When the San Antonio Commanders’ schedule was released, the stretch of four-straight road games immediately stuck out as the toughest stretch the team was likely to face.
That made the first two home games look crucial to build momentum before the team hit the road.
Now the Commanders are three games into the season, have lost two straight and have dropped their first game of the road stretch. On Wednesday they were back on the practice field for the first time since Sunday’s 31-11 loss to the San Diego Fleet.
“I think we had a pretty good day today,” Commanders coach Mike Riley said. “I think one of the most important things about reacting to a game and I guess specifically a loss is you can look at some stuff on how we can do it better and have concrete evidence about that and show them that, put in a new game plan and go back to work. That’s the best remedy for getting out of a hole.”
The Commanders have had issues on both sides of the ball. In both the season-opening victory and in Sunday’s loss, the offense recorded only one touchdown. Riley said Logan Woodside, the starter at quarterback the first three games of the season, will start again in Week 4.
On Sunday against the Fleet, the Commanders got a boost on offense from running back Trey Williams. The former Texas A&M star sat out the first two games of the season. In San Diego, he carried the ball seven times for 75 yards.
“We’re obviously glad to get Trey back,” Riley said. “Trey looked good and he was productive. I think everybody saw his explosiveness. He’s got real speed and he hit the edge a couple times and not only had speed around the edge, he made some people miss, which was great.”
The Commanders’ defensive concerns revolve around allowing explosive plays the last two weeks.
“We go along pretty good for a while and we give up a big play and it’s a killer,” Riley said. “We’ve just got to be better on not giving up on big plays.”
The San Antonio Commanders and San Diego Fleet played twice in the first three weeks of the AAF season with each team winning once.
After San Antonio lost the second meeting 31-11 in San Diego, Commanders quarterback Logan Woodside said the team was bogged down by penalties and turnovers in the rematch.
“I think first off we did a lot of things well, obviously not enough to win the game,” Woodside said. “Just got to continue to work, continue to make plays. Obviously can’t have turnovers and penalties. We had nine penalties too. You can’t shoot ourselves in the foot kind of like we’ve been doing. We’ve just got to continue to work.
In Sunday’s game, Woodside threw a touchdown pass on the Commanders’ first play, but also threw two interceptions including a pick-6.
“We were kind of in a groove there at the beginning of the game when scored and we went down and scored and got one called back,” Woodside said. “Penalties started rolling and the turnovers and then we really couldn’t recover from there.”
Woodside has started all three Commanders games at quarterback. He is second in the AAF in passing yards with 629. Despite that, the Commanders are last in the AAF Western Conference (-19) after being outscored 55-75 in three games. The loss to the Fleet was the second straight game Woodside had an interception returned for a touchdown.
“I’m just trying to get better each day,” Woodside said. “It’s a fast-paced game. I’m preparing as best as I can every single day. I’m trying to go out there and execute and have fun.
“Just continue to mesh with these guys, these receivers. Continue to get the ball out, get it to the guys in space and just let them make plays.”
The San Antonio opened their first road game of the season with two big plays – a turnover by the defense and a long touchdown pass by the offense.
The rest of the night belonged to the San Diego Fleet.
The Fleet outscored the Commanders by four touchdowns after the opening seconds of the game to beat San Antonio 31-11 on Sunday night in San Diego.
The Commanders have lost two straight since beating the Fleet in the season opener in the Alamodome. The Commanders play their next three games on the road against the Birmingham Iron (3-0), Arizona Hotshots (2-1) and Atlanta Legends (0-3).
“It’s still early. It’s only Week 3,” Commanders quarterback Logan Woodside said. “We’ve got to continue to get better on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Those are huge days for us. Then when we come out and play just try to execute to the best of our ability.
“Obviously against a team like San Diego you don’t want to have turnovers and penalties. Thinking back to the first quarter, we had a touchdown pass called back. We could have been up 16-0. I don’t think we ever recovered from that.”
The night had a promising start for the Commanders.
On the very first play of the game, Commanders defensive back De’Vante Bausby intercepted a pass and returned it 18 yards. The next snap, the Commanders’ first offensive play, Woodside hit Mekale McKay for a 47-yard touchdown. Woodside passed to Evan Rodriguez for the two-point conversion and the Commanders led 8-0.
But the early magic faded into the Southern California night.
What looked like it was going to be the Commanders’ second touchdown came on a 14-yard pass to Greg Ward Jr. that was wiped out on a holding penalty.
For the game, Woodside passed for 151 yards – meaning he only passed for 104 yards after his first throw. He was 12-of-23 with the one touchdown and threw two interceptions. He was also sacked three times.
“They have a really good defensive line,” Woodside said. “They did a great job all night. Some of that’s on me. They made it tough. They were coming hard all four quarters.”
For the second week in a row, Woodside threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Fleet linebacker AJ Tarpley returned an interception 27 yards for a score.
Fleet quarterback Philip Nelson, who came in off the bench when these teams met in the season opener, passed for 193 yards and two touchdowns. He stayed free of interceptions after the first play of the game.
The Fleet also got 122 yards rushing from Ja’Quan Gardner. He helped put the game out of reach with a league-record 83-yard touchdown run.
“We’re obviously disappointed with the outcome of the game tonight,” Commanders coach Mike Riley said. “We had real high expectations coming in and expected a good game and had an interesting start to the whole game.
“The turnover touchdown and the big play later on in the second half were major, major parts of the game.”
The San Antonio Commanders opened the season with a feel-good 15-6 victory over the San Diego Fleet at the Alamodome.
Two weeks later, it will be the Fleet who have the home-field advantage when the teams meet again Sunday (7 p.m. Central time) in San Diego.
