By Will Freeman
Tampa Bay Bandits 28
Philadelphia Stars 35
After failing in their first offensive series, the Stars got an interception from cornerback Amani Dennis on the Bandits’ side of the field and turned that into points with a passing touchdown from Case Cookus to tight end Bug Howard. Tampa center Bruno Reagan announced earlier this week that his injury was season-ending, and you saw that result of that early on with Jordan Ta’amu getting pressured, sacked, and using his mobility to escape the Philly defenders in the 1st quarter. It was interesting to find out during the telecast that Bandits coach Todd Haley gave the team 3 days off. That may not have seemed like a good idea since Tampa got only 19 yards in the 1st quarter. The 2nd quarter was a defensive back and forth until right before the 2-minute warning when Ta’amu connected with John Franklin III on a passing touchdown to tie the game at 7. Within the 2 minute warning, the Bandits gifted the Stars within their own red zone when Philly punted and the ball touched a Tampa player causing a turnover. The Stars then converted another turnover into points with a rushing touchdown by Matt Colburn II. Bandits answered back with a passing TD from Ta’amu to tight end Cheyenne O’Grady, who himself spun out of a tackle to get the score with 15 seconds in the first half and tie it at 14 apiece. The first series for the Bandits in the 3rd quarter was plagued by penalties and bad offensive line play that caused the Stars’ defense to get a sack on Ta’amu. After a bad punt from Wright, the Stars were able to take advantage of great field position to get another passing touchdown from Cookus to Howard for his second of the game. The Bandits continued to struggle on both offense and defense and the Stars’ running game got another touchdown by Colburn to end the 3rd quarter with Philly having a 28-14 lead. In the 4th, the Tampa offense finally got it together to cut the Stars lead to 7 with Ta’amu connecting with O’Grady once again for the touchdown. Philly responded back with a 3rd rushing TD by Colburn, and the Bandits responded back with a passing TD from Ta’amu to De’Quan Hampton. Tampa then chose to attempt to convert the 4th and 12 “onside kick”, but after an offsides penalty was called on the Stars, Tampa failed a 4th and 7 with an incomplete pass, giving the Stars great field position. Tampa’s defense responded to make Philly punt but had to start from their own 1-yard line on the return. They were able to get more field room thanks to a 63-yard gain by Rashard Davis. They would eventually get to the 5-yard line on a 4th down but Ta’amu overthrew his receiver avoiding the game going to overtime. This game started slowly at first but finished in dramatic fashion. Colburn was fantastic going for 140 yards rushing and three scores. Philly moved to 3-3, second in the North. Tampa dropped to third in the South also at 3-3.
Michigan Panthers 17
Birmingham Stallions 33
This was best in the South facing the worst in the North. The Stallions again were without star linebacker Scooby Wright for their matchup against the Panthers. Michigan opened up the scoring with a 58-yard field goal by Cole Murphy. Ja’Mar Smith got the start for the Stallions, and his arm along with Bo Scarbrough’s rushing went down the field 71 yards until Michigan’s red zone defense stopped them, Birmingham would get on the board and tie the game with a 22-yard field goal by Brandon Aubrey at the end of the first quarter. Birmingham would score the first touchdown on a 30-yard catch by Stallions receiver Osirus Mitchell. Then the game was stopped by a lightning delay. After the delay, each team’s first series ended with a punt. Michigan’s next series ended with a 1-yard touchdown run on a QB sneak by Patterson which tied it at 10. Right before the 2-minute warning, the Stallions caused a fumble and gained control within the Panther 18-yard line. They would only get an Aubrey field goal from that fumble as Reggie Bolden caught what seemed to be a touchdown but was out of bounds. Birmingham led 13-10 at end of the half. The first score in the second half went to the Stallions as Smith would hit running back Tony Brooks-James for a 6-yard passing score, Aubrey would miss the point after. The Panthers then answered back with a passing touchdown of their own as wideout Devin Ross would get a 14-yard touchdown from Patterson, which cut the Stallion lead to 2 to end the 3rd. Alex McGough came in for the Stallions near the end of the 3rd and would lead a 7-play, 71-yard drive that resulted in a 28-yard rushing touchdown from Scarbrough. Aubrey would make the PAT stretching their lead to 9. Then the officials made a mistake putting the ball on the wrong hash mark and not giving the Panthers enough time to correct the situation because on the next play Birmingham’s defense got an interception. Michigan coach Jeff Fisher was livid. That turnover resulted in points as McGough put the game away out of reach with a 2-yard touchdown run. This wasn’t another come-from-behind victory for the Stallions as it was the last few weeks. With pretty much locking in the 1 seed in the South, it will be interesting how they do in the playoffs with no longer having home-field advantage in Canton, Ohio.
