13 Jan

Breakers win clash of division leaders to go 4-0, Stallions win on kick return

The fourth week of the 2023 USFL season got off to a wild start as two teams that entered as underdogs not only won outright but dominated. Then the league’s only remaining unbeaten showed why it’s the team to beat.

On Sunday, the New Orleans Breakers won a battle of division leaders, as the top team in the South knocked off the North-leading New Jersey Generals, 20-17. The Breakers remain the USFL’s only unbeaten team at 4-0. Then in the Week 4 finale, the defending champion Birmingham Stallions needed a late 91-yard kick return to hold off the Pittsburgh Maulers.

The weekend’s action began on Saturday as the Houston Gamblers shocked the Philadelphia Stars 41-16 behind a three-touchdown day by running back Mark Thompson — who averaged more than 10 yards per carry. Then the Memphis Showboats, who entered the weekend winless and a 6.5-point underdog, upset the Michigan Panthers 29-10. Showboats kicker Alex Kessman got the game’s first six points on the board with two field goals of over 50 yards.

We’ve got takeaways below from each game. First, a look at the Week 4 scores:

Houston Gamblers 41, Philadelphia Stars 16
Memphis Showboats 29, Michigan Panthers 10
New Orleans Breakers 20, New Jersey Generals 17
Birmingham Stallions 24, Pittsburgh Maulers 20

Sunday’s games
Breakers only 4-0 team after topping N.J. behind QB-RB combo
Two common themes for the undefeated Breakers has been the steady play of quarterback and former CFL star McLeod Bethel-Thompson and running back Wes Hills. On Sunday, Bethel-Thompson completed over 70% of his throws for 279 yards. The former CFL star completed three passes on the Breakers’ game-winning drive to beat the Generals, who entered the game atop the North Division at 2-1.

Per usual, Bethel-Thompson’s favorite target was tight end Sage Surratt, who pulled down six passes for 94 yards. The two connected for a 33-yard gain on the game’s first drive to help set up Hills’ nine-yard touchdown run. Hills’ second touchdown of the game — and league-leading eighth of the season — gave New Orleans a 14-7 lead late in the third quarter. Along with his 88 rushing yards, Hills racked up 71 more yards on seven catches.

This man can’t be stopped!

📺: NBC and Peacock pic.twitter.com/1IgyZq4N3g

— New Orleans Breakers (@USFLBreakers) May 7, 2023
Led by linebacker Vontae Diggs, the Breakers’ defense held Generals quarterback De’Andre Johnson to just 113 yards on 7 of 14 passing. New Jersey had far more success on the ground, as Johnson, reigning USFL Offensive Player of the Year Darius Victor and Trey Williams rushing for a combined 172 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.

The Breakers and Generals entered the fourth quarter tied 17-17. A 25-yard field goal by New Orleans kicker Matt Coughlin with 7:10 remaining proved the difference in the game.

Both these teams made the playoffs last season, but lost in the semifinals. Chances are, they’ll be in the mix again this year.

Stallions win thriller on Deon Cain’s 91-yard kick return
The Stallions went 10-1 last regular season before winning the inaugural USFL championship, but after losing to the Breakers last week and trailing Pittsburgh with less than 7 minutes remaining on Sunday, they were in jeopardy of surpassing their 2022 loss total after just four weeks.

The Maulers had taken a 21-7 lead with 6:52 left in the game on a Troy Williams 34-yard run for a touchdown. And that’s when this happened.

91 YARDS TO THE HOUSE FOR @cainera1_ 😤😤😤

We’re on top 24-20 🐎 pic.twitter.com/fhFDlkw2m8

— Birmingham Stallions (@USFLStallions) May 8, 2023
Deon Cain returned the ensuing kickoff 91 yards for touchdown, which turned out to be the final points in the game.

Williams, the Maulers’ quarterback, was both the team’s leading passer (217 yards, no TDs or INTs) and rusher (63 yards, 1 TD). Stallions quarterback Alex McGough threw a pair of costly interceptions, but did have a TD on 157 yards passing. He, too, led his team in rushing (48 yards, 1 TD).

Saturday’s games
Showboats earn first win as kicker steals show early
The Memphis Showboats entered Week 4 as the league’s only winless team, but they changed that with a dominating performance against a Michigan Panthers squad that had entered with just one loss — and was playing on its home turf at Ford Field in Detroit.

Memphis’ first two scores were back-to-back 50-plus yard field goals by Alex Kessman — a 54-yarder followed by a 53-yarder in the first quarter (Kessman later added a 37-yarder in the third quarter). Kessman was inactive last week, reportedly due to on-field struggles.

Alex Kessman’s 54-yard field goal is GOOD 🚤

🎥: @nbc | @peacock pic.twitter.com/tWys42ME5o

— Memphis Showboats (@USFLShowboats) May 6, 2023
The Showboats’ Anthony Butler helped his team stretch the lead to 13-0 after picking off Michigan quarterback Josh Love to set up a touchdown run by quarterback Cole Kelley. Kelley threw for 151 yards and had two rushing touchdowns — the Showboats’ only TDs on offense. Memphis’ defense led the way, with two interceptions as well as a strip sack fumble that was returned to the house by Jeff McCulloch.


Another TD! pic.twitter.com/SLjoo4yIKg

— Memphis Showboats (@USFLShowboats) May 7, 2023
Love had started strong for the Panthers this season, as they began 2-0, but was held to just 58 yards passing with a TD and INT on Saturday. Michigan also played Carson Strong at quarterback, but he fared no better, throwing for 76 yards with no TDs and an INT.