Two themes were being repeated around the Commanders this week:
First, the rematch is always tougher.
Second, the Commanders are confident.
“The saying is that it’s hardest to beat a team twice in one year,” Commanders linebacker Austin Larkin said. “Obviously it’s going to be a challenge. They know what we do. We know what they like to do.
“We got a little taste of one another the first week. Hopefully we can improve on our game plan from previously and come out here and beat them again.”
The Commanders had four scoring drives in that first meeting. The concern was that only one of those was a touchdown. And the Fleet, with veteran offensive-minded coach Mike Martz, figure to have improved on offense themselves since then.
“It will be a big challenge for us,” Commanders quarterback Logan Woodside said. “Really good on defense. Good on offense. Got a great head coach in coach Martz. So it will be a big challenge. First game on the road, so we’ve got to be locked in.”
In the first season of AAF, every week has its own firsts. This will be the Commanders’ first road game, first game outdoors, first game on grass, and first game coming off a loss.
“You’ve got to come out with the right mindset,” Larkin said. “You’ve got to be confident. You’ve got to be poised. You’ve got to be just ready for anything.
“The road is obviously a bit more challenging than being at home. We’re comfortable here, but I think we’re up for the challenge and I think we’ll be ready.”
One thing the Commanders won’t have on their side is the throng of screaming Texas natives that turned up the volume in the Alamodome in the first two games in San Antonio.
“Oh my, that was WOW. That was insane – 30,000 people just screaming,” Larkin said. “I think we’ll be amped up enough just to face San Diego again. We’ll create our own energy if the fans are against us out there. But we’ll definitely miss them.”
A more personal challenge for Larkin and his defensive teammates is putting on a strong pass rush. Two weeks into the season, the Commanders lead the league in quarterback sacks. They had six sacks in the season opener despite the Fleet’s game play to hold them off.
“For me personally they like to max protect a lot,” Larkin said. “That’s kind of annoying getting to the quarterback. I have to take advnantage of those one-on-ones. They do like to get a lot of guys in protection make sure their quarterback is safe.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to get through a few times and get him down again. We’ve got some rushers on this team. The whole D line. The outside linebackers. We’ve got some guys we know will get there. We’re confident and ready for it.”
Larkin comes from a family that knows about athletic challenges. His Michael played linebacker for four seasons at Notre Dame. His uncle Barry, the best known of the Larkins, was a Hall of Fame baseball player and a member of the Cincinnati Reds’ 1990 World Series Championship team.
Austin Larkin played some baseball growing up, but found chasing down quarterbacks and running backs more fun than hitting baseball. At 6-foot-2, 259 pounds, the former Purdue linebacker looks the part of a pro football player.
“I grew up most of my life playing baseball but honestly I kind of bored of it when I got to right before high school,” Larkin said. “It just wasn’t the sport for me. I had fun with it when I was young.
“Having those roots, it gave me something to look up to. I wanted to accomplish that level of greatness in my own personal life. It was really cool to have that be a part of my family.”
The San Antonio Commanders play their first road game of the season Sunday when they are in San Diego for a rematch with the Fleet.
That game is the first of four straight on the road for the Commanders. Here is what starting quarterback Logan Woodside, general manager Daryl Johnston and head coach Mike Riley had to say about the schedule:
From Logan Woodside:
“Something I’ve never gone through. I’m excited to go through it with this group of guys. I think they will handle it really well and it will be good for us.”
From Daryl Johnston:
“I’ve never done this before. I’ve never done a four-game road trip so this is going to be interesting. It’s not easy. We are all creatures of habit. We like our routine. We’re going have a different routine. The good part of that is we’re going to have the same routine for four weeks.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how this team responds. I’m excited for it.
“If you come back and you have success on this month-long trip, we expect to come back to San Antonio in that first home game for our fans to be out there – just as they have the first two weeks, have been great with their support. If we can come back with a nice performance on this month-long road trip, we’re expecting the Alamodome to be pretty excited when we get back into town.”
From Mike Riley:
“We’ll reep the benefits of that with more home games later on and we got to open up at home right away. We’re just not going to worry about it. You know what it’s the product of. You’ve got the basketball tournament in town. That’s OK. We’ll be alright.”
Photos from Wednesday’s practice at Central Catholic High School:
The Birmingham Iron and Arizona Hotshots, winners in the opening week of AAF action, both won close games over the weekend.
The Hotshots went scoreless in the first half before coming back to beat the Memphis Express 20-18. Arizona quarterback John Wolford completed 14-of-22 passes for 194 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Hotshots also used three running backs to pile up 209 yards rushing.
By the time the clock was winding down Saturday night, the drama was already over.
The San Antonio Commanders had a victory in hand as they led the San Diego Fleet 15-6 with time running out.
That didn’t stop the Fleet, who didn’t score a touchdown in the game, from taking one last shot at the end zone.
Fleet quarterback Philip Nelson was on the field in the fourth quarter after the Commanders’ defensive front beat up San Diego starter Mike Bercovici earlier in the game.
Following a defensive penalty, the Fleet ended the game with an untimed down from the Commanders’ 35-yard line. Nelson threw a high arcing pass into the end zone intended for 6-foot-4 tight end Marcus Baugh.
The pass got through to Baugh’s hands – but that wasn’t the end of the story. MeKale McKay, the Commanders’ 6-foot-3 receiver, was back in the defensive secondary on the play. McKay, safety Chase Dutra and safety Nick Orr all sandwiched Baugh as he went up for the ball.
McKay got his right hand in and helped wrench the ball away from Baugh.
And with a little help from one of San Antonio’s starting receivers, the Commanders’ defense finished the night without giving up a touchdown.