Canton, OH- Capping off the final Sunday in the USFL season, the New Jersey Generals saved one of their best overall performances as a team for when their playoff chances were on the line.
Playing in front of a crowd of less than 1,000 people and rainy conditions that worsened throughout the game did not stop the likes of running back Darius Victor as well as the duo of linebackers Chris Orr and D'Juan Hines from dominating on their perspective sides of the field and putting up the most points scored by the Generals in two years.
"We're very excited about this win and excited to still be alive in the playoff race. I'm proud of all the players. After a lot of disappointing losses, it's hard to rally a team especially against a team full of confidence in Philadelphia. I thought our guys took it to them right from the start and an incredible effort by Hercules to close the game," Generals Head Coach Mike Riley said postgame.
WR Cam Echols-Luper wasted no time putting points on the scoreboard for the Generals with an explosive 85-yard kickoff return.
The Philadelphia Stars led by former Northern Arizona quarterback Case Cookus responded with a lengthy seven minute drive that resulted in a 6 yard touchdown to former NFL first round pick Corey Coleman. Coleman, the USFL leading receiver finished the game with nine receptions for 98 yards to go along with his touchdown.
Generals QB De'Andre Johnson, who missed last week's game after a brutal hit the head two weeks ago versus the Michigan Panthers, showed his versatility both as a passer and runner, but also his receiving ability as well.
Midway through the second quarter, Johnson put together a dominate drive where he found wide receiver Darnell Stewart Jr. deep middle of the field for a contested 43 yard catch. He followed that a few plays later with a pitch to Victor who found a wide open Braedon Bowman for a one yard touchdown while being tackled.
"Last two weeks were scary for me," Johnson said.
"To be able to step on the field was truly a blessing. My teammates and coaching staff stuck behind me through this rocky season. We never lost faith. We got a band of brothers who bonded together. This a great team to be on and we just getting started".
The following drive, the Stars were putting together another sustainable drive which started in great field position before outside linebacker Bryson Young stripped running back Darnell Holland for first of two turnovers on the day.
In the second half, the Generals who average almost 140 rushing yards per game gave Victor and backup running Trey Williams plenty of opportunities to get going. In the first half, the Generals rushed for 43 yards on 11 attempts. In the second half, the teams rushed for 103 yards on 17 attempts.
Victor scored a 5 yard rushing touchdown and a 7 yard rushing touchdown on back-to-back drives before Williams burst free up the left sideline for his own 22 yard score. Victor finished with 11 carries for 51 yards to go along with his 3 total touchdowns.
"I always wanted to be like Boobie Miles (from Friday Night Lights). In my head I heard the famous quote "Ahhh he can pass" but other than that I appreciate the opportunities and trust from coaches with the play-calling and my teammates. This isn't possible without them," said Victor postgame.
One could argue in this era of sports that his performance was "himmothy" performance and worthy of his first Offensive Player of the Week award on the season.
The Stars fought back the entire fourth quarter. Down by three scores, the offense struck on a two big pass plays, a 38 yard yard pass to running back Dexter Williams and a 26 yard pass from Cookus to receiver Terry Wright cutting the deficit to 14 points. Wright was one for four receivers to at least collect 30 receiving yard on the day.
"Across the board Corey has the big man because of his past, but we have a lot of good receivers. The style of offense we have allows different concepts to get multiple guys open. We were able to get a few pass interference's penalties because our guys are hard to cover. It's hard to key in on one guy. Devin Gray made big plays as well as Terry," Cookus said postgame.
WIth less than five minutes left in the game, the Generals late poor tackling and racking up on penalties caught up with them. A pass interference call and a horse collar set Cookus in the offense up inside the New Jersey 15 yard line before Cookus connected with Diondre Overton on a six-yard touchdown catch that had fans on the edge of their seats.
The Stars defense forced a Generals three and out on the next drive and settled for a Luis Aguilar 42 yard field goal. With no timeouts left, Philadelphia opted to go for it on 4th & 12, which is a new rule that the USFL incorporated this year to replace the onside kick. A pass interference call on Generals safety Shalom Lunai gave Cookus and his offense one last chance. A few plays later defensive end Hercules Mata'Afa put the game away with strip sack and recovery saving New Jersey season.
With the Generals win over the Stars, this sets up an epic regular season finale where the Generals and Maulers will battle for a possible playoff spot as well as the Michigan Panthers and Stars playing for a potential spot.