By Scott Adamson
ATLANTA, Ga. – Pro football teams representing Atlanta and Birmingham crossed paths on the gridiron for the first time on Sunday. And after all the work was done at Pete Petit Field at Georgia State Stadium, the Magic City owned a little piece of history.
With the defense delivering another stellar performance, Luis Perez passing effectively when it was necessary, and Trent Richardson continuing his role as designated scorer, Birmingham exited with a 28-12 victory before an announced crowd of 10,717.
The Iron improves to 3-0 on the season, joining the Orlando Apollos as the only unbeaten teams left in the Alliance of American Football’s inaugural season.
Atlanta slips to 0-3 and shares the Eastern Conference cellar with Memphis – Birmingham’s Week One victim.
“I thought our guys ground it out and lived up to our name, Iron – I think we’re a tough football team,” Birmingham Coach Tim Lewis said. “We’re resilient, we’re strong, we bend but we don’t break. The guys did a fantastic job today.”
Perez hit 17 of 31 passes for 160 yards and one interception, with Quinton Patton leading all Iron receivers with four catches for 58 yards.
Atlanta’s Matt Simms, on the other hand, completed 28 of 48 passes for 328 yards and a touchdown, but also tossed three interceptions and was sacked three times for 25 yards in losses.
Beniquez Brown was in on 12 tackles to pace the victors while Max Redfield, Jack Tocho and Jamar Summers picked off one pass each.
“Beniquez also forced a fumble, and our field goal kicker did a great job again,” Lewis said.
Leading 9-6 at the break, a 27-yard Nick Novak field goal at 8:20 of the third quarter gave the eventual winners a 12-6 edge.
And with five seconds to go in the third, Richardson capped off a 12 play, 62-yard march with a 1-yard plunge – and also converted the 2-point play – to make it 20-6 at :05 of the third quarter.
Atlanta’s last, best shot to get back in the game came when Perez was picked off deep in Birmingham territory, giving the Legends first down at the Iron 11. However, they went backward from there, and a fourth down sack kept the lead at 14.
“We did a really good job in the red zone,” Lewis said. “We took the ball away from them a couple of times.”
A Summers INT of a Simms pass midway through the fourth gave the Iron a chance to end all doubt, and they did just that when Richardson highlighted a 17-yard mini-drive with a 6-yard scoring jaunt 4:28 from the finish.
“It’s amazing and a blessing, and I don’t take it for granted,” said Richardson, who finished the day with 46 yards on 17 carries for three touchdowns and a 2-point conversion. “Just to be out there on that field and with a group of guys I call my brothers is amazing. To have a group of guys that are just hungry is something beautiful.”
Atlanta got an “Oh, by the way” score late in the fourth and the Legends also successfully completed an “onside conversion” that gave them the ball back after the score.
But Simms was picked off in the end zone by Redfield and that put the finishing touches on a 28-12 game.
“I told our guys after the game I’m disappointed for them, not disappointed in them,” Atlanta boss Kevin Coyle said. “They’re working as hard as they can and we want to get this thing turned around as quick as we can, and I think we will.”
The first 30 minutes was far from pretty, with the teams combining for 11 penalties totaling 123 yards.
But there was some solid slobber-knocking on both sides.
“The first half was anybody’s game,” Lewis had. “We had to grind it out and battle it out to get this ‘W.’ We’ll meet that team again and with the talent on that team, they’ll be ready to go.”
On the first drive of the contest, the Birmingham defense did what the Birmingham defense tends to do – keep its opponents off the board.
Atlanta looked good to take the lead with a nice mix of running and passing, making it as deep as the Iron 1.
But the Legends got no further.
On a fourth-and-three feet play, Simms misfired a pass intended for tight end Bug Howard, and the visitors took over.
Following a stop, Atlanta was at it again, and once more the hosts knocked on the door.
But a motion penalty turned a third-and-4 into a third-and-9, and the Legends managed to make up just six yards before calling out Younghoe Koo.
Koo’s 21-yard field goal was good, and Atlanta was on top, 3-0, early in the second quarter.
Birmingham made just enough plays to get into scoring range after falling behind, and answered with a 39-yard Novak field goal.
It was 3-3 with 10:27 left in the half, and a defensive struggle was brewing.
Yet with flags flying at a rapid rate, it was appropriate that a huge penalty finally led to a touchdown.
Perez overthrew DeVozea Felton on a deep ball but Atlanta was called for interference, and the resulting spot foul was worth 55 yards and put the Iron on the Legends’ 10.
Two plays later Richardson went over right guard from five yards out, and Birmingham was in front.
Two straight motion penalties made the conversion a 12-yard try, and Perez threw incomplete to leave the score at 9-3.
More penalties helped put Simms and company in business on the ensuing drive, but it fizzled out at the 17.
Koo salvaged three points with a 35-yard field goal, and that ending scoring in the opening half with the Iron ahead, 9-6.
The Legends didn’t score again until the game was well out of reach.
“We had three chances down in the red zone and didn’t come away with touchdowns,” Coyle said. “We had some turnovers in the second half and before you knew it, the game was lost.
But this is a helluva group of young men, and we’re going to get this thing turned around.”
Birmingham hosts San Antonio next Sunday at 4 p.m., while Atlanta travels to Arizona on Sunday for an 8 p.m. start.