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Hotshots come back to become first team with road win in AAF history

Arizona Hotshots running back Tim Cook (20) carries the ball ahead of Memphis Express defensive back Justin Martin (33) in the second half of an AAF football game Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

The Arizona Hotshots beat the Memphis Express 20-18 Saturday night, becoming the first team in AAF history to win a game on the road.

To be fair, there has only been two weeks in the existence of the AAF and not every team has played a road game yet.

The Hotshots came back from two 12-point deficits by scoring 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to remain atop the division and join the Birmingham Iron as the only two undefeated teams remaining.

Arizona was shutout in the first half as the team was only able to muster 95 total yards in its eight possessions that resulted in four punts, a turnover on downs and three turnovers (two interceptions and one fumble).

However, the Hotshots were able to rebound in the second half by scoring 20 points on 289 total yards.

“(Memphis) gave us fits with their defense,” Hotshots head coach Rick Neuheisel told the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

“I’ve coached with (Express defensive coordinator) Dennis Thurman a long time and he’s very good. He had some tricks up his sleeve and basically stymied us. But I found out a little bit about my team. I kind of suspected we had that kind of grit and resolve and we came roaring back.”

The Hotshots were nearly shutout going into the final quarter of the game, as former Sun Devils wide receiver Rashad Ross’ 16-yard touchdown catch (third on the year) from quarterback John Wolford came with only 1:06 left in the third quarter.

Wolford completed 14 of 22 passes (64 percent) for 194 yards and two touchdowns.

Both touchdowns and 137 of those yards came in the second half.

“We knew they were going to be a stout defense,” Wolford said to the AAF website after the game.

“In the second half, we started to get the running game going. Certainly not how we drew it up going into the game, but a win is a win.”

A 4-yard touchdown run by Express quarterback Christian Hackenberg gave Memphis an 18-6 lead with 13:49 remaining.

Arizona responded with a 45-yard touchdown run by running back Justin Stockton to cut the deficit to 18-14.

The Hotshots rushed for 209 yards on 36 carries (5.8 yards per carry) in Saturday night’s game at the Liberty Bowl.

Arizona running back Tim Cook, who was inactive last week against Salt Lake, led the way with 73 yards on 13 attempts (5.6 yards per carry), while running back Jhurell Pressley had 57 yards on 12 carries (4.75 per carry) and Stockton had 54 yards on only four attempts, 45 of which came on his touchdown run.

Cook played at Oregon State and spent the 2018 preseason with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“Our offense stuck together and our offensive line just kept fighting,” Cook said to the AAF website after the game. “We just kept pushing forward.”

The Hotshots defense pitched a shutout for the rest of the game, allowing Wolford to hit Cook for the eventual game-winning 4-yard touchdown pass as Arizona led 20-18 with 7:07 left in the ballgame.

“He’s bigger than the other guys,” Neuheisel said of Cook, whom he calls a “sledge hammer.”

“So you feel like if you can get into a downhill match, four-minute (offense) type stuff, Tim is the guy we’d like to have up.”

Former Sun Devils defensive lineman Will Sutton stopped Hackenberg on the first of back-to-back fourth down stops by the Hotshots on Memphis’ final two possessions of the game.


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