The Memphis Express have been close in all the games that they have played this season and were desperate for a win. The Express returned to the Liberty Bowl Stadium for their second home game of the year and defeated the San Diego Fleet 26-23 in front announced crowd of 13,621.
The Express made three significant changes from the last game. The first was changing the starting quarterback. Going from Christian Hackenberg to Zach Mettenberger. The other two changes were replacing the punter Brad Wing and field goal kicker Jon Jasper.
All three changes made an impact on the game. The first was when Ron Brooks returned a Ryan Winslow punt 57 yards for a touchdown to give the Fleet an early 6-0 lead. The extra point was no good. The second impact was the job the Austin MacGinnis did in placekicking. MacGinnis went 4-4 including the game-winner with from 45 yards with 2:52 left in the game.
Finally, Mettenberger gave the offense the shot in the arm the team badly needed. Mettenberger threw for 174 yards on 18 completions, threw one touchdown and had no turnovers.
As Mettenberger entered the postgame press conference he said, “It is so quiet in here.” He could not contain his excitement in getting his first win as a starting quarterback for the Memphis Express. It was not only his first win for the Memphis Express, it was also Mettenberger’s first professional win. Mettenberger had not won a game since 2013 and was 0-10 as a starter for the Tennessee Titans.
“It was a great team win. We are now 1-0 and looking to go 2-0,” Mettenberger said. “I am a little excited and I am going to have to apologize to y’all, I guess. Nothing is better than winning.”
The Fleet looked to be in complete control of the game, going up 20-6 in the second quarter. Starting quarterback Phillip Nelson left the game with a shoulder injury in the second quarter and did not return. Alex Ross replaced him in the game.
Nelson’s exit affected the Fleet’s game plan. Ross and Nelson combined for 180 yards and two touchdowns. San Diego’s offense was not as effective with Ross in the game as it was when Nelson was leading the charge.
Meanwhile, like another legendary Memphis pro team, the Express has “hung its hat on the defensive end” all season. The defense has forced turnovers in all but one game this season. Against the Fleet, Memphis forced four turnovers. Linebacker Drew Jackson led the charge with 14 tackles, including four for losses and one interception.
“The fans are amazing,” said Express Head Coach Mike Singletary. “I love the music. The music has you rocking. I love the support the players can feel that. Being embraced when you are 0-3 is really special. We wanted to do the best we can to show the love.”
On the play of the defense, Singletary said, “For the quarterbacks to feel like they need to win the game, our defense has taken it upon themselves to basically know that we need to come up with turnovers. The puts our offense in good field position and allow them to do with they do. It alleviates the pressure. They, in turn, take the pressure off of us by scoring points. That is the pattern.”
The Express travels to Atlanta this weekend to play the Legends on March 10 at 3 p.m. central at Georgia State Stadium. The game can be seen on the CBS Sports Network.