ORLANDO, FL – The Orlando Apollos will not go undefeated this season. On a cool Saturday night in Florida, they suffered a heartbreaking 22-17 loss to the Arizona Hotshots in a Week 6 game that was marred by turnovers, penalties, and overall sloppy play.
The Apollos who trailed for much of the game were able to take a 17-14 lead on a well-thrown ball from QB Garrett Gilbert to speedy WR Jalin Marshall for a 17-yard touchdown pass with 9:45 remaining in the game. It was the first spark of life for an Apollos team that had been stagnant on the offensive end since the first drive of the game.
— Orlando Apollos (@aafAPOLLOS) March 17, 2019
Despite this play, star QB Garrett Gilbert had arguably the worst game of his career in the AAF. He completed 23-of-48 passes which included his first interception of the season and crucial fumble with two minutes to go in the 4th quarter. Much of this was caused by the constant pressure being forced by the Hotshots defensive line who accounted for two sacks and a strip fumble and were constantly in Gilbert’s face for the majority of the night.
A huge pass interference play in the Apollos endzone late in the 4th quarter enabled Arizona RB Jhurrel Pressley to punch it in for the go-ahead touchdown. It was a turning point in the game and a lead Orlando would never recover from.
Despite this and the fumble on the ensuing drive by Gilbert, the Apollos still had a chance to win the game and save their perfect season. After forcing a three and out and recovering a punt at their own 18-yard line, Orlando had the ball with 55 seconds to play and 82 yards of field to go with no timeouts. To Gilbert’s credit, he shined on this final drive and completed two huge passes to get the Apollos all the way down to the Hotshots eight-yard line. One of those was a strike to TE Sean Price for a 48-yard gain where Price did everything right except get out of bounds to save precious time on the clock. On a 3rd-and-10 play with 19 seconds left from Arizona’s 34-yard line, Gilbert threw another missile to Marshall over the middle to bring the ball to the eight.
As the Apollos scrambled to spike the ball the stadium was on the edge of their seats in anticipation, only for Orlando to get called offsides during the spike play which was followed by a 10-second run off to anti-climatically end the game.
When asked afterward about that penalty, Gilbert took full credit for that play.
“That’s on me, I thought we had everyone set and I need to do a better job at making sure we got guys where we need them,” Gilbert said during postgame.
Arizona, who had previously lost three straight games coming into this contest, were levied by a consistent rushing attack that accounted for 162 yards on the ground. It was led by running backs Tim Cook (71 yds) and Pressley (57 yds & 1 TD).
Needless to say, these Hotshots were very excited to get a win and especially against an undefeated team such as the Apollos. Their locker room atmosphere perfectly encapsulates how they were feeling postgame.
S H O T S 🎉
S H O T S 🎉
S H O T S 🎉 pic.twitter.com/pzM0v3BZi7
— Arizona Hotshots (@aafhotshots) March 17, 2019
For the Apollos, they will look to rebound next week in Atlanta against the Legends who they defeated handily the first week of the season by a score of 40-6. Despite the disappointment of tonight’s loss and the foiling a perfect season, these Apollos still remain as the league’s 1st place team and seemed destined to be in the mix for the championship at the end of April.
Orlando head coach Steve Spurrier summarized the loss with a sense of optimism and humor after the game stating, “[We have] got a lot of ball left, this is just one game, we didn’t tell you we were gonna go undefeated this year.”
As disappointing as this loss is, Spurrier is right. This Apollos team still has the highest of aspirations, losing one game doesn’t change that.