The inaugural season of the Alliance of American Football has neared its midway point, as Week 5 took center stage Saturday.
A pair of games were on the day's slate, with the other four teams in action on Sunday. A showdown between the league's top two teams, Orlando and Birmingham, got Week 5 started on an exciting note, as the Apollos' pursuit of perfection continued.
Below is a look at Saturday's action.
Alliance of American Football Schedule/Results — Week 5
Saturday, March 9: Orlando Apollos (5-0) 31, Birmingham Iron (3-2) 14
Saturday, March 9: San Diego Fleet (3-2) 27, Salt Lake Stallions (1-4) 25
Sunday, March 10 at 4 p.m. ET: Memphis Express (1-3) at Atlanta Legends (1-3)
Sunday, March 10 at 8 p.m. ET: San Antonio Commanders (2-2) at Arizona Hotshots (2-2)
Orlando Apollos 31, Birmingham Iron 14
Another week, another win for Orlando.
The Apollos showed why they have been the best team in the league through the first half of the season by jumping all over the Iron right out of the gates. They got on the board on their opening drive of the game, as quarterback Garrett Gilbert—who entered Week 5 as the AAF's leading passer—found tight end Scott Orndoff open in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown:
Then, it was the defense's turn to make a play. As the opening quarter neared an end, Orlando cornerback Keith Reaser picked off Birmingham quarterback Luis Perez and took it to the house:
Just like that, it was 14-0 after one quarter of action.
Orlando would tack on a field goal to its lead as its defense continued to shut down Birmingham for the majority of the half. Eventually, though, Iron running back Trent Richardson was able to find the end zone late in the second quarter for his AAF-leading eighth touchdown of the season:
Of note, no other player had more than three rushing touchdowns through four games.
Birmingham was able to make a game of it in the third quarter, thanks to its first passing touchdown of the season:
However, Orlando was not going to let its perfect season go down the drain.
The Apollos defense clamped down on the Iron offense after that score, and Gilbert put the game away with just under eight minutes to play by finding his favorite target, Charles Johnson:
This was a matchup that featured the AAF's top offense (Orlando, 29.5 PPG) against the league's top defense (Birmingham, 8.3 PPG). Something had to give. As strong as the Iron defense had been early on this season, there has been no stopping Gilbert and the Apollos.
Orlando has now made it halfway through the regular season unbeaten, and as a result, it is putting itself in good positioning for the playoffs. With five games to play, the Apollos own a two-game lead for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
San Diego Fleet 27, Salt Lake Stallions 25
While the first game of the day featured no shortage of points, the nightcap was a defensive struggle for much of the game.
In fact, the opening quarter was nearly over by the time either team managed to find the end zone. However, running back Joel Bouagnon was able to give Salt Lake the lead in the closing minute of the first quarter by powering his way to a three-yard touchdown.
Credit goes to both defenses for preventing either offense from generating any momentum all night. The low-scoring battle even gave players like San Diego cornerback Kameron Kelly a chance to shine:
Fittingly, it was the defense that put the Fleet back on top late in the third quarter:
The San Diego defense would build on that scoop-and-score, forcing another fumble on Salt Lake's next possession as well. That would set the stage for the Fleet offense to finally crack the goal line:
Not even two touchdowns in three minutes could give San Diego any breathing room, though. A pair of failed two-point conversions kept it a seven-point game heading into the final quarter.
After the defense put the team in front, the San Diego offense appeared poised to put the game away midway through the fourth. However, as the Fleet neared the red zone, quarterback Mike Bercovici was picked off, preventing the score from getting any worse for the Stallions.
Unfortunately for Salt Lake, quarterback Josh Woodrum connected with Kelly—an opposing defensive back—for the third time in the game. And Kelly capped off the hat trick with a trip to the end zone.
Incredibly, Woodrum was able to respond by bringing his team back into the game. He promptly led the Stallions on a touchdown drive on the ensuing possession and followed that up with another touchdown in the final minute. Not only that, but it was Woodrum's ability to extend the play that helped the Stallions complete the comeback with a go-ahead two-point conversion:
Despite all of the turnovers, Salt Lake managed to overcome a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit and found itself in position to win the game late.
But Fleet kicker Donny Hageman would have the last word, nailing a 44-yard field goal as time expired to win the game.
After just 29 combined points through the first three quarters, the two teams put up 23 points in a wild fourth quarter. And that led to a dramatic finish.
San Diego moves into first place in the Western Conference, thanks to a 3-0 mark at home. Meanwhile, Salt Lake remains in last place and becomes the first team in the AAF to reach four losses.