Sundays schedule had two important games in the playoff race. The Birmingham Iron secured the second playoff spot in the East with a win over the Atlanta Legends. The nightcap between the Arizona Hotshots and San Antonio Commanders was a dominating performance by the Hotshots to emerge as the top team in the West — at least for the time being.
“Our defense and our special teams played a tremendous role in this game,” Birmingham head coach Tim Lewis said, via NFL.com. “They did a fantastic job. [Defensive coordinator] Rick Minter does a great job in practice week by week, putting in plans that the guys can understand and grasp on to. They played really well. Offensively, we just needed a little bit of spark and I think Keith [Price] provided that, so I’m really thrilled about how things ended up going in the second half.”
CBS Sports was with you every step of the way, so check below for the all the scores, highlights and updates from Sundays games.
SundayBirmingham Iron 17, Atlanta Legends 9 (Final) Arizona Hotshots 23, San Antonio Commanders 6 (Final)
The hottest team in the West, and perhaps the AAF, is the Arizona Hotshots. Winners of three straight, Arizona blew away San Antonio 23-6 in the most impressive showing by any team in Week 8. The Hotshots got their usual downfield shots in with star wideout Rashad Ross (4 catches, 78 yards, TD) to beat the Commanders over the top while leaning on the running game of Justin Stockton and Tim Cook. However, it was the defense that showed up in the biggest way. Arizona held San Antonio to a pair of field goals and forced two key takeaways, including this critical strip sack in the fourth quarter with the Commanders looking to score.
Video: Atlanta Legends vs. Birmingham Iron | AAF Week 8 Game Highlights
Arizona now takes a share of the lead in the West playoff race. Keep in mind that, since the Hotshots and Commanders have beaten each other and are tied at 3-2 in the division, net points in conference games is the current tiebreaker. In any case, these are probably the two best teams in the West who will likely see each other again in April. For now, though, the Hotshots are playing as well as any team in the Alliance.
Iron starting quarterback Luis Perez completed only 10 of 24 passes for 65 yards. Price went 2-for-2 for 31 yards.
To say that nothing has worked for San Antonio offensively would be putting it lightly. The Commanders dearly miss deep threat wideout Mekale McKay, who is inactive with a high ankle sprain, and this team hasnt done much without him. To provide a spark on offense, coach Mike Riley swapped out Logan Woodside (4-of-9 with an interception) for Marquise Williams. The former North Carolina quarterback led the Commanders on their best drive of the first half, resulting in a long Nick Rose Field goal. Down 15-3, the Commanders need major halftime adjustments on both sides of the ball.
Orlando quarterback Garrett Gilbert is the frontrunner to be the Offensive Player of the Year, but Ross is right there, too. No other AAF wideout has consistently stretched the field like he has. That speed from the Hotshots star was on display in the first quarter of Sundays game against the Commanders as Ross ran right by the entire San Antonio defense for a 58-yard score to put Arizona up 6-0. Ross has been banged up in recent weeks, too, but hes a gamer — or, as an Arizona coach once texted, a “beast.”
John Wolford launches one to @RocketRoss_19, 58 yards for the score! 🔥@aafhotshots | #AZvsSA pic.twitter.com/uo5Y8Iiid7
The Birmingham Iron are going to the playoffs, and in typical fashion, they didnt need much offense to do it. The Iron got a fumble recovery and an interception in the fourth quarter, the latter coming after punter Colton Schmidt pinned Atlanta inside its own 5-yard line, and defeated the Atlanta Legends, 17-9. The win locked up the No. 2 seed in the East for the Iron, after the Orlando Apollos locked up the No. 1 seed on Saturday. Birminghams defense has been making plays like this all season.
BOOM! 💥@aafiron defense forces fumble late in the 4th quarter. #ATLvsBHM pic.twitter.com/nzKlB6ll8R
Aaron Murray has relieved Matt Simms at quarterback for Atlanta in the third quarter, and it looked as though he would get them in the end zone on his first drive. However, Birminghams defense seldom breaks near the goal line, and it stood tall again. On 4th-and-goal from the 3, Murray tried to run it in but came up a yard short.
The Iron havent done much on offense, but it hasnt mattered: Birminghams special teams are on fire. After setting up a touchdown with a fumble recovery in the second quarter, the Irons DeVozea Felton returned a punt 49 yards to the Atlanta 19 in the third. The Iron settled for a 37-yard field goal from Nick Novak.
Atlanta soon answered with a field goal of its own. The Legends, as usual, are staying in the game thanks to their perfect kicker. Younghoe Koo made his third field goal of the game in the third quarter, and is now a perfect 14 of 14 this season.
All the Iron and Legends could muster offensively was one field goal apiece until about eight minutes before halftime, but thats when the Iron finally broke through. It started with the Legends fumbling on a punt return — it was their third fumble on a punt in the first half, but they recovered the other two — after Birminghams Ike Spearman punched it out of the arms of Dwayne Hollis, and it was returned to the Atlanta 1. Thats where Trent Richardson did what Trent Richardson does, punching it in for his AAF-leading 11th touchdown.
