© Orlando Ramirez

Fleet Sink Legends In Home Opener

Gwynn & Chris
February 18, 2019 - 12:41 am


By Thomas Andrews

The sights, sounds, and smells of tailgating returned to SDCCU Stadium for the San Diego Fleet's home opener. Fans lined up as early as 1 pm to get into the parking lot, and even with rain in the forecast, that didn't stop them from having a great time! After losing its NFL team, fans from all over San Diego County showed up to represent and be proud to have a new team to root for.

The Fleet won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. Atlanta got the ball and put together a near perfect drive of 15 plays for 64 yards and took 7:43 off the clock. The Legends led 3-0 after a 29 yard field goal by Younghoe Koo. Now it was Philip Nelson's turn to take the field for the Fleet. After a few handoffs, his very first pass was intercepted by Carlos Merritt. That turnover would lead to points only a few plays later when Legends quarterback Matt Simms found Malachai Jones open for a 19 yard touchdown to give Atlanta a 9-0 lead.  

Nelson would shake off a bad start with a nice drive midway through the second quarter, after a shifty 12 yard scramble and beautiful touch pass to Nelson Spruce. The Fleet got on the board, as former Aztec Donny Hageman drilled a 46 yard field goal to cut into the lead, 9-3. Atlanta tried the two minute offense before the half, but Ryan Moeller made a great diving interception to give the Fleet offense the ball again before halftime.

Philip Nelson then connected with Nelson Spruce for a quick gain and once again Donny Hageman's kick was good, this time from 43 yards, and the Legends lead was now down to 9-6 to end the first half.

With the rain settled for the start of the second half, Philip Nelson came out ready to go.  He found his big tight end Gavin Escobar for 13 yards, and Brian Brown down the sideline with an over the shoulder throw for 26.  That drive would sputter in the red zone, but Hageman would tie the game at 9-9 with a 26 yard kick. Then the rain came back and the play on the field got interesting.  Philip Nelson completed the most bizarre pass to Gavin Escobar that I have ever seen. 

That wasn't even the weirdest thing to happen in that quarter, as Atlanta would get the ball back on a weird fumble, that included offensive pass interference being called on a pass caught by Spruce, which he dropped but he wasn't touched down so he technically fumbled it.

The Legends ended that drive with a Younghoe Koo hitting a 26 yard field goal to give Atlanta a 12-9 lead to start the fourth quarter. Ja'quan Gardner put the Fleet on his back, rushing for 66 yards in the fourth quarter. It would only take 8 yards to make history in the quarter when on fourth and one, Coach Martz would go for it and Gardner would score the Fleet's first touchdown in franchise history and give San Diego its first lead of the game 15-12.

The Fleet defense came to play in the second half, forcing another three and out of Atlanta, and giving a hot Fleet offense the ball back. Two plays later, it was Gardner picking up a chunk of those yards with a 31 yard sprint to set up his second touchdown of the night, and give San Diego a 21-12 lead. Damontre Moore would sack Matt Simms on fourth down and Donny Hageman would kick his fourth field goal of the night and the San Diego Fleet won 24-12.

Ja'quan Gardner was one of the many stars of the night, but with 104 yards on 15 carries and his 2 touchdowns to go with it, it's hard not to look at him. As a team, the Fleet rushed for over 5 yards per carry, and when asked about that, Gardner wasn't shy in saying "we just had to want it more, our offensive line wanted it more." Gardner did admit he celebrated too hard for his first and the team's first touchdown that he dialed back for his second one.

The Fleet saw a crowd of 20,019, which isn't bad when you look at the weather being as cold and rainy as it was. SDCCU Stadium was alive and rocking throughout the game with chants of “FLEET! FLEET! FLEET!” when the opposing team was on offense, and last but not least "Spanos Sucks!" loud and proud as the team won the game. With a new era of professional football starting in San Diego, you have to wonder if the rain was cleansing of bad memories from an old team that wouldn't have been able to win these type of games, or a kicker who couldn't make pressure kicks.  Maybe this team is here to stay and they are here to win.

The team will play host to the (1-1) San Antonio Commanders next Sunday February 24th at 5 pm.


Thomas Andrews Jr.