SALT LAKE CITY — Victory No. 1 is officially in the books for the Salt Lake Stallions.
It came in the franchise’s inaugural home opener, no less.
The Stallions scored a touchdown off the game’s only turnover early in the third quarter and added a fourth-quarter score in beating the Arizona Hotshots 23-15 on Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“It was huge,” Salt Lake quarterback Josh Woodrum said of the win. “We came in with the mindset that there’s no way we were going to lose this game and we can’t go 0-3. We never want to lose a game, but we for sure didn’t want to lose our first home game.”
Salt Lake linebacker Greer Martini intercepted Arizona's John Wolford on the first play of the second half and returned the pick 22 yards to the Hotshots 7. Two plays later, Branden Oliver scored on a 1-yard run, and the Stallions held the lead the rest of the way after the teams went into halftime tied at 9-9 in front of an announced crowd of 10,641.
“Once people see the product (of AAF football), I think you’ll see a lot more people,” Salt Lake coach Dennis Erickson said. “I know they were yelling and screaming and it had an effect on what went on.
“Once we get things going, we’ll have a lot of fans there.”
Two weeks after the Hotshots defeated the Stallions 38-22 in both teams’ debut game, the Salt Lake defense clamped down on the Arizona offense, which was led by backup quarterback Trevor Knight for much of the second half after Wolford went down with an injury.
Salt Lake held the Hotshots to 268 yards of total offense and just 1 of 10 on third downs, as the Arizona offense struggled to get in a rhythm. Martini tied for a team-high with eight tackles and added two pass deflections to his interception.
The Stallions built their first double-digit lead as a franchise after a Nick Folk 35-yard field goal cut the Salt Lake advantage to 15-12 late in the third quarter. The Stallions responded with a 14-play, 75-yard drive that took 8:25 off the clock and ended with Joel Bouagnon scoring from a yard out on fourth-and-goal.
Bouagnon was originally ruled short of the score, but officials reversed the call and awarded Salt Lake with a touchdown. Woodrum hit De’Mornay Pierson-El, who had eight receptions for 90 yards, for a two-point conversion to give the Stallions a 23-12 lead with 7:24 to play.
“Our offensive line was getting a push all game,” said Woodrum, who returned after missing a game and a half with a hamstring injury and completed 22 of 31 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. “We knew, coming from last game — we were doing a lot of pulling, and their linebackers were running through and making tackles in the backfield. So today, we zoned everything off and had a lot of success with that.”
Arizona cut its deficit to 23-15 on a Folk 45-yard field goal with 19 seconds left, leaving fans with the opportunity to see one of unique aspects of the Alliance of American Football. There are no kickoffs in the Alliance, so the Hotshots were given the chance to retain possession by trying to convert a fourth-and-12 onside conversion attempt play from their own 28.
Knight completed a pass to Thomas Duarte, but Martini stopped him after only a 7-yard gain. Woodrum then kneeled the ball to seal the win.
Arizona appeared to force Salt Lake into a field-goal attempt on its fourth-quarter scoring drive after stopping Bouagnon for a 1-yard loss on a third-and-1 at the Arizona 34. The Hotshots, though, were called for illegal defense, a 15-yard penalty in the AAF, and the Stallions went on to score the critical touchdown.
“Those are tough pills to swallow,” Hotshots coach Rick Neuheisel said. “We’ll have to look at it. We want to play within the rules, we want to do everything the right way. When they get condensed formations, in my knowledge there shouldn’t be a limitation on how many people you can put on the line of scrimmage, as least as I read the rulebook. But we’ll look at the film and see it.”
Salt Lake struck first, scoring the first home points in its history on a 53-yard yard field goal from Taylor Bertolet with 9:14 left in the first quarter. The Stallions added to their lead on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Pierson-El to cap a 10-play, 65-yard drive in the second quarter.
“DP’s a great athlete. That touchdown run he had was awesome. All I threw was five yards and he took it the rest,” Woodrum said. “It makes my job easy when guys make plays like that.”
The Hotshots tied the game going into the half by scoring on a Folk 48-yard field goal and a 1-yard pass from Wolford to Rashad Ross later in the second quarter. Arizona originally was awarded a successful two-point conversion following its touchdown, but on review officials ruled that Knight was stopped short of the goal.3 comments on this story
“You’ve got to give Salt Lake credit. They played really, really well. They made the big plays when they needed to make them,” Knight said.
Up next for the Stallions is a matchup against the Orlando Apollos at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, March 2 at 2 p.m. MST.
NOTES: Among the Stallions’ eight inactives for Saturday’s game were all five of the team’s BYU connections, including wide receiver Jordan Leslie, defensive back Micah Hannemann, tight end Tanner Balderree, defensive lineman Handsome Tanielu and offensive guard Tuni Kanuch. Former Utes running back Matt Asiata was also inactive.