Gamblers’ Thompson runs wild; Stars not shining
The Philadelphia Stars reached last year’s USFL championship game and there was no reason to think they wouldn’t be in the mix again this season, with Case Cookus returning as starting quarterback and the team kicking off 2023 with a victory.

However, it’s been nothing but losses for the Stars since the opener, and Saturday’s defeat was the most lopsided yet as the Gamblers won by 25 points.

Cookus, who went 24-of-36 for 189 yards with a TD and an INT, is among the league’s passing leaders. But Philly’s Week 4 rushing leader managed a whopping 16 yards, and its defense is in a tie for allowing the most points this season.

It was a much different story for Houston’s rushing attack, as Mark Thompson ran for 134 yards and three TDs on only 13 carries.

Gamblers get on the board first with this 33-yard touchdown run from Mark Thompson!#HOUvsPHI | #USFL202: pic.twitter.com/1qMBBUNmnO

— USFL Center (@USFLCenter) May 6, 2023
Gamblers quarterback Kenji Bahar also had a big game, throwing for 230 yards with 2 TDs and no picks. It was Houston’s second straight win after an 0-2 start.

13 Jan

Wes Hills powers Breakers’ undefeated start

Wes Hills got an up-close look at former All-Pro running back David Johnson during his brief time with the Arizona Cardinals. Four years later, Hills has looked strikingly similar to Johnson during his heyday while powering the New Orleans Breakers to a surprising 4-0 start.

The USFL’s leading rusher, Hills recently set the modern league’s single-game records after piling up 191 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries in New Orleans’ Week 3 win over the defending champion Birmingham Stallions. Facing the talented New Jersey Generals this past Sunday, Hills ran for two scores in New Orleans’ 20-17 win.

“This is surreal,” Hills recently told CBS Sports. “I’ve never been in a situation like this, being 4-0. Or being around such a great group of guys. … When you have a great group of guys that came together in such a short amount of time, and all of our goals align, and we can go out and put on a show for New Orleans, it’s amazing.”

If you’re looking to lean more about Hills and the streaking Breakers, you’ve come to the right place. The No. 1 team in our weekly USFL power rankings, Hills recently shared what has contributed to his and his team’s success so far.

  1. New Orleans Breakers (4-0)
    Daryl Johnston, the USFL president and Cowboys fullback during the team’s dynasty years, must have been beaming with pride when he saw Hills’ touchdown runs against New Jersey this past weekend. Like Johnston and the “Great Wall of Dallas” offensive line did numerous times for Emmitt Smith back in the day, the Breakers’ offensive line allowed Hills to score two touchdowns without being touched.

The only person who probably appreciates what the Breakers’ line is doing more than Johnston is Hills, who heaped praise on his teammates up front throughout the interview.

“The O-line is doing phenomenal right now,” Hills said. “(Starting offensive tackle) Paul Adams blocked two people for that first touchdown. … We’ve got a lot of dogs up front that are just opening everything up for me.”

The Receipts ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/SFNkoKVr2R

— New Orleans Breakers (@USFLBreakers) May 7, 2023
Playing complementary football, Hills said, has been one of the keys of the Breakers’ success so far. He added that the leadership of 34-year-old quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson has also played an integral role in New Orleans’ fast start. Hills was already familiar with Bethel-Thompson prior to the two becoming teammates in New Orleans. They were former members of rival teams during their shared time in the Canadian Football League.

“I watched him for the past two years do his thing. It’s good to be on the other side of it,” Hills said of Bethel-Thompson, who won two Grey Cups during his time in the CFL. “He’s a great leader, great person, even better father. He’s a great guy. It means a lot to be able to play with a veteran that has won championships and has been so successful at his position. … He came in and took control of the offense.”

Hills has also cherished the chance to play for Breakers coach John DeFilippo, who after over 20 years in coaching is getting his first opportunity as a head coach.

“I love him,” Hills said of his coach. “He blessed me with this opportunity to come here and showcase what I can do. He’s a real players coach. … He’s not wound too tight. He’s a pretty laid back guy, but when it’s time to focus up and he needs to reel us back in, he does that with no problem.

“He has the team’s respect, by far. Everybody in that locker room loves him.”

It’s safe to say that Breakers fans feel the same way about Hills. Shirts were recently made celebrating Hills’ early success (he is currently trying to get one for each of his offensive teammates). Hills (who along with Johnson has tried to pattern his game off of Hall of Fame running backs Eric Dickerson and Gale Sayers) is just two touchdown runs away from the surpassing the franchise’s single-season record set by Marcus Dupree, the former Oklahoma standout who first put the Breakers on the map nearly 40 years earlier.

Like many USFL players, resiliency is a big reason why Hills has kept his career going to this point. While he was a highly productive college player, injuries put a limit on that success. Another injury, suffered at the 2019 Senior Bowl, limited his effectiveness after he signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted rookie.

“I wasn’t 100% going into Arizona,” Hills said, “but every opportunity I get, I try to make the most of it.”

Hills made the most of his next opportunity with the Detroit Lions. He made his NFL regular-season debut with Detroit in December 2019, scoring two touchdowns in a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But that experience was followed by nearly two inactive years with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Three days after his contract with Hamilton expired, Hills signed with the Breakers. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

“All the ups and downs, it’s great to see that I’m able to show the world and prove it myself that I can play,” Hills said. “I’ve got a little game. It’s a good feeling. It’s a really good feeling.”

While he would welcome another chance to play in the NFL, Hills is beyond thrilled with his current situation. He said that his ultimate goal right now is to win a championship for a team he loves and a league that he deeply appreciates.

