The inaugural week of the Alliance of American Football continued Sunday with the Memphis Express visiting the Birmingham Iron and the Arizona Hotshots hosting the Salt Lake Stallions.
The league already scored its first victory Saturday when CBS coverage averaged 2.9 million viewers from 9 to 11 p.m. ET, which SportsTVRatings noted beat ABC's coverage of the NBA game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets.
Notable players such as Trent Richardson (Birmingham), Christian Hackenberg (Memphis) and Zac Stacy (Memphis) took the field Sunday and looked to keep the league's momentum rolling with entertaining games.
Birmingham Iron 26, Memphis Express 0
Arizona Hotshots 38, Salt Lake Stallions 22
Birmingham 26, Memphis 0
Hackenberg never played a down in the NFL after the New York Jets selected him in the second round of the 2016 draft, and he made it clear why on Sunday.
Birmingham's stout defense set the tone, intercepting the Penn State product in the first quarter and holding him to a mere three completions in a scoreless first half. The Iron delivered hits, created havoc in the backfield and held Stacy, who played for the St. Louis Rams and Jets in his NFL career, in relative check.
That defense passed its stiffest test after Richardson lost a fumble on the first drive of the second half, stopping a 4th-and-1 from its own 6-yard line to preserve the shutout and keep the momentum.
The Iron's defense wasn't the only one to pick up Richardson, as Birmingham kicker Nick Novak drilled three field goals in the first half. Perhaps the Chicago Bears should give him a call, as the former member of the Arizona Cardinals, Washington, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers and Houston Texans looked the part as the lone source of first-half scoring.
It was just a matter of time before Richardson and Birmingham broke through with more than field goals, and the former Alabama Crimson Tide great found the end zone twice in the fourth quarter to bust things open after quarterback Luis Perez found Quinton Patton for a long completion to set up the first score.
Perez threw for 252 yards and established a rapport with Patton, who finished with 107 yards.
Patton played for the San Francisco 49ers, while Perez was a member of the Rams practice squad at times this past season. Ben Kercheval of CBS Sports noted Perez was nearly a professional bowler who learned to play football from YouTube.
On the other side, it was fitting that Memphis' lone touchdown on a trick play was called back for a penalty, as head coach Mike Singletary was never able to draw something up to crack Birmingham's defense.
Arizona 38, Salt Lake 22
Sometimes an entire game can be boiled down to a five-play span, and that is exactly the number of plays that turned the nightcap between Arizona and Salt Lake from a nailbiter to a blowout in the third quarter.
Plays one and two saw Hotshots quarterback John Wolford find Rashad Ross for a touchdown and convert the two-point attempt. Steven Johnson intercepted Stallions backup quarterback Matt Linehan—who was in after Josh Woodrum left with a hamstring injury—on the third play, and Wolford hit Jhurell Pressley for a long touchdown on the fourth play.
The fifth was a successful two-point conversion, and Arizona turned a 19-16 advantage into a comfortable 35-16 one in the blink of an eye.
Salt Lake was fighting an uphill battle from the start, as CBS Sports noted 49 of Arizona's 52 players had experience with an NFL team. Wolford led the talented group in no-huddle attacks that mixed in read-option looks and quick tempo and finished with 275 passing yards.
Ross, who played for the Bears and Washington, was his favorite target and caught two touchdowns on his way to 103 yards through the air, but it was tight end Gerald Christian, who played for the Buffalo Bills, who hauled in the first touchdown in Hotshots history.
The Stallions kept up with the home team prior to Woodrum's injury, and former Minnesota Vikings running back Matt Asiata was the first to cross the goal line in team history. It was familiar territory for someone who scored 19 touchdowns at the NFL level:
Linehan, who played collegiately at Idaho, closed the gap with a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, but Arizona's defense stood strong and clinched its first victory of the season.
Week 2 of the AAF schedule features two Saturday games and two Sunday games. Salt Lake plays Birmingham and Arizona plays Memphis on Saturday, while the Orlando Apollos play the San Antonio Commanders and the Atlanta Legends face the San Diego Fleet on Sunday.