Commanders vs. Iron: No room for mistakes

Kenneth Farrow II scored the Commanders' first touchdown of the game on a 15-yard run on Sunday against the Orlando Apollos. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders running back Kenneth Farrow II has run for a touchdown the last two games in a row. – photo by Joe Alexander
Ask the San Antonio Commanders about the Birmingham Iron and a theme appears:

The Iron don’t make mistakes.

If you want to beat the Iron, you can’t make mistakes.

“I think they forced more punts than anybody in the league,” Commanders coach Mike Riley. “Then they’re just really, really solid. I think that’s their team. That’s why they’re undefeated.

“They’ve been in pretty close games. But they’ve won them because they haven’t beat themselves. I’m sorry to say we’ve beat ourselves. We’ve thrown two touchdown interceptions. Then we’ve had too many penalties. That’s kind of been the difference in the games.”

The Commanders (1-2) and Iron (3-0) play Sunday at 3 p.m. Central time. The game is televised on CBS Sports Network.

The Birmingham defense has made five interceptions, including two by Jamar Summers. The Iron defense allows a league-low 7.0 points per game. The Iron have given up only one rushing touchdown this season and no runs longer than 24 yards.

“Really good defense,” Commanders quarterback Logan Woodside said. “They have a really good linebacker corps. In the secondary they move around a whole lot. It will be a big challenge for us. I know they’re coached really well. So it will be fun to go down there and play against them.”

Birmingham quarterback Luis Perez has had modest stats but avoided turnovers. In three games he has thrown 102 passes with only one interception and no touchdowns. Woodside has thrown two touchdown passes this season, but also five interceptions including two that were returned for touchdowns.

“We’ve got too many mistakes, too many critical mistakes,” Commanders general manager Daryl Johnston said. “Some of these interceptions are game-changers. The two pick-sixes really changed the flow of that game each time. We gave up points in the red zone on another interceptions. Not only are they interceptions, but they’ve been costly.”

The Iron haven’t been putting up big rushing numbers either. Running back Trent Richardson, the most high profile player on the team, averages only 2.5 yards per carry. But Richardson has been tough to stop in short-yardage situations and has six rushing touchdowns. He has also caught 10 passes.

The Commanders have a stronger overall running game this season at 149.0 yards per game and 4.81 yards per carry. Kenneth Farrow II has run for two touchdowns. Trey Williams made his season debut last week and averaged 10.7 yards per carry.

But for the last two weeks, the Commanders have been hurt by turnovers and penalties and wound up with losses.

“I think we’ve had a good week,” Riley said. “I think the reaction to the last loss has actually been a good one by this group as far as their work. I think we’ve had three of our better practices of the year.

“That’s what a loss will do for you once in a while. I think enthusiasm for the work was maybe at a little higher level.”

A road victory Sunday would even the Commanders’ record to 2-2. A loss would give them a three-game losing streak with two more road games coming up before the team returns to the Alamodome.

“I think there is obviously a sense of urgency,” Riley said. “Nobody likes losing. I think the only way to dig is out of it is to really, really work at preparing and getting ready to play and the attitude is really the key to that preparation and preparation is the key to how you’re going to play. How you play is if you’re going to win. It dominoes.”

Commanders’ Mike Riley on trying to turn things around after two losses

Commanders defensive back Orion Stewart returns an interception during Wednesday's practice at Central Catholic High School. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders defensive back Orion Stewart returns an interception during Wednesday’s practice at Central Catholic High School. – photo by Joe Alexander
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.”

Commanders’ Logan Woodside points to mistakes in loss to Fleet

Commanders quarterbacks Logan Woodside (5) and Marquise Williams (12) at practice Wednesday at Central Catholic High School. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders quarterbacks Logan Woodside (5) and Marquise Williams (12) at practice Wednesday at Central Catholic High School. – photo by Joe Alexander
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.”

Fleet hand Commanders second straight loss

Video from Twitter via @aafcommanders

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.”

Video from Twitter via @aafcommanders

Austin Larkin, Logan Woodside on Commanders’ rematch with Fleet

Commanders linebacker Austin Larkin at practice Friday as the team prepared for Sunday's game against the San Diego Fleet. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders linebacker Austin Larkin at practice Friday as the team prepared for Sunday’s game against the San Diego Fleet. – photo by Joe Alexander
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.”

Logan Woodside, Daryl Johnston, Mike Riley on Commanders’ four-game road trip

Commanders quarterback Logan Woodside has completed 38-of-75 passes for 478 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in the first two games. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders quarterback Logan Woodside has completed 38-of-75 passes for 478 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in the first two games. – photo by Joe Alexander
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:

Commanders QB Logan Woodside on loss to Apollos: photo gallery

Commanders starting quarterback Logan Woodside passed for 223 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's loss to the Orlando Apollos at the Alamodome. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders starting quarterback Logan Woodside passed for 223 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s loss to the Orlando Apollos at the Alamodome. – photo by Joe Alexander
Logan Woodside was the San Antonio Commanders’ starting quarterback for the second straight game.