“One thing I learned about professional sports is there’s a lot of politics and other things that go into it, so it takes the fun out of it,” he said. “The one thing I love about this league is you’ll get your opportunity. The politics are out of it and you just love the game of football again.

“It’s a great league with great competition ran by some amazing people. Just to be able to play for a league like this and to be able showcase my ability, I’m incredibly grateful to the USFL.”

  1. Birmingham Stallions (3-1)
    The defending champions avenged their Week 3 loss to New Orleans by defeating a gritty Pittsburgh squad this past weekend. Birmingham has received solid play from quarterback Alex McGough, who replaced injured starter J’Mar Smith back in Week 1. McGough has benefitted by the emergence of wideout Davion Davis, who leads the team in receptions and yards and is tied with tight end Jace Sternberger for the team lead with three touchdown catches.

Birmingham’s last win was a team effort, with Deion Cain’s 91-yard kickoff return for a score being the difference in the Stallions’ 24-20 win over Pittsburgh.

  1. New Jersey Generals (2-2)
    The Generals aren’t the team without KaVontae Turpin, last year’s league MVP who went on to enjoy an All-Pro season for the Cowboys this past fall. While that is true, the Generals are still the class of the North Division. They also still have some of the league’s best players that include running back Darius Victor. The league’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year, Victor is the engine behind the league’s top-ranked rushing attack.
  2. Houston Gamblers (2-2)
    Sure, the Gamblers fell to also 2-2 Michigan back in Week 1. But Houston is 2-1 since that game while the Panthers are coming off consecutive losses (more on that in a second). The Gamblers have scored at least 30 points in each of their last three games. Houston’s offense has been led by Justin Hall, whose leads the USFL with four touchdown catches, and running back Mark Thompson, who ran for 134 yards and three touchdowns during Houston’s Week 4 win over Philadelphia.

The Gamblers’ stout defense has been led so far by Reggie Walker (three sacks) and Khalan Tolson (31 tackles).

  1. Michigan Panthers (2-2)
    After a 2-0 start, Michigan has dropped its last two games by a combined score of 57-23. Injuries (especially on the offensive line) has plagued the Panthers, who were a combined 1 of 4 in the red zone each of the past two games. Four turnovers also loomed large in Michigan’s most recent loss to the Memphis Showboats.

Despite their recent slide, the Panthers continue to get solid play from running backs Stevie Scott III and Reggie Corbin. The duo combined to run for 119 yards on 26 carries against Memphis.

  1. Pittsburgh Maulers (1-3)
    Roy Horton’s squad has played better than their record would indicate. They lost a close game against New Orleans before recording their first win of the season against Philadelphia in Week 3. Led by quarterback Troy Williams, Pittsburgh nearly upset the Stallions this past weekend in Canton, Ohio. The Maulers will look to get better in the red zone after going 0 of 3 in that department against Birmingham.

Defensively, Pittsburgh has been led by Olive Sagapolu, who leads the USFL with four sacks.

  1. Memphis Showboats (1-3)
    Todd Haley’s team is coming off of its first win of the year, a 19-point win over Michigan. Memphis played well in three of its first four games, with Kerrith Whyte being an integral role in the team’s win over the Panthers. A former Chicago Bears draft pick who briefly played for the Steelers in 2019, Whyte tallied 188 total yards against Michigan that included his 57-yard return of the opening kickoff that set up the first of Alex Kessman’s three field goals.
  2. Philadelphia Stars (1-3)
    This isn’t where anyone expected the Stars to be after last year’s USFL Championship Game appearance. Philadelphia has lost three straight, with the last defeat being a 41-16 beatdown at the hands of the Gamblers. While the defense hasn’t helped, the Stars’ offense has largely been the culprit for Philadelphia’s issues. The unit has scored over 20 points in a game just once despite having one of the league’s better quarterbacks in Case Cookus.
13 Jan

Stars kicker goes 8-for-8 for all 24 of team’s points, hits 55-yard walk-off FG

We’ve reached the midway mark of the USFL’s 10-game regular season and if there’s one word that sums up what we know about who’ll win the North Division, it’s this — nothing.

ALL FOUR TEAMS are 2-3 after the Philadelphia Stars upset the New Jersey Generals on Sunday. And if you’re wondering how the Stars did it, the only name you need to know is Luis Aguilar. Philly’s kicker scored every one of his team’s points, going 8-for-8 on field goals, including a walk-off 55-yarder in the final ticks.

Later on Sunday, the USFL saw its last unbeaten team fall, as the New Orleans Breakers were upset by the Memphis Showboats. The Breakers dropped to 4-1, while the Showboats are the fifth of the league’s eight teams to sit 2-3.

We’ll go over that and all the Week 5 games below (check out the standings here). First, a look at the Week 5 scores:

Pittsburgh Maulers 23, Michigan Panthers 7
Houston Gamblers 27, Birmingham Stallions 20
Philadelphia Stars 24, New Jersey Generals 21
Memphis Showboats 17, New Orleans Breakers 10

Stars kicker goes 8-for-8 with three from 50+, scores every Philly point
Luis Aguilar not only connected on the most field goals in USFL history, he did it without missing one, and the point to make here is that if he had missed any of the eight, the Stars very well might have lost. Instead, they won 24-21, as three of Aguilar’s field goals were from 51 yards or more. Here’s the distance for each: 22, 42, 56, 36, 27, 51, 49, and the 55-yard winner, which you can watch below.

