MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- It’s safe to say that a lot didn’t go Memphis’ way in the final eight minutes of Saturday’s game against the Orlando Apollos.
With the Express up 31-22 with 8:29 left in regulation, the conditions started to pick up as rain and heavy wind invaded the Liberty Bowl. A dropped punt snap, penalties on the coaching staff, overturned calls that went against the Express, and a desperate Apollos squad combined to evaporate Memphis' lead and give Orlando the 34-31 win -- and home-field advantage in the Eastern Conference championship game.
The Memphis Express return home Saturday, April 13, to face the Atlanta Legends. The game starts at 7 p.m. CT (8 p.m. ET) and will broadcast on NFL Network. Get tickets here.
Emotions ran high for both the players and coaches of the Memphis Express in a finish the likes of which head coach Mike Singletary had never seen before.
“Words cannot express how disappointed I am for our guys,” Singletary said. “I need to see if there was anything we did as a staff or anything I did as a head coach that I could’ve done differently. There were some things that happened today that I’ve never really seen before. It’s unfortunate that it happened on our side.”
Despite the calls that went against the Express, the head coach thought his players fought the best they could and were well-prepared knowing the situation the team was in going into the game. A win would’ve kept the Express alive for the playoffs by the slimmest of margins.
Those hopes are now gone.
“Our players always kept fighting. It’s unfortunate that it had to even be close, but it was,” Singletary said. “Overall, our defense fought, our offense fought, and our team fought. We just came up short.”
The result was obviously disappointing for the players and Singletary, but the Express still plan on fighting through the last two games.
“We will always bounce back. We will always bounce back because we’re the Express,” Singletary said. “There’s a lot of guys on our team that came to win, and they played like it. We came to play football and we came to win.”
A lot of the players voiced their frustrations after the game about the way it played out, and Singletary understood the frustration.
“These are young men. This is their livelihood. This is the opportunity to fight for a championship,” Singletary said. “This was a pivotal game for us.”
Falling behind 22-9 early in the third quarter, the Express fired back with two straight touchdowns to take a 23-22 lead with 2:36 left in the third quarter. Running back Terrence Magee scored first on a 2-yard run, then linebacker DeMarquis Gates forced Apollos quarterback Garrett Gilbert to fumble and defensive end Corey Crawford picked the ball up and ran it back for a score.
With 8:29 left in the fourth quarter, Memphis quarterback Brandon Silvers found wide receiver Dontez Byrd for a 9-yard touchdown. The successful two-point conversion made it 31-22.
Then the chaos commenced.
“It was a rough one for us,” Silvers said. “You just have to move forward. There was a lot of stuff going on during the game, especially the last part of the game. It could’ve went either way, but that was a tough way to lose a game.”
Silvers finished 30-of-49 passing for 269 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The interception came on the final drive of the game, sealing the Apollos' victory.
“We moved the ball offensively, but we just didn’t score enough,” Silvers said. “Thought we had enough.”
Johnny Manziel came into the game late in the first quarter and finished 2-of-3 passing for 13 yards and added 18 yards rushing on three carries.
But Manziel threw an interception in the red zone and was injured on the play making the tackle. He was later ruled out for the game with a head injury.
For the third game in a row, Gates led the Express defense in total tackles, this time with seven. He added a sack, one hit on the quarterback, one tackle for a loss, one pass defended and the forced fumble, as well. His five forced fumbles on the season leads The Alliance.
Singletary made it clear after the game he wants his players to keep fighting and figure out a way to get over the loss and move on to San Antonio.
“I told our team to find a way to get past what we just went through,” Singletary said. “We’ll go and we’ll play well next week in San Antonio. I’m not worried about that.”
- aaf.com -