Birmingham is shorthanded during todays game vs. Atlanta, but namely it will be without arguably its best player: cornerback Jamar Summers. The AAFs Defensive Player of the Year candidate suffered a knee injury in the Week 7 loss to Memphis and did not practice this week. He is on the Irons inactives list, along with running back Brandon Ross. The Irons pass defense suffered without Summers on the field a week ago and could be in jeopardy of giving up more big plays through the air today.
Ben Kercheval joined CBS Sports in 2016 and has been covering college football since 2010. Before CBS, Ben worked at Bleacher Report, UPROXX Sports and NBC Sports. As a long-suffering North Texas graduate,… Full Bio
Much like Birminghams first weekend of Alliance of American Football, it was the legs of Nick Novak and Trent Richardson that carried the Iron to victory once more as the team punched its ticket to the inaugural AAF playoffs.
The former NFL veteran kicker knocked in three field goals and Richardson scored his league-leading 11th touchdown as the Birmingham Iron (5-3) clinched the final Eastern Conference playoff berth with a 17-9 win over the Atlanta Legends today in front of an announced attendance of 17,328 at Legion Field in Birmingham.
The Iron and Orlando Apollos will now meet for the Eastern Conference title one week after their matchup in the regular season finale with the winner facing the Western Conference champion in the AAF title game at 7 p.m. April 27 in the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas.
What a football game, Iron coach Tim Lewis said. That was a good football game, and theyre a good football team. I know a lot of coaches on their staff, and I knew it was going to be a tussle but fortunately we prevailed today. We clinched a playoff spot so thats a good thing. Were up to five wins and our guys earned it.
Quarterback Luis Perez was hounded constantly, finishing 10-of-24 for 65 yards while being sacked three times for a loss of 25 yards. He was replaced late in the third quarter by Keith Price, who finished 2-of-2 for 31 yards. Richardson had his best performance of the season with 83 yards on 18 carries and scored the go-ahead touchdown midway through the second quarter.
I was honestly just trying to manage the game at that point, Price said. We were able to do that as a team. Its huge. Were not satisfied and, obviously, we have to make it through these next two weeks, and were going into the playoffs playing our best football. We have not yet put together a complete game, and I think thats what were striving for is for our offense, defense and special teams to all be playing at a high level going into the playoffs.
Birmingham was outgained by Atlanta, 266-176, but tallied four sacks while holding the Legends to 3-of-13 on third downs and forcing four turnovers. Matt Simms started the game for the Legends, going 13-of-22 for 135 yards and an interception. He was replaced by former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who finished 6-of-13 for 100 yards and an interception while leading Atlanta on its only scoring drive of the second half.
Our defense did a fantastic job today, Lewis said. Coach (Rick) Minter and our defensive coaches, they do a fantastic job of getting those guys ready to play. Putting in blitzes, zones, coverages, fronts and so forth just to stop what the opponent does and, week-by-week, coach Minter is very creative in what he does, and hes not afraid to do different things.
Birmingham began the game with the ball but two sacks of Perez ended the first two drives as the Legends took a 3-0 lead with 1:39 left in the first quarter on a 33-yard field goal from Younghoe Koo. A second three-and-out threatened to suck all of the momentum from the Iron, but a roughing the kicker call gave new life that resulted in Novaks first field goal of the day, a 35-yard kick to tie the game at 3-all with 14:51 to go in the first half.
The Legends drove to the Birmingham 36-yard line on the ensuing drive, but former Alabama defensive back Bradley Sylve intercepted Simms to end the threat. Birmingham was unable to move the ball following the pick, but Ike Spearman forced a fumble on the Legends punt return that was picked up by Elijah Campbell and returned 35 yards to the Atlanta 1-yard line.
Richardson powered his way into the end zone two plays later to give the Iron an 11-3 lead with 8:13 left in the first half after a successful 2-point conversion. The Iron turned the ball over on its next possession with a fumble by Richardson but held the Legends to a 31-yard field goal to end the half with an 11-6 lead.
Both teams were held to three-and-outs on their initial drives of the second half, but the Iron took advantage of a long punt return on their first possession to add a 37-yard Novak field goal that pushed the lead to eight points. The Legends got a 35-yard field goal from Koo on their second drive and cut the Birmingham lead to 14-9 with 9:01 left in the third quarter.
Atlanta threatened late in the third quarter, but a goal-line stand by Birmingham gave the ball back to the Iron. Price replaced Perez on the ensuing drive as Richardson carried the ball five straight times for 33 yards to begin the drive before Price completed his first pass for 24 yards to Wes Saxton Jr. down to the Atlanta 42-yard line. The Iron drive stalled at the Atlanta 10-yard line but Novak extended the lead to 17-9 on a 28-yard field goal with 10:14 to go.
The Legends were unable to move the ball across midfield the rest of the game as Birmingham recovered a fumble and picked off Murray on the Legends final two drives.
We pride ourselves on creating turnovers, Lewis said. We took the ball away and, in the stretch of games where we lost two in a row, we didnt turn the ball and take the ball away. We think its very important and, of course, the turnover battle is very important to us. If you can get the ball from the other team and steal possession for your offense and keep them from having it, its really important that we do that.
Birmingham finishes the season with a two-game road stretch beginning Sunday at 7 p.m. against the Arizona Hotshots at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.