🤯 @luisaguilar124 WITH THE WALK OFF 55 YARD FIELD GOAL


🎥: @nbc | @peacock pic.twitter.com/G9Fky5UYu8

— USFL (@USFL) May 14, 2023
While this was obviously not an NFL game, for the sake of comparison, the all-time NFL record for made field goals in a game is eight (Titans’ Rob Bironas, vs. Texans in 2007).

Philly, which made the USFL title game last year, had won only once going into Sunday. The Generals had entered the week atop the division. The Stars won despite quarterback Case Cookus throwing for only 125 yards (0 TDs, 0 INTs) and their leading rusher managing just 22 yards on 15 carries.

New Jersey quarterback De’Andre Johnson led the team in rushing (62 yards, 1 TD) and also threw for 79 yards. Kyle Lauletta also split time at quarterback, completing 10 of 12 passes for 111 yards with an interception.

Breakers suffer first loss as Showboats shock
The New Orleans Breakers were in a prime spot to put two games between themselves and the defending champion Birmingham Stallions in the South Division after the Stallions lost on Saturday. Instead, New Orleans suffered its first loss of the season against a Memphis team that had entered with one win.

The deciding play came with 2:16 left in the game, as Showboats quarterback Cole Kelley found John Mitchell in the end zone.

The @USFLShowboats with the go-ahead score late in the game! 👀pic.twitter.com/9hu0Z68JqT

— USFL (@USFL) May 14, 2023
Kelley finished 24 of 36 for 224 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT.

New Orleans simply couldn’t find its offense against a Memphis team that had entered tied for allowing the most points in the USFL. Quarterback McCleod Bethel-Thompson (206 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 INT) accounted for the only Breakers touchdown.

Saturday’s games
Gamblers upset Stallions with huge fourth quarter
Houston won its third-straight game by upsetting the defending champs, and they did it with a big fourth-quarter where they outscored the Stallions 20-7. Birmingham had led 13-7 entering the final frame, but that’s when Houston backup quarterback Terry Wilson came through.

Wilson, who started the game due to an injury to Gamblers quarterback Kenji Bahar, had thrown for just 48 yards in the first three quarters. He more than doubled that total with one pass, a 50-yard touchdown to Anthony Ratliff-Williams.

Houston running back Mark Thompson had three touchdowns, including two in the final four minutes of the game. He’s got eight TDs this season. Stallions quarterback Alex McGough threw for 209 yards with a pair of TDs, and also ran for 76 yards.

The Stallions had some familiar fans in the crowd.

NFL HOFer in the house 🙌

Randy Moss is here supporting his son, @USFLStallions’ @thaddeusmoss 👏 @NFLonFOX pic.twitter.com/RfEDvy8Sjx

— USFL (@USFL) May 13, 2023
Pittsburgh wins with defense
The Maulers have allowed the fewest points in the league so far, and Saturday’s win showcased why. After falling behind 7-0, Pittsburgh didn’t allow another point.

Quarterback Troy Williams threw for two touchdowns on 184 yards passing and also added a rushing TD, leading the Maulers in rushing with 59 yards.

Pittsburgh’s defense may not have even allowed seven points were it not for Michigan’s Ishmael Hyman returning an early punt 74 yards to the Pittsburgh 26. Panthers quarterback Josh Love hit Cole Hikutini for the TD a few plays later.

13 Jan

Breakers dominate; former Chiefs LB tabbed as Defensive Player of the Year

And then, there were none. After a 4-0 start, the New Orleans Breakers suffered their first loss of the 2023 season following a 17-10 loss to Memphis Showboats in Week 5. While the loss ended their perfect season, it did little to dampen what was a glittering start for coach John DeFilippo and his team.

The Breakers have been the USFL’s best team so far, but everything is still up for grabs as the league heads into the second half. Each team in the North division currently has a 2-3 record. New Orleans has a one game lead in the South division, with the Gamblers and Stallions just one game behind. Memphis closed the gap between themselves and the Breakers in the standings this past weekend after holding New Orleans’ explosive offense to just one touchdown.

Before Week 6 kicks off, here’s a look at our USFL midseason awards.

Winner: RB Wes Hills, Breakers
Runner-up: QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Breakers

Hills epitomizes what the USFL is all about. Despite a successful college career and a brief run of success in the NFL, Hills was largely inactive over the last two years while playing in the Canadian Football League. After a long wait, Hills has finally gotten his chance to be a featured back at the pro level with the Breakers. To say that Hills has taken advantage of the opportunity would be a vast understatement.

The league’s current leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, Hills set the modern league’s single-game records after racking up 191 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries in New Orleans’ Week 3 win over the defending champion Stallions. A week later, Hills ran for two scores in the Breakers’ 20-17 win over the Generals. Even in defeat this past weekend, Hills tallied 82 total yards that included seven catches for 46 yards.

“All the ups and downs, it’s great to see that I’m able to show the world and prove it myself that I can play,” Hills said during a recent interview with CBS Sports. “I’ve got a little game. It’s a good feeling. It’s a really good feeling.”

Offensive Player of the Year
Winner: QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Breakers
Runner-up: QB Alex McGough, Stallions

Bethel-Thompson jumped to the USFL this year after a highly successful six-year run in the Canadian Football League that included two Grey Cup victories. The soon-to-be 35-year-old has nearly 300 more passing yards than the league’s second-leading passer, the Stars’ Case Cookus. Along with completing nearly 67% of his passes, Bethel-Thompson is also tied for second in the USFL with seven touchdown passes.

