SAN DIEGO – Philip Nelson overcame an interception on the game’s first play to throw two touchdown passes and Ja’Quan Gardner ran for 122 yards on 12 carries as the San Diego Fleet defeated the San Antonio Commanders, 31-11, Sunday.
The Fleet defense made five quarterback sacks, intercepted two passes and limited the Commanders to three points after Logan Woodside threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Mekale McKay on the game’s second play and Woodside completed a pass to Evan Rodriguez on the required two-point conversion attempt.
The touchdown came one play after De’Vante Bausby intercepted a pass by Nelson at the San Antonio 35-yard line and returned the ball 18 yards to the Fleet’s 47-yard line.
Both of Nelson’s touchdown passes went to Nelson Spruce. They were the Fleet’s first touchdown passes in their three games.
The Fleet (2-1) also got touchdowns from Gardner on an 83-yard run, the longest play in the Alliance of American Football’s 12-game history, and middle linebacker A.J. Tarpley on a 27-yard interception return.
The victory before a crowd at SDCCU Stadium announced at 14,789 avenges the Fleet’s 15-6 loss at San Antonio Feb. 9 and moves them into a tie with Arizona (2-1) for the lead in the four-team Western Conference, three games into the AAF’s inaugural 10-game regular season.
“We called it a `payback game,”‘ said Spruce, who caught a game-high- equaling four passes for 50 yards. “We didn’t play anywhere near our best Week 1. We executed pretty well, and I think the crowd noise is definitely helping. (The Commanders) had a lot of false starts.”
Spruce was undrafted out of Colorado but survived the Los Angeles Rams final cut in 2016. He was inactive the first nine weeks of the season and then placed on injured reserve. He played two preseason games with the Rams in 2017 and four with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018.
Spruce was a member of the Chicago Bears practice squad in 2017. He has not played in an NFL regular-season game.
Nelson called Spruce “a guy you can rely on to be in the right spot at the right time.
“We give him a lot of freedom in this offense and that’s something that says a lot about him — that Coach Martz is willing to give him a lot of freedom like that,” Nelson said. “Nelson is a huge weapon for us.”
Nelson completed 17 of 25 passes for 193 yards with one interception for his second victory in two starts as the Fleet avoided being swept by San Antonio, which would have given it the first tiebreaker over the Fleet for a playoff berth.
The Fleet outgained the Commanders, 381-291, and led 20-15 in first downs but trailed 30:25-29:35 in time of possession.
Woodside completed 12 of 23 passes for 151 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions before being replaced by Marquise Williams with seven minutes, 20 seconds to play in the fourth quarter.
“I missed a few throws early on,” said Woodside, a seventh-round choice by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2018 NFL draft. “I never got a good rhythm. Credit to San Diego’s defense. They did a good job containing us.”
Williams also quarterbacked San Antonio (1-2) on its third possession of the first quarter.
Following the interception on their first possession and being forced to punt after three plays on their second, the Fleet scored their first touchdown on their third possession, driving 92 yards on eight plays, with Nelson throwing a 3-yard pass to Spruce for the score.
Nelson completed all three of his passes on the drive for 53 yards, including a 43-yard completion to LaQuvionte Gonzalez that moved the ball from the Fleet’s 28-yard line to the Commanders’ 29-yard line.
Terrell Watson ran five times for 39 yards during a game he ran for 73 yards on 13 carries.
Tarpley’s interception return touchdown and Watson’s two-point conversion run gave the Fleet a 14-8 lead 12:19 before halftime.
“Coach called a play where we get our eyes on the quarterback so that it’s easy to break on balls,” said Tarpley, who played 15 games for the Buffalo Bills in 2015, then retired from football on April 7, 2016 because of concussion concerns.
The Fleet increased its lead to 22-8 on Nelson’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Spruce with 2:09 left in the first half and Watson’s two-point conversion run. Nelson was six-for-six for 51 yards on the 11-play, 84-yard drive which also included a 15-yard illegal defense penalty against San Antonio.
Gardner ran 83 yards for a touchdown on the Fleet’s first possession of the third quarter.
“It all started at the front with the offensive line and the tight ends and receivers doing their jobs,” said Gardner, who spent the 2018 NFL preseason in the San Francisco 49ers training camp and rushed for 104 yards in last Sunday’s 24-12 victory over the Atlanta Legends. “I saw a hole and I hit it.”
The Commanders other points also came off a Fleet turnover.
Nick Rose kicked a 23-yard field goal with 3:27 left in the third quarter, five plays after Gonzalez muffed a punt, with Nick Tempe recovering for San Antonio at the Fleet’s 11-yard line.
The Fleet’s Donny Hageman kicked a 35-yard field goal with 11:49 to play for the fourth quarter’s only points.
The game marked a return to San Diego for Commanders coach Mike Riley, who coached the Chargers to a 14-34 record from 1999-2001.