SAN DIEGO – Ja’Quan Gardner ran for 104 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns and Donny Hageman kicked four field goals as the San Diego Fleet defeated the Atlanta Legends, 24-12, in their debut at SDCCU Stadium Sunday evening.
The Fleet was hoping to attract more than 30,000 fans and surpass the largest crowd during the Alliance of American Football’s first weekend of play.
However, with a temperature of 48 degrees, a 14 mph wind that made the wind-chill factor 42 degrees when the game began at 5:05 p.m. and rain during the game, the attendance was announced at 20,019.
The largest crowd of the four games during the AAF’s first weekend was 27,857 at San Antonio’s Alamodome for the Commanders 15-6 victory over the Fleet Feb. 9.
One boost to the attendance was the purchase of 1,000 tickets by Manchester Financial Group, a hotel and commercial real estate development firm, and its Chairman Emeritus Papa Doug Manchester.
The tickets were donated to the Navy SEAL Foundation, Southwest Naval Special Warfare, Third Fleet, Marine Corp Airstation Miramar and the Marine Corp Recruit Depot San Diego.
Atlanta (0-2) took a 12-9 lead on Younghoe Koo’s 26-yard field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter.
The Fleet (1-1) drove 75 yards on 12 plays on the ensuing possession, with Gardner running the final 8 yards for the team’s first touchdown of the season with nine minutes, four seconds to play. Terrell Watson ran six times for 30 yards on the drive and Gardner three times for 28 yards. The Fleet also benefited from a 15-yard illegal defense penalty.
The Fleet forced the Legends to punt after three plays on the next drive. The Fleet then drove 60 yards on six plays, including Gardner’s 31-yard run, the Fleet’s longest play of the game, three plays before his 7-yard touchdown run with 4:00 left.
In a league where teams are required to attempt a two-point conversion after a touchdown, the Fleet was unsuccessful on both their two-point conversion attempts, while Atlanta missed its two-point conversion attempt after Matt Simms 19-yard touchdown pass to Malachi Jones in the first quarter.
The Fleet outgained the Legends, 313 yards to 222, led 22-14 in first downs and 33:38-26:22 in time of possession.
In his first start, Fleet quarterback Philip Nelson completed 14 of 30 passes for 142 yards with one interception. He was sacked three times, three less than Mike Bercovici, in the Fleet’s 15-6 loss to San Antonio.
Simms completed 17 of 25 passes for 160 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He was also sacked three times.
Simms is a son of former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms.
Koo, the Los Angeles Chargers kicker for the first four games of the 2017 season, opened the scoring with a 29-yard field goal on the game’s opening possession.
The AAF has eliminated kickoffs as a safety measure. Games start with a snap from the offense’s own 25-yard line.
The Fleet won the coin toss and chose to defer the choice until the start of the second half.
Atlanta drove from their 25-yard line to the Fleet’s 11-yard line, where Simms’ pass on a third down and 3 yards to go was incomplete, prompting Koo’s field goal try.
The Legends increased their lead to 9-0 with 3:21 left in the first quarter on Simms’ 19-yard touchdown pass to Jones, two plays after defensive back Carlos Merritt intercepted a Nelson pass at Atlanta’s 8-yard line and returned the ball 7 yards.
Simms threw a 26-yard pass to Montay Crockett on the first play of the drive.
Hageman kicked field goals on three consecutive possessions, tying the score 9-9.
Hageman’s first field goal was a 46-yarder with 1:39 left in the first half. The San Diego State alumnus kicked a 43-yarder eight seconds before halftime, six plays after Ryan Moeller intercepted a Simms pass at the Fleet 40- yard line and returned the ball 8 yards.
Hageman kicked a 26-yard field goal on the first drive of the second half, which began on a 31-yard pass interference on defensive back Desmond Lawrence, giving the Fleet a first down on the Legends 44-yard line.
Hageman also kicked a 33-yard field goal with 35 seconds to go in the fourth quarter.