“He’s a great leader, great person, even better father,” Hills recently said of Bethel-Thompson, who prior to the CFL played for five different NFL teams that included a stint with John DeFilippo in Philadelphia in 2016. “He’s a great guy. It means a lot to be able to play with a veteran that has won championships and has been so successful at his position. … He came in and took control of the offense.”

McLeod Bethel-Thompson had himself a day yesterday 💪 pic.twitter.com/8Yqp4lggdb

— New Orleans Breakers (@USFLBreakers) April 30, 2023
Defensive Player of the Year
Winner: DE Breeland Speaks, Panthers
Runner-up: LB Chris Orr, Generals

The Chiefs’ second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Speaks has finally reached his potential as a pro player in the USFL. Speaks, who played with five NFL teams from 2018-21, currently leads the USFL with 6.5 sacks. He was tabbed as the league’s Defensive Player of the Week for a second time this past weekend after having six tackles and 2.5 sacks in Michigan’s loss to Pittsburgh.

Coach of the Year
Winner: John DeFilippo, Breakers
Runner-up: Ray Horton, Maulers

A longtime NFL assistant who won a ring as the Eagles quarterbacks coach, DeFilippo is enjoying a strong start to his career as a head coach. His offense currently boasts the league’s passer (Bethel-Thompson), rusher, (Hills) and receiver (Sage Surrett). The Breakers currently lead the USFL with an average of nearly 354 total yards per game.

In a short amount of time, DeFilippo has created a winning atmosphere in New Orleans that could result in the Breakers’ first championship.

“I love him,” Hills said of his coach. “He blessed me with this opportunity to come here and showcase what I can do. He’s a real players coach. … He’s not wound too tight. He’s a pretty laid back guy, but when it’s time to focus up and he needs to reel us back in, he does that with no problem.

“He has the team’s respect, by far. Everybody in that locker room loves him.”

13 Jan

Breakers lose 2nd straight after 4-0 start; every team within a game of first

It’s hard to believe, but the USFL has already entered the second half of its 2023 season. The second half promises to be an exciting one, as all eight teams are still in the hunt to earn one of the four playoff spots. In fact, every team in the USFL is either in first place or a game out of first through six weeks.

Week 6 started with the Memphis Showboats winning their third straight game (after an 0-3 start) by blanking the Pittsburgh Maulers, who fell to 2-4. Saturday’s second matchup saw the defending champion Birmingham Stallions post an impressive 27-13 win over the Michigan Panthers. Birmingham, after dropping two of its previous three games, improved to 4-2.

Sunday’s action started with the Philadelphia Stars evening their record to 3-3 after handing the once 4-0 New Orleans Breakers their second straight loss. Then the Houston Gamblers won their fourth straight game by defeating the New Jersey Generals, who dropped their third straight.

Below are the final scores from each game, followed by our biggest takeaway from each Week 6 contest.

Memphis Showboats 22, Pittsburgh Maulers 0
Birmingham Stallions 27, Michigan Panthers 13

Philadelphia Stars 16, New Orleans Breakers 10
Houston Gamblers 16, New Jersey Generals 10

Sunday’s games
Gamblers win by playing complementary football
Houston made two big defensive plays in the first half that led to quick scores from the offense. The first occurred when Donald Rutledge and Isaiah Pryor combined to stuff Generals running back Darius Victor on a fourth-and-2 play.

❌ BIG STOP ❌ pic.twitter.com/2byQJZCVr6

— Houston Gamblers (@USFLGamblers) May 21, 2023
Houston’s offense parlayed the stop into a 7-0 lead on Mark Thompson’s touchdown run moments later. Ahead 10-0 in the second quarter, Jeremiah Johnson’s pick of Generals quarterback Kyle Lauletta set up Nick Vogal’s 37-yard field goal on the half’s final play.

Houston’s defense came up big in the second half. They forced an incompletion on New Jersey’s 4th-and-12 attempt to keep the ball after making it a six-point game. Thompson then milked the remaining three minutes of game clock by picking up two first downs on the ground.

Stars slow Breakers offense; New Orleans now tied atop South
There wasn’t much separating the Stars and Breakers on Sunday. The biggest difference was the Stars’ defensive score on Amani Dennis’ 72-yard pick-six that gave Philadelphia a 13-0 lead less than four minutes into the second quarter.


Philadelphia Stars go up 13-0 in the 2nd quarter!! #USFL pic.twitter.com/of2stfSBPc

— Defiant Takes Football (@DefiantTakes) May 21, 2023
New Orleans — which now sits in a tie atop the South Division after its second straight loss — rallied back but was unable to complete its comeback bid after coming up empty on its last four possessions. The Breakers missed a golden opportunity to tie the score when Matt Coghlin missed a 42-yard field goal following Nevelle Clarke’s interception off Stars quarterback Case Cookus.

Sunday was a tough one for Breakers quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson. The USFL’s leading passer, Bethel-Thompson threw two interceptions against the Stars while completing less than 58% of his throws. This came on the heels of the Breakers’ first lost last week, when they managed just 10 points against the Showboats.

Saturday’s games
Defensive dominates again for Memphis
Defense has been one of the main reasons behind the Showboats’ three-game winning streak. Including Saturday’s shutout win over Pittsburgh, Memphis has held its last three opponents to a combined 20 points. Along with not allowing any points Saturday, the Showboats’ defense set up Memphis’ last score when Kyree Woods picked off Maulers quarterback James Morgan late in the third quarter. It was one of three interceptions for the Showboats defense.

Memphis also got a score from its special teams when Derrick Dillon returned a missed 59-yard field goal attempt 109 yards for a touchdown.

