The Orlando Apollos' quest for a perfect season ended Saturday after a surprise 22-17 defeat to the visiting Arizona Hotshots.
The game began like many others during the Apollos' undefeated run. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert, the runaway MVP favorite and owner of a sterling 8:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, connected on 5 of 7 passes for 44 yards during the opening series. Gilbert capped the drive off with a touchdown pass to favorite receiver Charles Johnson in the corner of the end zone.
But from that moment on, the Apollos struggled to put points on the board. Their next four drives saw Gilbert toss his first interception of the season and nearly several more. The Arizona defense also forced a turnover on downs when Orlando attempted to convert on fourth down rather than a field goal.
Meanwhile, 11-year NFL veteran and Hotshots kicker Nick Folk knocked in two field goals and quarterback John Wolford found Jhurell Pressley in the end zone. After a successful two-point try, Arizona found itself leading 14-9 at halftime.
Yet even with the Apollos on the ropes, the Hotshots couldn't put the game out of reach for the Apollos. A failed fourth-down conversion of their own and the ejection of linebacker Terence Garvin left the door open for an Orlando comeback. In the fourth quarter, Gilbert led an impressive seven-play drive that concluded on a 17-yard strike to Jalin Marshall in the corner of the end zone. The subsequent two-point conversion attempt succeeded, putting Orlando up 17-14.
The lead didn't last for long. On the subsequent series, the Hotshots drove deep into Orlando territory, allowing Pressley to punch in the go-ahead score from 1 yard out. Wolford found wideout Rashad Ross on the two-point attempt to put Arizona back ahead for good.
Still, the Apollos managed to make the final moments of the game interesting. Gilbert catapulted the offense into enemy territory with a 48-yard bomb to Sean Price and another long completion to Marshall.
The plays set up Orlando inside the 10-yard line with four seconds remaining. Gilbert lined up the offense to spike the ball, but a false start penalty killed the play and forced a 10-second runoff that ended the game.
With the loss, the Apollos' record drops to 5-1 on the season. The Hotshots pull out of the Western Conference cellar with their victory, improving to 3-3.
In the early game Saturday, the Salt Lake Stallions topped the Memphis Express, 22-9. Josh Woodrum passed for 243 yards and two touchdowns to help the Stallions improve to 2-4 while the Express dropped to 1-5.