Express get blanked in their inaugural game

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Fresh off a turnover from their offense, the Birmingham Iron’s defense needed a stop to regain momentum in the contest.

At the time, the score was 9-0 in the third quarter and it appeared as if the Memphis Express would score to cut into the deficit. But on fourth-and-1 from the six-yard line, the Iron’s defense made the biggest play of the night.

Iron defensive lineman Casey Sayles pushed the Memphis offensive lineman deep into the backfield, erasing the ball carrier’s run lane and holding up the play as teammates joined in on the tackle.

Sayles’ assignment on the play? “Shoot up in the gap, don’t really aim for anything and just go straight ahead,” Sayles said. “It basically comes down to who wins. Who is the bigger man at the end of the day. It just worked out in our favor.”

The play was ultimately a microcosm of how well the Iron’s defense played all night as they pitched a 26-0 shutout over the Express in their season opener on Sunday afternoon.

An announced attendance of 17,039 fans cheered on the Iron as professional football returned to the city for the first time in more than 20 years.

“That gives us more confidence than we already had,” said Iron safety Max Redfield, who had three tackles on the day. “That’s hard to do because we came in real confident. We know the talent that we have. We’ve been getting coached great. We executed, and brought the hype. The crowd was awesome. It was a great atmosphere.”

Redfield said the Iron “made a statement” with their play. Shortly after the game, Iron cornerback Trovon Reed tweeted that the Iron has the “best defense in the AAF,” and after that performance, it’s hard to argue against it.

The Iron held the Express to 2 of 10 on third-down conversions, and allowed only 99 passing yards. The defense also intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble.

Express coach Mike Singletary credited the Iron’s defense with doing a good job of “mixing some of the coverages up.” In the opening quarter, Iron linebacker Matthew Wells deflected a pass from Express quarterback Christian Hackenberg that landed in the hands of defensive back Jamar Summers for an interception. With the game wrapped up, Iron linebacker Xzavier Dickson intercepted a pass from Express quarterback Brandon Silvers. Linebacker Beniquez Brown recovered a fumble late in the fourth quarter for the Iron’s third forced turnover of the day.

“Unbelievable job by the defense. A shutout? That’s unbelievable,” said Iron quarterback Luis Perez, who threw for 252 yards. “The way they fired off the ball, rushed the passer, tipped balls and all of those sorts of things. I’m very fortunate to have a defense like that.”

The Birmingham Iron are back at home again next Sunday against the Salt Lake Stallions. First snap is set for 2 p.m. ET (1 p.m. local time) on TNT prior to NBA All-Star weekend festivities.

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