OMG!!! A 109-YARD TOUCHDOWN FOR @DerrickDillon4 💨

🎥: @USANetwork pic.twitter.com/O0TulvbYSW

— Memphis Showboats (@USFLShowboats) May 20, 2023
Stallions cash in on red zone opportunities
Statistically, it was a pretty even game between the Stallions and Panthers. The biggest different between the team teams was how they fared in the red zone. Birmingham scored touchdowns on three of its four trips inside Michigan’s 20-yard-line, while the Panthers were just 1 of 3 in the red zone.

Birmingham’s biggest red zone stand took place midway through the third quarter. Protecting a 20-10 lead, the Stallions forced Michigan to kick a field goal after Josh Love was unable to complete his third down pass. The Panthers then put the game away after scoring a touchdown on their ensuing drive. The back-breaking score was courtesy of Stallions quarterback Alex McGough, who threw two touchdown passes prior to his 10-yard touchdown run. McGough’s solid play was complemented by Stallions running back C.J. Marable, who ran for 100 yards on 18 carries.

13 Jan

Stallions team to beat as Breakers fall again; ex-NFL 1st-rounder shines

With only three weeks remaining in the USFL’s regular season, the playoff picture is anything but clear. We’ll attempt to sort things out below, but first, consider the roller-coaster ride we’ve seen thus far.

The New Orleans Breakers started 4-0 and were the last team to lose a game — and they’ve gone 0-3 since.
The Memphis Showboats looked like the league’s worst team after an 0-3 start — and they’ve gone 4-0 since.
The Philadelphia Stars didn’t look anything like they did while reaching last year’s championship game after a 1-3 start — and they’ve gone 3-0 since.
It all adds up to one difficult league to try and figure out, but in Week 7 there was one team that staked its claim to being the one to beat. We also saw a big day by a former NFL first-round draft pick. We’ll break down everything below, but before we dive in, a look at the scores.

Birmingham Stallions 24, New Orleans Breakers 20
Philadelphia Stars 37, Pittsburgh Maulers 31
Memphis Showboats 23, Houston Gamblers 20
Michigan Panthers 25, New Jersey Generals 22

Playoff picture
Only 12 total regular-season games remain, yet the four playoff spots are truly up for grabs. The one spot that may be in the firmest grasp belongs to the defending champion Birmingham Stallions. The Stallions, 5-2 after winning two straight, are the latest team to beat the formerly 4-0 Breakers — who suddenly sit in a three-way tie for second place (or last, depending on how you look at it) in the South Division. New Orleans is 4-3, as are the Showboats and Gamblers. The Breakers play the Showboats (Week 9) and Gamblers (Week 10) to finish the season, and those games should go a long way in determining who gets the South Division’s No. 2 seed, assuming Birmingham continues to play well.

In the North, the Stars sit in first place after their three-game win streak, but it’s difficult to say that seat is secure — given that they’ve allowed 28 more points than they’ve scored this season (143 scored, 171 allowed). The Stars are also the only North team that has to play Birmingham in one of their final three games. The good news for Philadelphia is that the North is by far the weaker of the two divisions. The Pittsburgh Maulers and New Jersey Generals aren’t eliminated — in fact, they’re only two games out of first — but at 2-5, they are tied with the USFL’s worst record. The Michigan Panthers, who beat the Generals on Sunday, are a game behind the Stars at 3-4.

Whoever wins the North will be a big underdog in the USFL title game against the South champ, but as we saw in the XFL championship game, anything can happen.

Stallions retake title of the team to beat
The Stallions are the defending champs but they hadn’t been alone atop the South Division all season — until this week. Birmingham led the whole way Saturday, as quarterback Alex McGough had two TDs (one rushing and one passing), including a 20-yard scoring pass to Jace Sternberger at the end of the third quarter that put the Stallions up 24-9.

New Orleans made a run in the fourth, as a 55-yard field goal by Matthew Coughlin cut it to 24-20 with six minutes left. But the Breakers’ Hail Mary attempt in the final ticks was intercepted.

Suddenly the Stallions are looking like champs again, and players are doing flips.

That’s our ball!!! 👏 pic.twitter.com/5n0O7mBJxx

— Birmingham Stallions (@USFLStallions) May 27, 2023
Stars rolling with Coleman in spotlight
Corey Coleman was as first-round NFL pick in 2016 (taken by the Browns at No. 15 overall) and lately he’s been flashing that talent in the USFL. On Saturday, Coleman took this one from Case Cookus 56 yards for the touchdown.

The #USFL after dark is lit, no pun intended. Case Cookus finds a wide open Corey Coleman for the 56 yard score, and just like that the @USFLStars take a 27-24 lead.

Cookus x Coleman has been a fun duo to watch this USFL season.pic.twitter.com/Ohf1m6xSa6

— James Larsen (@JamesLarsenPFN) May 28, 2023
Coleman had four catches for 75 yards. Cookus (18 of 30, 235 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) also had a big day, but it was Philly’s rushing attack that was most surprising. The Stars entered the day last in the league in rushing, but Matthew Colburn ran for 83 yards on 20 carries with 2 TDs. Colburn had only 169 rushing yards in the first six games combined.

Showboats suddenly sizzling behind defense
Not only did Memphis start the season 0-3, one of those losses was a 42-2 drubbing at the hands of the Stallions. But since that 0-3 start, something clicked for the Showboats, and on Sunday they won their fourth straight. Memphis has been winning with defense, getting two interceptions off the Houston Gamblers. Nose tackle John Atkins dominated, with two sacks and four tackles. In their previous three wins, the Showboats had 10 takeaways, the most in the league.