And Woodside did indeed get off to a good start as the Commanders put up touchdowns on their first two possession on Sunday at the Alamodome.

But the Commanders didn’t score an offensive touchdown the rest of the game and the Orlando Apollos rallied in the fourth quarter for a 37-29 victory.

“They’re a lot of Tampa-two (defense),” Woodside said. “It made it hard on us. We really had to be patient to pick and choose our spots to take our shots and just tried to move it down the field.

“They made a good adjustment the second half. Played some zone. Dropped some guys out of there. Credit to coach Spurrier and that defensive staff for what they did. They made it hard on us.”

For the game Woodside completed 20-of-39 passes for 223 yards. He threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Evan Rodriguez. Woodside’s longest passes of the game were for 29 yards to De’Marcus Ayers and also 29 yards to Mekale McKay.

In what was the most crucial play of the fourth quarter, Woodside threw an interception that Orlando’s Keith Reaser returned 38 yards for a touchdown to put the Apollos in front for good.

“It’s off coverage. We ran a 10-yard out route, something we do every day in practice,” Woodside said. “I have all the confidence in the world to throw it to Mekale McKay. Threw a good ball, threw it on time. He just made a play.

“That’s football. I’m not going to stop throwing it because he made an interception. He just made a really good play and all credit to him.”

Marquise Williams sees time as Commanders’ QB

Commanders quarterback Marquise Williams played one series in the second quarter Sunday against the Orlando Apollos. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders quarterback Marquise Williams played one series in the second quarter Sunday against the Orlando Apollos. – photo by Joe Alexander
The San Antonio Commanders made a temporary change of quarterbacks Sunday.

Marquise Williams entered the game in the second quarterback and played for one possession in the Commanders’ 37-29 loss to the Orlando Apollos at the Alamodome.

Williams completed 2-of-4 passes for 3 yards. His completions went for a 6-yard gain and 3-yard loss. He also ran with the ball three times for 32 yards including a 17-yard gain.

The Commanders got a 50-yard field goal from Nick Rose at the end of the drive to extend their lead to 15-8.

“I think Marquise, as you saw, made some plays,” Commanders coach Mike Riley said. “We should have put him back in the second half and lost track of what was going on there when he should have gone back in. But we’ll continue to do that with him.”

Here is the official play-by-play for the Commanders’ possession with Williams at quarterback.

San Antonio Commanders at 12:53
1-10-SA 25 (12:53) (Shotgun) M.Williams left guard to SA 25 for no gain (T.Parks; E.Okine). New QB #12 Williams
1-10-SA 25(12:21) (Shotgun) K.Farrow, II right tackle to SA 27 for 2 yards (R.Davis, Sr.; G.Newberry).
2-10-SA 25(11:48) (Shotgun) M.Williams scrambles up the middle to SA 42 for 15 yards (W.Hill, III).
3-8-SA 27R11(11:08) (Shotgun) M.Williams pass incomplete deep left to D.Ayers.
1-10-SA 42(11:01) (Shotgun) K.Farrow, II left guard to SA 48 for 6 yards (T.Parks; J.Evans).
2-10-SA 42(10:22) (Shotgun) M.Williams scrambles right end to ORL 35 for 17 yards (L.Gunter).
3-4-SA 48R12(9:36) (Shotgun) M.Williams pass short left to A.Moore to ORL 38 for -3 yards (L.Gunter).
1-10-ORL 35(9:10) (Shotgun) M.Williams pass incomplete short middle to G.Ward, Jr..
2-13-ORL 38Timeout #2 by SA at 09:05.(9:05)
3-13-ORL 38(9:05) (Shotgun) M.Williams pass short left to A.Green to ORL 32 for 6 yards (L.Gunter) [A.Moten, Jr.].
4-7-ORL 32(8:24) N.Rose 50 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-S.Daly, Holder-J.Zema
ORL 8 SA 15, 10 plays, 43 yards, 4:33 drive, 6:40 elapsed

After the one possession, starter Logan Woodside returned at quarterback.

“We think that they both should play by really what they’ve done,” Riley said. “I failed on that the first game and we decided just to go put him in the third series of the game today and we should have done that the second half too.

“I’m not really suggesting too big of a drama part of this thing. I wouldn’t do it if I thought it was hurting our team. I think he’s earned that position to play. We kind of look at the bulk of the work that was done from mini-camp all the way through.”

The Commanders, who scored touchdowns with their first two possession of the game with Woodside at quarterback, didn’t score an offensive touchdown the rest of the game.

“I do think Logan is our starter. I like him,” Riley said. “But I think Marquise, as you saw, can give us a change of pace.”

