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Saturday Knights at the Apollos: Orlando AAF Squad Launches with a Bang

Four former UCF Knights see action in Apollos’ opening night at Spectrum Stadium

Orlando Apollos Spectrum Stadium
Spectrum Stadium was decked out nicely for the Orlando Apollos’ inaugural game.
Photo: Jeff Sharon

It was cold, it was drizzly, it was...not bad!

Expectations may have been low, but despite the “FOOTBALL WEATHER”, the Orlando Apollos exceeded those expectations in their inaugural game on the UCF Knights’ home field at Spectrum Stadium with a 40-6 victory over the Atlanta Legends.

Highlights:

We’ve got some observations:

At two hours and 39 minutes, the game moves with no kickoffs.

And mind you, Orlando is coached by Steve Spurrier. There was plenty of passing and quite a few penalties (18 total) - something to be expected in a first game with two brand new teams. And even with a relatively late 8:30 p.m. kickoff first snap, we were still out of there just after 11.

Rain hampered the offense at first, but they found their footing.

Garrett Gilbert, the former SMU QB who lost to the Knights the last time he played on this field in 2012, got it together after missing six of his first seven throws and finished 15/25 for 227 yards and two touchdowns.

“Orlando Special”

Oh and this happened before halftime:

Most importantly, the quality of play was pleasantly competent.

There were some hiccups early, obviously. But Orlando settled into a flow by the second quarter and opened up the lead. They seemed to adjust well to the pace of play, which is indeed faster with no kickoffs and a shorter play clock.

The penalties were a thing, particularly with the AAF’s Illegal Defense rule (“Illegal Formation” on TV), where a maximum of five defenders can rush the passer on a pass play, and none of them can come from outside the box. This was called three times and it’s 15 yards a pop. That is no joke.

The Defense was solid.

Atlanta was out of sorts due to all kinds of coaching problems, but let’s give some credit to the Apollos’ defense. The star was Terence Garvin, an NFL veteran with 75 career games under his belt, who had two picks, including a pick-six:

UCF’s home stadium looked great on national TV.

And that was in a consistent rain all night. Not bad. Nice work by UCF’s facilities crew in making it all happen.

This was big: 20,191 tickets were sold:

All things considered, that was above what I was hearing the folks with The Alliance would be happy with for opening night. And by the way, Spectrum Stadium has not seen a home team lose on its turf since November 19th, 2016.

Knight Notes

  • OL Jordan McCray was one of the team’s captains for the inaugural game.
  • OL Aaron Evans got the start at left tackle and McCray was at center. They anchored a line that picked up 137 yards rushing (5.5 per carry) and gave up only one sack.
  • WR Rannell Hall played the whole game but was well-covered on his downfield routes all night. He was targeted just once, in the end zone on the final play of the first quarter, but Gilbert missed him. He carried the ball once in the fourth on an end-around for six yards.
  • OL Chris Martin did not start but did see action.
  • DL Tony Guerad did not play. He was listed as in active at gametime.

Final Thoughts

I don’t know if the AAF is going to work. But based on what we’ve seen through one game, if the AAF doesn’t work, I don’t think any pro football league outside the NFL can.

The people in charge of this league are football people, and unlike previous attempts at this, they’re putting the product first. That showed tonight.

My thought is quite a few people were going to try before they buy, and watched the game on TV before committing to coming to a game in person. Even though were couldn’t see or hear the game telecast in the press box, at the very least, the football product is there.

Now comes the hard part: Following up. We’ll see what the TV numbers look like.