The Saturday games saw the Pittsburgh Maulers clinch their playoff berth, while Birmingham secured the South Division title. The USFL Sunday slate featured two Win-and-In games, one in each division. With everything on the line in a regular-season finale, how could fans ask for anything more?
New Orleans Breakers vs. Houston Gamblers
McLeod Bethel-Thompson pulled out another great game, carrying his team to the playoffs on the back of a 227-yard and two TD performance. Without much help in the rushing department (14 carries for 23 yards) Jonnie Dixon again showed why he is a premier receiver in this league. He caught 3 passes for 60 yards and a TD. Dee Anderson turned his only catch into the other of MBT’s passing touchdowns. Wes Hills, though he struggled on the ground, paced the breakers in receptions (5) and was second in yardage (40). Wes Hills finishes as the USFL rushing leader with 679 yards this season. Defensively, Vontae Diggs snagged another interception, this one deep in New Orleans territory. Diggs’ third interception of the season helped the Breakers hold on to their seven-point lead. New Orleans will face the Birmingham Stallions in the Southern Division playoffs. The teams split the two regular-season games this season.
What a season for the Gamblers this year. Kenji Bahar and Mark Thompson, Justin Hall and Keke Chism, remember these names as Houston’s season comes to an end. With NFL teams looking for talented players to fill roster spots in camp, don’t be surprised to see these guys get some invites. Bahar had another very efficient and clean game, throwing for 231 yards on 70% passing. Montell Cozart threw the interception on one of his two pass attempts. Mark Thompson added another 84 yards and ANOTHER touchdown to his total. Thompson finished the season with a USFL-leading 14 rushing TDs and fell just short of We Hills (679) for the rushing yards total with 654. Houston put together a fantastic season this year. I look forward to the steps they take in Season Three!
Philadelphia Stars vs. Michigan Panthers
Philadelphia found themselves in a familiar spot this week, win and head to the playoffs. But unlike last week, there was no “next week” to get it done again. Case Cookus continued his MVP-caliber season with a 247-yard, 2-passing TD performance, he added 48 yards on the ground. Philly walked the opening drive right down the field for an early TD and lead. With the way the Panthers have struggled in the past weeks, it seemed like an early indicator of a Stars victory. Corey Coleman had a “quiet” game, recording 55 yards. But Devin Gray (62 yards) and Terry Wright (57 yards, 1TD) led the Stars’ receiving core. With three receivers combining for over 150 yards, the early issues in the running game presented themselves again. Excluding Cookus’s 48 yards, the Stars combined for only 35 rushing yards. Philadelphia will most likely enter Season Three as a top team in the USFL, but they will need to address the rushing concerns in the offseason.
Michigan in the playoffs?! The USFL making dreams come true one Detroit playoff game at a time. Michigan started the season on an unexpected little run but quickly fell into a losing slide. But much like the season the Panthers have had, this final game was a prime example of slow and steady can win the race. After allowing an opening drive touchdown to the Stars, and missing a FG to stay scoreless in the first quarter, the Panthers scored 6 points in the second, 9 in the third, and 8 in the final frame to secure the three-point victory. The Panthers’ defense tightened up and help the Stars scoreless in the second half, while Michigan’s special teams unit blocked a punt that was recovered for a touchdown in the third. In a surprise move, Michigan started EJ Perry who went for 121 yards passing, and 48 yards rushing, and turned disaster into the game-winning TD, when he scooped up a botched snap and outran the defense to the endzone.