Daryl Johnston on why Logan Woodside became Commanders’ starting QB

San Antonio quarterbacks Logan Woodside (right) and Marquise Williams this week as the Commanders prepared for Sunday's game against the Orlando Apollos. - photo by Joe Alexander
San Antonio quarterbacks Logan Woodside (right) and Marquise Williams this week as the Commanders prepared for Sunday’s game against the Orlando Apollos. – photo by Joe Alexander
The San Antonio Commanders scored their only touchdown of the season opener on a 3-yard run.

That scoring run, however, was set up by the Commanders’ longest offensive play of the game – a 46-yard pass from Logan Woodside to Alonzo Moore.

The long pass was an example of why Commanders general manager Daryl Johnston said Woodside earned the starting quarterback position.

“When you have the opportunity to have explosive plays like we did to Alonzo Moore down to the goal line, that makes the offense’s job that much easier,” Johnston said. “So to have that faith, that trust to turn that ball loose and to know your wide receiver is going to go up and make a play or keep that defense from making a play, that’s a big step. We felt that’s where Logan had made strides toward the end of training camp.”

Johnston won three Super Bowl as a fullback with the Dallas Cowboys. His outlook on offense was influenced by former Cowboys offensive coordinator Norv Turner and the part long passes played in Turner’s approach. Commanders coach Mike Riley, while a big proponent of a strong running game, also includes long pass plays in his game plan.

“I love the way Mike constructs the vertical elements in this passing game,” Johnston said. “Logan is the one guy, and this is a phrase Norv always talked about, turn the ball loose. When you get one-on-one, we should win that. Logan is the one quarterback, and Marquise (Williams) is getting a little better at it, of trusting our guys in one-on-one situations – that they’re going to make a play and that nothing negative is going to happen.”

For the game, Woodside completed 18-of-36 passes for 255 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions and was sacked three times.

Woodside also completed a 37-yard pass to Greg Ward Jr. and a 22-yard pass to Mekale McKay.

“We consider one-on-one vs. our guys a win for us,” Johnston said. “Logan is the one guy who has really kind of bought into that. We’re starting to see Marquise do it a little bit more. And it’s the area we’re going to try to push Dustin (Vaughan) to, because I still really feel that Dustin throws the best football out here.

“When we’re in skelaton and we’re throwing on air, Dustin is outstanding. When we get into the team elements I’d like to see Dustin stretch the field a little bit more and be a more aggressive. We felt that was something Logan was doing that was going to benefit us.”

Logan Woodside starts at QB in Commanders’ opener: photo gallery

Logan Woodside started at quarterback for the Commanders in their season opener. The Commanders beat the San Diego Fleet 15-6 on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, at the Alamodome. – photo by Joe Alexander
Logan Woodside started at quarterback for the Commanders in their season opener. The Commanders beat the San Diego Fleet 15-6 on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, at the Alamodome. – photo by Joe Alexander
Logan Woodside sprinted out onto the field at the Alamodome on Saturday night as almost 28,000 fans cheered.

“I just got chills. It was kind of surreal,” Woodside said. “I was excited. The fans were excited and they were into it. It was just an overall great experience.”

For the the first time since the 2017 college season, the former University of Toledo quarterback was starting in a real football game.

“It was unbelievable,” Woodside said. “First the fans came out and supported us. They said 27,000 people were here. It was electric. It was everything I dreamed of.”

Woodside was the San Antonio Commanders’ opening game starter after going through a quarterback competition with Dustin Vaughan and Marquise Williams. Woodside completed 18-of-36 passes for 255 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptioons as the Commanders beat the San Diego Fleet 15-6 in their AAF debut.

“I felt really good. I think we did a great job on offense,” Woodside said. “A couple of the drives stalled out a little bit. I wish we could have had those points in the red zone. But overall I feel good.”

Woodside completed some key passes in the game. He hit Mekale McKay for a 22-yard completion and Greg Ward Jr. with a 37-yard completion.

His biggest play of the night was a 46-yard pass to Alonzo Moore on the last play of the third quarter. That set up a 3-yard scoring run by Kenneth Farrow II for the only touchdown of the game.

“They did a great job,” Woodside said of the Commanders receivers. “They were in the right spots at the right times and made the big plays when we needed to. I went back and watched Greg’s catch. I didn’t know it was that great of a catch until I went back and saw it on Twitter. Just an unbelievable play and all around the guys did a really good job.”

Woodside also survived some tough moments in the game. He was sacked three times and had an interception in the red zone that cost the Commanders points.

“I thought Logan played well,” Commanders coach Mike Riley said. “I thought he made a lot of big plays. I’m sure that just like almost every quarterback in every game would like to have a couple of plays back.

“But I thought he competed really well and, like I said, he made some big plays – made some big plays in the end that were the difference maker.”