Christian Hackenberg
Photo: Jim Weber, Daily Memphan

In an AAF battle of New York Jets, John Wolford and the Arizona Hotshots made up a two-possession deficit on Christian Hackenberg and the Memphis Express.

If you told New York Jets fans in 2016 that Christian Hackenberg would be playing a game in February, they’d likely be ecstatic. A Saturday showdown was no Super Bowl, though it did provide dramatics in the Alliance of American Football.

Hackenberg put up 141 yards, including 39 on the ground, for his Memphis Express, but he was overshadowed by another former Jets thrower.

John Wolford piled up 194 yards and two scores, as his Arizona Hotshots earned a 20-18 win at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

Wolford spent part of the past summer as a reserve quarterback for the Jets. He went on to be chosen in the second round of the AAF’s quarterback draft and beat out Trevor Knight for the Arizona starting quarterback job.

The Wake Forest alum went on to become the AAF’s breakout offensive star in its premiere week. In a 38-22 win over the Salt Lake Stallions, Wolford threw for a league-high 275 yards and four touchdowns. For his efforts, he earned the league’s first-ever Offensive Player of the Week award.

While Wolford didn’t match those numbers on Saturday, he did engineer a late comeback for the undefeated Hotshots (2-0). Facing two separate dozen-point deficits, Wolford got Arizona back in the game. In the final frame, he tallied 117 yards and eight points on his own. His signature possession came midway through the segment.

Backed up at his own 13-yard line after a Brad Wing punt, Wolford led a six-play, 87-yard drive, eating 64 yards alone on a hookup with Josh Huff. Three plays later, he found running back Tim Cook for the score that gave Arizona the lead for good.

Wolford wound playing a part in each of Arizona’s three scores. In the third quarter, he helped score the Hotshots’ first points with a 15-yard tally to Rashad Ross. After Justin Stockton narrowed a reestablished 12-point game with a 45-yard run, Wolford converted a two-point conversion on the ground.

As for Hackenberg, the Jets’ 2016 second-round pick once again struggled at the Memphis helm. He completed 14 of 25 passes for 102 yards and was sacked four times. However, a four-yard scoring run from Hackenberg gave the Express an 18-6 in the early stages of the fourth.

He notably took a big hit after he entered the end zone, but the touchdown stood to give the Express (0-2) some temporary security.

Despite the loss, Week 2 was certainly an upgrade for Hackenberg, who was benched in his debut. He had earned just 87 yards and threw an interception as Memphis was shut out by the Birmingham Iron.

Ironically, Wolford and Hackenberg first squared off in the most recent preseason. For the Jets, Wolford had 89 yards and an interception, while Hackenberg threw for 69 yards and two interceptions as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Philadelphia won the game 10-9.

Hackenberg wasn’t the only former Jet who struggled in Saturday’s AAF play. In the first half of the league’s day-night doubleheader, Salt Lake’s Taylor Bertolet missed three field goals, including a 48-yard misfire that could’ve extended things to overtime, in a 12-9 loss at Birmingham. Like Wolford, Bertolet appeared in the Jets’ most recent training camp, but lost the kicking job to future Pro Bowler Jason Myers.

Both Wolford and Hackenberg hit the road next Saturday for Week 3. Arizona will look to keep their perfect start alive in Salt Lake (3:00 p.m. ET, B/R Live), while Hackenberg searches for his first professional football win against Orlando (8:00 p.m., NFL Network).

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