Pittsburgh Maulers 16
New Orleans Breakers 26
Unlike the previous two games, it was all Breakers in the first half. However, we didn’t get our first score until 1:35 in the 1st quarter with a 1-yard touchdown from Breakers running back Anthony Jones. Pittsburgh struggled on offense as new starting QB Vad Lee was intercepted by Breakers cornerback Ike Brown late in the first half. New Orleans would add a 22-yard field goal by Taylor Bertolet that gave them a 10-0 lead to end the half. The Maulers finally put up points in the 3rd quarter on their first series, thanks to a 37-yard field goal from Ramiz Ahmed, but then New Orleans responded back with a 5-yard touchdown by Jordan Ellis that gave them a 17-3 score to end the 3rd. In the 4th, it got worse for Pittsburgh, as Brown returned a 97-yard interception off an errant Lee pass for a touchdown and stretched the Breakers’ lead to 23-3 with 11 minutes left in the 4th. The Maulers started to make a comeback utilizing both the arms and legs of Lee. First, beginning with a 22-yard end zone connection with Bailey Gaither (the Maulers missed the PAT) and second with a 4-yard touchdown run of his own in their next offensive series to make the score 23-16 with 5 minutes left to go. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh’s chances had run out as the Breakers would run the clock down and put the final nail in the coffin on a 38-yard FG by Bertolet with 40 seconds left. I appreciated the Maulers, they kept on fighting to the end, but it will be a hard road with four weeks left to make it to the playoffs. With this victory, the Breakers keep the 2nd seed in the South Division at 4-2.
Houston Gamblers 25
New Jersey Generals 26
This was like the Panthers vs Stallions game but flipped. It was the best in the North, facing off the worst in the South. Right out of the gate the Houston Gamblers scored on their first series, on a 48-yard touchdown throw from Clayton Thorson to WR Teo Redding. The Generals responded in the very next series with a touchdown of their own on a 19-yard pass by De’Andre Johnson to Ka’Vonte Turpin to tie things up at 7. Johnson wound up getting injured in the first half and was replaced by Luis Perez. He would finish 4 for 4 on the day with 52 yards and a touchdown pass. Perez would then lead the charge, and on his third series, he made a perfect 32-yard throw to Turpin, which he would catch for his second receiving touchdown of the game. Near the end of the first half, the Gamblers tried to tie the score after a Thorson passing touchdown to Mark Thompson, but Nick Vogel missed the point after and found themselves down by a point. Houston’s defense then got a sack-fumble on by defensive end Chris Odom on the Generals’ 18-yard line. Thompson would then get his second receiving touchdown, scoring both TDs 29 seconds from each other. The Gamblers failed on the 2-point conversion and took the lead at the end of the first half, 19-14. The Generals were able to get into the red zone thanks to the playmaking ability of Turpin but would settle for a field goal try. That field goal was blocked and recovered by Houston but fumbled again with Generals recovering the ball back at the Gamblers’ 47. It was worth noting that the Gamblers did not take a single snap on offense in the 3rd quarter. New Jersey would score first in the 4th on a 3-yard touchdown run by Trey Williams but failed the 2-point conversion, giving them a 1-point lead. The Gamblers 2nd half woes continued with a missed 47-yard field goal from Vogel. Then Odom would get another sack-fumble which was recovered by Gamblers defensive tackle Tomasi Laulile for a defensive touchdown, putting Houston up by 5. The Generals answered right back, going down to the wire with 2 seconds left on the clock as Perez would win the game on a QB sneak touchdown to continue the Gamblers’ 5-game losing streak. It was the sixth game in a row in which Houston would have a lead in the first half. The Generals pretty much have the 1st seed locked down in the North at 5-1, while the Gamblers playoff window looks closed at 1-5.
Another good week of football for the USFL. Though for the Panthers vs. Stallions game there was change near the end due to timing constraints from the lightning delay and the NBC feed moved to the CNBC for the rest of the game. I was watching the Peacock feed of the game so I did not have that problem but was perplexed why CNBC got the feed and not the USA Network (which airs USFL games). Of course, the main reason for moving the feed was to not delay the start of Saturday Night Live’s season finale. For those that remember the XFL in 2001, Lorne Michaels was furious when a Week 2 game delayed the start of SNL and has made sure that did not happen ever again. This was also the week I have seen the drones more prevalent during the broadcasts, seeing them and hearing them. Every time I heard them it made me look around a bit like there was a bug flying by me. This was also the week that the USFL expanded the gameday and practice squad rosters. They increased by 2 for the gameday roster and by 3 for the practice squad. The number 1 seeds in the divisions are pretty much locked up and 2 seeds are still up for grabs. These last 4 weeks until playoffs are extremely important down the stretch.
My Week 7 picks
Generals vs Bandits – Generals
Breakers vs Panthers – Breakers
Stallions vs Maulers – Stallions
Stars vs Gamblers – Stars