SALT LAKE CITY — Before Mike Singletary's team knew what hit them — a feeling his opponents used to know well — the Salt Lake Stallions jumped out to a 19-point lead over the Memphis Express on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Thanks to that strong start by the offense and their stout defense, the Stallions held on for their second win and their first-ever by double digits. Salt Lake's 22-9 win marks the largest margin of victory for this first-year Alliance of American Football squad.
It was good but not quite good enough, if you ask Stallions quarterback Josh Woodrum.
"We got the win so that’s all that really matters. We’ve just got to do a better job of cutting down our turnovers," Woodrum said. "We won 22-9 and we felt like we should’ve been up 40-9 the whole game. We’ve really just got to do a better job throughout the week making sure ball security’s at a premium."
Woodrum threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns on 24-for-37 passing, but he lamented tossing what he called "a stupid pick." In all, the Stallions had four turnovers, including that interception and three fumbles.
Salt Lake's defense preserved a 19-9 halftime lead after Woodrum's errant pass at the 50-yard line.
Stallions defensive tackle Mike Purcell recovered a fumble when Memphis quarterback Brandon Silvers was sacked after the Express pushed the ball into the red zone with less than a minute left in the half.
That was one of seven sacks on the day for the Stallions, a new AAF record. Defensive end Karter Schult increased his league-leading sack total to seven with a pair, while fellow defensive ends Tenny Palepoi and Chris Odom also tallied two sacks apiece.
"The D-ends are really good. 94 (Schult) is a really good player," said Silvers, who passed for 242 yards and one touchdown after starting QB Zach Mettenberger went down early with an ankle injury. "They don’t take any plays off. They were just all over the place today. They’ve got a good front four, good front seven. You've just got to give it up to them. They played really good today."
The Stallions' offense, which has been inconsistent this season, came out with some extra horsepower to begin the game in front of 8,150 fans.
Woodrum connected on his first five passes — the first five plays of the game — and finished that initial drive with an 11-yard touchdown toss to tight end Nick Truesdell. Former BYU receiver Jordan Leslie, playing in his first home game, hauled in the two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.
Salt Lake scored again later in the first quarter on Woodrum's 14-yard TD pass to tight end Anthony Denham and two-point conversion connection with running back Terrell Newby. That scoring drive began on the Memphis 44-yard line after the Stallions' defense held tough on a fourth-down attempt.
Kicker Taylor Bertolet punched in a 26-yard field goal for the 19-0 lead midway through the second quarter of what looked to be a rout for a Stallions team that has played better than the 1-4 record it brought into this game.
"One thing we know is that we can't get behind by a large deficit. I don't care who the team is," Singletary said after his team fell to 1-5. "We just put ourselves in too deep a hole and they had a great game plan coming out. They spread us out and knew how to attack us underneath and made some plays."
Singletary liked that his team pulled within 10 with a chance to cut that down to two right before the half before the Stallions stepped up. Salt Lake did just enough to fend off the visitors in the low-scoring second half, including forcing a turnover-by-downs with three minutes left after the Express got the ball down to the 15 with a chance to make a very interesting finish.
"We came alive a little bit later," the former Hall of Famer said, "but it was too late."
Salt Lake coach Dennis Erickson wasn't thrilled with the turnovers, which included a frustrating fumble just 2 yards away from the end zone in the second half.
"The first half was good offensively. The second half we stunk," said Erickson, whose team had 202 of its 340 offensive yards and all but three of its points in the first two quarters. "We had three fumbles and one interception. But a win is a win."2 comments on this story
The Stallions improved to 2-4 with four games remaining. And though they remain a couple of games out of a playoff spot, that's still the goal — and to finish going undefeated in the second half of the 10-game season. Despite some flubs, this result put them one-fifth of the way toward accomplishing that.
"It's right there in front of us," said Erickson, whose team plays at West-leading San Antonio next Saturday. "We're playing so good on defense."
"Right now we feel really good about our team," Woodrum added. "We still know we're a good team. I think you could see it today. We're a great team if we just cut down the turnovers."