Showboats quarterback Cole Kelley and wide receiver Derrick Dillon teamed up for the game’s biggest play on offense with this 64-yard score.

64 YARD TOUCHDOWN FOR THE LEAD!!!! @DerrickDillon4 😤 pic.twitter.com/hBJ8Dd6wVo

— Memphis Showboats (@USFLShowboats) May 28, 2023
Things are going so well for Memphis that a player they signed on Thursday — defensive tackle Jordan Ferguson — was already making big plays, including a sack in the final minutes to stuff an attempted Houston comeback, despite not yet having a jersey with his name on the back.

13 Jan

Showboats, Stars making playoff push as every team remains in division hunt

The USFL’s sophomore season has been one to remember through seven weeks. Every team remains in contention for the league title, thanks to some wild division races that are coming down to the final weeks of the regular season.

In the North Division, all four teams are separated by two games. The South Division has all four teams separated by a game, with three teams tied for second place. Five of the eight teams are over .500 with three weeks left.

The final stretch of the USFL season will separate the contenders from the pretenders, especially since four teams will be competing for the league championship in a month. The Birmingham Stallions are the defending champions and have the best record, so the slightest slip up could keep them out of the playoffs.

Heading into Week 8 of the season, the USFL power rankings are wilder than ever.

  1. Memphis Showboats (4-3)
    The last team to win a game in the league this season is just one game behind Birmingham for the South Division title. Memphis has won an impressive four games in a row since its 0-3 start, including an impressive 23-20 victory over Houston to get in the thick of the playoff hunt.

Cole Kelly’s 64-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Green with 1:44 left is a contender for play of the year thus far — and the pass that could get Memphis into the postseason in their first year back in the USFL. There’s still some work to do for Memphis, as it faces New Orleans and Birmingham in the final two weeks (the Showboats do have the edge in the three-way tiebreaker thanks to a 2-1 record against Houston and New Orleans).

  1. Philadelphia Stars (4-3)
    Wouldn’t be the second half of the USFL season without the Stars making a run at a playoff berth. Philadelphia rallied in the second half for a 37-31 victory over Pittsburgh, with Case Cookus finding Corey Coleman for a 56-yard touchdown in the third quarter to put the Stars up for good.

The Stars have taken the North Division lead and have won three straight. A Week 8 showdown with Birmingham — and a rematch of last season’s USFL Championship Game — could determine the Stars’ division-title chances. The Stars actually clinch the division with a win over the Stallions and losses by the Maulers and Generals.

  1. Birmingham Stallions (5-2)
    The Stallions have the best record in the USFL, yet are one loss away from the outside looking in regarding the playoff race. So is life in the South Division.

Birmingham avenged an earlier loss to New Orleans with a 24-20 victory to take over the South Division lead, holding on to the advantage in the final quarter. The Stallions have the league’s best record and the league’s best quarterback and Alex McGough, but have a showdown with Philadelphia in Week 8.

A rematch of the USFL Championship Game could turn out to be the game of the season. The Stallions’ schedule doesn’t get any easier, facing over .500 teams the last of the way.

  1. Michigan Panthers (3-4)
    Michigan continued its surprising season by beating New Jersey in Week 7, as Josh Love found Joe Walker for a 68-yard touchdown to give the Panthers the lead with 4:41 left in a 25-22 victory. The win put Michigan in second place in the North Division, a game ahead of New Jersey and Pittsburgh with three to play.

The Panthers split with the Generals and have the opportunity to split with the Maulers in Week 9. A tough matchup with New Orleans awaits this week.

  1. Houston Gamblers (4-3)
    A 23-20 loss to Memphis didn’t help Houston’s playoff chances, as the Gamblers are third in the three-way tiebreaker for second place in the South Division (despite having the highest point differential over Memphis and New Orleans). Memphis actually gets the second playoff spot due to having a 2-1 record against New Orleans and Houston.

Houston faces Pittsburgh this week in a trap game with Birmingham and New Orleans closing out the year. The Gamblers allow 23.1 points per game, second highest in the league.

There’s still work to do in Houston.

  1. New Orleans Breakers (4-3)
    The USFL’s last unbeaten team can’t buy a win, as New Orleans has lost three straight following a Week 7 loss to Michigan. New Orleans has the league’s leading passer in McLeod Bethel-Thompson, the league’s leading rusher in Wes Hills, and the league’s leading receiver in Sage Surratt.

The Breakers have the league’s best passing offense and the top offense in yards per game. New Orleans is also third in scoring defense and yards allowed. This team should be better than its record indicates, but averaging 13.3 points over the last three games isn’t going to win many contests.

  1. Pittsburgh Maulers (2-5)
    The Maulers are falling out of the playoff picture after a tough 37-31 loss to the Stars. On the bright side, Pittsburgh scored 31 points after getting shut out the week prior.

Pittsburgh is two games behind Philadelphia for the North Division lead, but still remain one game behind Michigan for the final playoff spot. The Maulers have to beat the Gamblers this week to have a shot in Week 9, as they’ll play the Panthers.

  1. New Jersey Generals (2-5)
    A four-game losing streak has the Generals begging for a win at this point, as a repeat of the North Division title appears to be out of reach. New Jersey is still one game out of a playoff spot, but has to beat Memphis and Philadelphia to set themselves up to make the playoffs (finish the year against Pittsburgh in Week 10).

DeAndre Johnson’s head injury is a major blow to the league’s top-ranked rushing offense. Johnson doesn’t appear to be playing this week, so Kyle Lauletta will lead an offense averaging just 17.5 points during the four-game losing streak.

