Sunday’s matchup marked the second game between the Alliance of American Football teams in three weeks, and revenge for San Diego after the Fleet fell 15-6 to San Antonio during their initial Feb. 9 meeting.
Despite Sunday’s impressive win, San Diego’s start was ugly. In the first snap of the game, San Antonio corner De’Vante Bausby hauled an interception, and on the next play Commanders’ quarterback Logan Woodside found Mekale McKay for a 47-yard touchdown and an early 8-0 lead.
With minutes to go in the first quarter, Fleet quarterback Philip Nelson connected with Nelson Spruce for a 3-yard touchdown, which shifted the game’s momentum.
Woodside went on to throw a pick six, handing the Fleet a 14-8 lead with just under 11 minutes remaining in the second quarter.
Nelson then capped an 11-play, 84-yard drive with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Spruce, giving the Fleet a 22-8 lead at half-time.
The Fleet’s strong defense kept the pressure on Woodside in the third, as San Diego looked to build steam.
Head coach Mike Martz said before Sunday’s game, “We’re small, compared to the rest of the league, but they’re strong and have great speed and I think the details, all the things that make you really good on defense, they execute very well. And they’ll continue to get better every week.”
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Offensively, the Fleet kept the pressure on as well. Nelson was listed as questionable going into Sunday’s game because of a back injury, but he stayed strong. With under 10 minutes to go in the third quarter, San Diego’s Ja’Quan Gardner went up the middle for an 83-yard touchdown and a 28-8 lead.
But San Diego went on to muff a punt, and San Antonio’s Nick Temple recovered the ball at the Fleet’s 10-yard line. Woodside completed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Greg Ward, but the play was overturned and San Antonio had to settle for a 23-yard field goal instead.
With a 28-11 lead at the end of the third quarter, the Fleet had 199 rushing yards on the board.
San Diego went on to convert a 35-yard field goal in the fourth quarter and claim a 31-11 win.
Three games into the AAF’s inaugural 10-game regular season, San Diego is 2-1 in the four-team Western Conference.
Sunday’s game marked the return to San Diego for Commanders coach Mike Riley, who coached the Chargers to a 14-34 record from 1999-2001.
The Chargers might have had a better record than 5-11 in Riley’s final season if the team’s management had taken his suggestion to select Tom Brady in the 2000 NFL draft.
“Management had decided we were going to take a quarterback in the draft late as a developmental guy,” Riley said during a recent conference call with reporters. “They asked our staff to find some names that would be good candidates. We came up with Todd Husak and Tom Brady.
“I sent one of our coaches to work (Brady) out. When it came right down to them asking on the second day who we wanted, I told them we wanted Tom Brady. We just went in another direction.”
New England selected Brady in the sixth round, 15 picks after the Chargers used their choice in the round to pick Shannon Taylor, a linebacker from the University of Virginia who played 11 games with the Chargers and 29 games with two other teams during a four-season NFL career.
Brady quarterbacked the Patriots to the first of their six Super Bowl championships in the 2001 season, Riley’s last with the Chargers.
Riley’s Chargers stint marked the second time had the opportunity to have coached Brady but decisions by others kept that from happening.
As USC’s offensive coordinator, Riley’s responsibilities included recruiting players from the San Francisco Bay Area, with Brady, among them.
“I thought we were going to get him,” Riley said. “Then unbeknownst to me we committed to another quarterback actually while I was gone to a home visit with the Bradys.
“I went back to the office and coach (John) Robinson told me another quarterback committed and we didn’t have room for Brady and I just about fainted because I had recruited him for over a year.”
— Staff and wire reports