downs for us. We kept the ball for a long time in the first half.”

Commanders running back Kenneth Farrow scored the first touchdown of the game to make it 6-0 in the first quarter. That was set up by Thomas’ fumble recovery.

The Legends tried to get even on their next drive when they went for a deep pass. The Commanders’ Smith and Bausby were there to break it up.

Sanchez had his interception later in the first quarter. That set the stage for Woodside’s touchdown pass and two-point conversion pass both to McKay to make it 14-0. The Commanders kept that drive going when Woodside completed a fourth-down pass to Clear.

The Commanders defense came up with its third takeaway of the first half on Bausby’s interception. This time Woodside threw a touchdown pass to Evan Rodriguez and the Commanders led 20-0.

The Legends scored a touchdown late in the first half for what turned out to be their only points of the game.

Ward’s punt return for the touchdown extended the Commanders’ lead to 26-6 with 1:00 left in the half.

Nick Rose, who has not missed this season, kicked a field goal on the Commanders’ first possession of the second half to make it 29-6.

Both offenses were held in check the rest of the way. The final touchdown of the game came on Smith’s 87-yard interception return with 8:40 remaining.

Mike Riley on the Commanders’ defense and interceptions

San Antonio Commanders coach Mike Riley (left) and general manager Daryl Johnston on Wednesday at Central Catholic High School in the team's first practice since Sunday's road victory over the Arizona Hotshots. - photo by Joe Alexander
San Antonio Commanders coach Mike Riley (left) and general manager Daryl Johnston on Wednesday at Central Catholic High School in the team’s first practice since Sunday’s road victory over the Arizona Hotshots. – photo by Joe Alexander
The San Antonio Commanders’ first road game of the season resulted in a loss to the San Diego Fleet that saw the defense get burned for big plays.

In the last two games the Commanders defense has not only shown the ability to clamp down, but has been producing turnovers. In those two games, the Commanders came up with road victories including a 29-25 win over the Arizona Hotshots. The Commanders had three interceptions in the first half against Arizona. Strong safety Derron Smith had two of those, including one he returned for the first touchdown of the game.

“I think what everybody knows, sometimes you have to get burned a little bit to bring you back to earth,” Commanders head coach Mike Riley said. “While you want to in every way be aggressive, I coached the secondary for for a long time so I understand the mentality and I like it, but you have to be able to blend in that aggressiveness with really, really doing your job. If your job is the deep third, you have to play the deep third. If your job is man to man, you can’t give up the big one.

“So many times football is about what you can’t have happen. The secondary there is no better place to describe it than that.”

Four Commanders defensive backs have multiple interceptions on the season. Cornerback De’Vante Bausby is tied for the league lead with three and cornerback Zack Sanchez and safeties Orion Stewart and Smith have two each.

“I think there are some guys a lot of them with good instincts,” Riley said. “Everybody has the assignment. Like in the secondary everyone has a job like a man or an area. But there’s also a special guy called an interceptor. They don’t all have that quality. Sometimes you get a great cover guy who really doesn’t have many interceptions. A bump and run guy who is in their face and you don’t see the guy catch many balls but you don’t get many turnovers from him. So there is a tradeoff. And that’s a good tradeoff.

“But the other guy you can sometimes have some vision on the quarterback while he’s doing his job. That was a great example of Derron Smith the other day. He really was just playing an area. The quarterback extended. He had his eye on him the whole way and the quarterback obviously didn’t see him. Some guys have instincts. They’re opportunistic. They’re aggressive. A like all those parts.”

In the case of Smith, he not only made the interception on the Hotshots’ first drive, his 66-yard return produced the first points of the game. The Commanders took a lead even before their first possession and led the rest of the game.

Commanders’ defense takes away road win over Hotshots

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The San Antonio Commanders’ defense produced five takeaways – including two interceptions by Derron Smith – in a 29-25 road victory over the Arizona Hotshots on Sunday in Tempe, Ariz.

The victory gives the Commanders (3-2) a tie with the San Diego Fleet (3-2) at the top of the AAF West standings. The Commanders have won two straight on the road.

Smith had two of the three interceptions the Commanders’ defense got off Hotshots quarterback John Wolford. That carried the Commanders to a 26-0 first-half lead. Wolford had thrown only three interceptions in the first four games combined but had three in the first half against the Commanders. De’Vante Bausby had the Commanders’ other interception.

Commanders quarterback Logan Woodside was sharp in the first half, completing 12 of 13 passes for 192 passes. He finished the game 21 of 27 for 290 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

The Hotshots made a game of it in the second half, outscoring the Commanders 25-3 over the third and fourth quarters. The Commanders’ defense made a final game-clinching stop when the Hotshots went for an on-side conversion in the last two minutes of the game.

The Commanders got the first big play of the game on the Hotshots opening possession. Smith intercepted a Wolford pass and returned it 66 yards for a touchdown.

The Commanders were also efficient on offense early, scoring touchdowns on their first three possession. The Commanders extended their early lead to 14-0 on a 54-yard touchdown pass from Woodside to Mekale McKay.

The Commanders’ second offensive possession of the game cashed in on a 1-yard touchdown run by Kenneth Farrow II. Woodside threw a 5-yard TD pass to tight end Stehly Reden and the Commanders lead 26-0.

San Antonio had a drive into the red zone at the end of the first half. That ended on a turnover after a miss-timed snap. The Commanders had a second-half drive in the red zone come up empty on an interception near the goal line.

The Hotshots hit back-to-back long passes on their first possession of the second half. The second of those two completions was a 45-yard touchdown from Wolford to Rashad Ross. The Hotshots added a 23-yard field goal by former Dallas Cowboys kicker Nick Folk. Wolford’s second touchdown pass went 4 yards to tight end Thomas Duarte.

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