13 Jan

How things stack up through Week 8, as every team still has a shot at making postseason

With just two weeks left in the USFL’s regular season, every team is still in playoff contention. And one thing is clear — at least one deserving team from the South Division is going to miss the postseason.

In Week 8, when the four South teams were matched up with North opponents, all four from the South prevailed, setting up an odd situation where the worst team in the South has a better record than the best in the North. With the top two teams in each division making the playoffs, here’s how the standings look with just eight games still to be played in the regular season.

The Memphis Showboats are the league’s hottest team, winning their fifth straight after an 0-3 start, yet they could very well be left out of the postseason. The New Jersey Generals and Pittsburgh Maulers are tied for the worst record in the league, yet there’s still a path for each to make the playoffs. We’ll break down the playoff picture and the biggest takeaway from each game below; first, a look at the Week 8 scores.

Houston Gamblers 20, Pittsburgh Maulers 19
Birmingham Stallions 27, Philadelphia Stars 24
Memphis Showboats 25, New Jersey Generals 16
New Orleans Breakers 24, Michigan Panthers 20

Playoff picture
Let’s start with the North Division. The good news for the Philadelphia Stars, who reached the USFL title game last year, is that they’re in first place. The bad news? They’re only .500 after losing to the Birmingham Stallions, and have allowed 31 more points this season than they’ve scored. In fact, every team in the East owns a minus point differential. The Michigan Panthers are currently in the playoff picture, sitting in second place in the North despite a 3-5 record.

The Stars finish the season with games against the Generals and Panthers, so Philly controls its own fate. In fact, every team in the USFL faces only divisional opponents in what should be a wild final two weeks of the regular season. Everything is still up for grabs.

In the South Division, where all four teams are 5-3 or better, the defending champion Birmingham Stallions boast the league’s best record at 6-2, but a stumble in the final two weeks against a pair of strong divisional opponents (Gamblers, Showboats) could still leave them home for the playoffs. Those Gamblers and Showboats, along with the Breakers — who finally got back in the win column after a three-game slide — are knotted at 5-3, with games remaining only within the division.

Our best guess for the playoffs? Stars and Panthers in the North, Stallions and Showboats in the South. But as we saw in the XFL title game, a better regular season record won’t necessarily translate to playoff success.

Showboats win fifth straight after 0-3 start
Memphis has been on fire of late — they’re even our new No. 1 team — and that continued on Sunday. The Showboats haven’t lost since starting 0-3, and their defense has been the biggest reason for the turnaround.

Memphis leads the league in takeaways the last five weeks, and in Week 8 the Showboats got two quick ones — forcing a fumble on a kick return, followed by this Greg Reaves interception off Generals quarterback Kyle Lauletta.

Look at @G_Reaves41 with the INT at the line! 👏 pic.twitter.com/DsU2phiXUl

— USFL (@USFL) June 4, 2023
Kerrith Whyte led the way on offense for the Showboats, rushing for 102 yards on 24 carried with a touchdown.

Breakers finally stop skid with win over Panthers
New Orleans looked like the class of the league when it was the only team to start 4-0, but it immediately followed that with a three-game losing streak. The Breakers finally got a win on Sunday, as they held on after running out to a 21-0 lead on Michigan. The Panthers scored 10 points in the final minute of the first half, however, and cut the lead to 21-17 in the third. In the end, Michigan was down four in the final ticks, but a Hail Mary attempt was picked off.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson led the way for the Breakers, throwing for 328 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs.

👀 McLeod Bethel-Thompson finds Johnnie Dixon for a 36-yard score! pic.twitter.com/SkmtpopnFL

— New Orleans Breakers (@USFLBreakers) June 4, 2023
Stallions come back to beat Stars in 2022 title game rematch
Birmingham and Philadelphia clashed in the first USFL championship game last year, and their first meeting since that game was a thriller. It was tied with less than five minutes remaining when a Birmingham field goal put it up three with 4:35 left. Stars quarterback Case Cookus responded with his third TD of the game to put Philly back on top with 3:10 left.

The Stallions got the last laugh, as Alex McGough found La’Michael Pettway on a 7-yard TD with just 25 seconds remaining in the game.

What a game this has been. Alex McGough finds La’Michael Pettway for the go-ahead score with under 30 seconds to go, and the @USFLStallions are back in front.

It’s been an entertaining day for #USFL football. You love to see it.pic.twitter.com/UjtJTfKrIF

— James Larsen (@JamesLarsenPFN) June 3, 2023
McGough threw 3 TDs without tossing a pick, finishing with 333 yards passing. McGough and Cookus had a combined 6 TDs and 598 yards.

Gamblers never lead until final 5 minutes; Thompson saves day
The Maulers led the entire game Saturday until just under five minutes remained in the fourth quarter. That’s when the Gamblers’ Mark Thompson — who leads the USFL in rushing touchdowns — got loose for this 33-yard score, which turned out to be the game-winner.

LUCKY NUMBER 1️⃣3️⃣ @InMarkWeTrust’s 33-yard TD gives us the lead! 🙌

🎥: @USANetwork pic.twitter.com/3tfAXRKymn

— Houston Gamblers (@USFLGamblers) June 3, 2023
It was Thompson’s second TD run of the game, his fifth multiple-TD game in eight weeks, which tops the league. He finished with 98 yards on 14 carries.

The Maulers had led 13-6 at the half. A 53-yard field goal by Chris Blewitt put Pittsburgh up 19-13 with nine minutes left in the game before Thompson’s heroics. The Maulers had a chance to retake the lead with 1:50 remaining, but Blewitt missed from 41 yards out.