SDCCU Stadium- San Diego, California
The Fleet opened up the return of football to San Diego in a big way. They pulled away from the Atlanta Legends late and won 24-12 during a very rainy day at SDCCU Stadium.
The game didn’t start out all that great for the San Diego hometown fans. The Fleet lost the coin toss and gave up an eight-minute, 64-yard drive, and a field goal to start the game. Matt Simms looked good to start, completing four of his first seven passes for the Legends.
The Fleet got the ball back after a field goal and immediately began to run the football, giving Ja’Quan Gardner three carries right away. After four straight runs, Phillip Nelson went to the air for the first time and was intercepted by Carlos Merritt. The Legends struck quickly after the turnover, scoring on a 19-yard strike from Simms to Malachi Jones. Atlanta then failed on the mandatory two-point conversion, giving Nelson and San Diego the ball back with 3:21 left in the first quarter, now down 9-0.
After a series of uninspiring drives from both teams, the Fleet struck next after a drive that started on their own 35 and was highlighted by a 29-yard pass to Nelson Spruce. The drive ended with a 46-yard field goal by Donny Hageman. On the ensuing Atlanta drive, Simms threw a ball deep to Ervin Philips that was broken up high in the air and ended up being intercepted by Ryan Moeller. It was Moeller’s second interception off of a tipped pass this season. The Fleet would then drive 26 yards for another quick field goal to end the half, this time a 43-yarder by Hageman. Hageman was 4-4 on the day.
San Diego got the ball back after the half and went on another quick drive, going 67 yards thanks to the help of two long pass interference penalties against the Legends and kicking another field goal to tie the game up.
Once the Fleet got the ball after an unimpressive Atlanta drive, they began marching down the field due to more penalties by the Atlanta legends. But soon after getting into field goal range, Spruce caught a pass on a 3rd and 11 and fumbled the ball. Atlanta jumped on it, killing some of the momentum that the Fleet had gained in the 3rd quarter.
After the fumble, the Legends rode the legs of Lawrence Pittman and Akrum Wadley down the field. They totaled 66 yards as the Fleet gave up a field goal and the lead.
With Atlanta leading 12-9, San Diego approached this drive differently than the rest. Mike Martz decided to ride the strength of his running game, at one point running the football seven times in a row. The Fleet milked almost six minutes off the clock and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a nifty Ja’Quan Gardner run. They then failed the next two-point conversion.
That wouldn’t be the last time Fleet fans heard Ja’Quan Gardner’s name. After the Fleet got the ball back after a Legends punt, they stuck to the running game and Ja’Quan Gardner scored another touchdown on a seven-yard draw play. With four minutes left in the game, the Fleet led Atlanta by nine with a score of 21-12.
The Legends tried to score quickly, but the Fleet’s defensive line took over. They collected two sacks on this last drive and forced Atlanta to turn the ball over on downs. This brought the Fleet to three total sacks.
With the ball back on Atlanta’s 15-yard line, the Fleet ran almost two minutes off of the clock and scored the last points of the game, a 33-yard field goal by Hageman.
The Fleet fell behind quickly early and showed many of the same offensive struggles early in the game. But behind Ja’Quan Gardner’s 100-yards and two touchdowns and the Fleet’s stellar defense, San Diego may have found its identity in a 24-12 win over Atlanta in the city of San Diego’s first professional football game since January 1, 2017.