Parity is apparent among teams two through eight in the Alliance of American Football, with just two games separating squads with the second best record and the worst.
As for the number one team, though, the Orlando Apollos (5-0) are separating themselves from the pack.
Steve Spurrier’s charges thumped the Birmingham Iron 31-14 on Sunday at Legion Field, grabbing a two-game lead in the Eastern Conference as the regular season hit its halfway point.
Orlando rolled up 468 yards of total offense against the league’s top defensive unit.
The Apollos’ own underrated “D” held Birmingham to just 272 yards and recorded a pick-6 courtesy of Keith Reaser’s 40-yard interception return.
“De’Veon Smith had an excellent game, and D’Ernest Johnson had a beautiful game,” Spurrier said during his Monday press conference. “Those are two outstanding running backs. They break tackles, and hit the open holes and run through people. Then, of course, (quarterback Garrett Gilbert) had another outstanding day. No picks, I don’t think we had any sacks, the offense had no turnovers again.
“You run the ball 32 or 33 times, throw it 32 or 33, you have a good balance that you hope for, and it’s worked out that way the last two games.”
Gilbert continued his impressive play, connecting on 23 of 35 passes for 286 yards and two TDs.
As usual Charles Johnson was his primary target, catching six balls for 83 yards and a score.
“We did something with play action pass, setting up the run, and that started with our offensive line doing a really nice job of creating those holes early on,” Garrett said. “We were able to create some space with some play action passes and our receivers as usual, our tight ends got the ball, which was awesome and they did a great job making plays and finding open areas.”
Despite the perfect start to the season, Spurrier realizes his team has been fortunate.
“We’re all smart enough to know we could have lost a couple of those games of the first five, so we’re really not talking about what our record is,” Spurrier said. “We’re trying to improve from week to week, and if we can do that, we’ll have a chance to win the Alliance (championship).”
SHOWDOWN IN THE WEST
The San Antonio Commanders and San Diego Fleet are each 3-2, have already split their regular season series and are now tied for the lead in the Western Conference, one game ahead of Arizona (2-3) and two games clear of Salt Lake (1-4).
They are also becoming two fun teams to watch.
On Saturday the Fleet knocked off Salt Lake, 27-25, thanks to Donny Hageman’s 44-yard field goal as time expired, while on Sunday San Antonio held off a furious Arizona rally in 29-25 conquest of the Hotshots.
With Arizona fading and the Stallions tied with Memphis for the league’s worst record (1-4), the Commanders and Fleet look like a pair of teams headed to the postseason.
Two representatives from each conference qualify for the four-team postseason, and those spots are in the grasp of the Alliance squads from Texas and Southern California.
With five regular season games to go nothing is settled in the West, of course, but on paper San Antonio has the clearest path to a conference title.
The Commanders’ remaining opponents have a combined 7-18 record and three of their last five games will be played at the Alamodome where they draw the largest crowds in the league.
The Fleet, on the other hand, will negotiate a field that stands at 13-12, only two of their games will be in San Diego, and they have to face unbeaten Orlando on the road.
ATLANTA TRENDS UPWARD
Aaron Murray was named the Legends’ new starting quarterback in the week leading up to Sunday’s home game against Memphis, and the former University of Georgia star is taking advantage of his opportunity.
Murray – who played most of the previous week’s game after an injury to former starter Matt Simms – was 27-43-0 for 306 yards and a touchdown in Atlanta’s 23-20 victory over the Express at Georgia State University Stadium.
Younghoe Koo broke a 20-all tie when he kicked a 35-yard, game-winning field goal with nine seconds remaining.
“We made a great play on defense when they were threatening late in the game and took the ball down on offense for the winning field goal with ‘Koo and the Gang,’” Atlanta coach Kevin Coyle said. “We call (Koo) and our snapper and our holder ‘Koo and the Gang,’ and they do a great job.”
The Legends (3-2) have endured tremendous turmoil this season, with a head coaching change and two changes at offensive coordinator – including one two days before a Week 3 game against Birmingham.
Today, however, the team is just one game out of second place in the East.
“We’re an exciting team,” Coyle said. “We’ve got talented players who are doing everything they can to represent this city in a first-class way. We want to win football games and make the city proud.”
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Offense: QB Logan Woodside, San Antonio. Threw for 290 yards and 2 TDs in win over Arizona.
Defense: DB Kameron Kelly, San Diego. Had 3 INTs including one returned for a TD in win over Salt Lake.
Special Teams: K Younghoe Koo, Atlanta. Kicked 3 field goals including the game-winner against Memphis.
WEEK 5 ATTENDANCE
San Diego drew the top crowd of the week when 20,823 fans came to SDCCU Stadium to watch the Fleet defeat Salt Lake.
Birmingham hosted 13,310 fans in its next to last home game; 10,829 came to Atlanta; and Arizona had the low turnout of the weekend with 9,351 paying customers in Tempe.
Saturday: Memphis at Salt Lake, 4 p.m. EDT, BR/Live; Arizona at Orlando, 8 p.m. EDT, NFL Network.
Sunday: San Antonio at Atlanta, 4 p.m. EDT, CBSSN; Birmingham at San Diego, 8 p.m. EDT, NFL Network.
Scott Adamson can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @adamsonsl