USFL Week 7: Recap & Review
Maulers reciever and returner Isaiah Hennie makes himself elusive. (Jason Miller/USFL/Getty Images)
USFL Week 7: Recap, Review, and Rankings
Written by Seth Brown, Edited by Zach Kangieser
May 29th, 2023
Alex McGough lets one fly late against the Breakers.
(Stew Milne/USFL/Getty Images)
Breakers Continue to Fall as the Stallions Enter First in the South, 24-20
The USFL South has set itself up for a slugfest over the next few weeks. Entering Week 7, all four teams within the division were within one game of each other, meaning every game matters a ton in the race for a playoff spot. Week 7 opened with two 4-2 South teams, the Stallions and Breakers, battling for first in the division.
The first three quarters of action were all Birmingham. An Alex McGough QB sneak was the lone TD of the first half, and the Stallions led 10-6 as both offenses could move the ball decently but struggled to find the endzone. Then the Stallions found it twice in the third, once off a Ricky Person rush and once off a McGough TD pass to Jace Sternberger. Down 24-9 with a quarter left, the Breakers did their best to answer, leading an 80-yard TD drive, hitting on the two point conversion, and later kicking a field goal to cut the lead to four. But on their last gasp chance, QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson's deep ball was picked off by Birmingham's JoJo Tillery, and the Stallions sealed the deal.
After a 4-0 start, the Breakers have lost three straight and are now in a three-way Wildcard race with the Memphis Showboats and Houston Gamblers. Next week, New Orleans looks to end their losing streak at home against the Michigan Panthers, while the Birmingham Stallions look to chase their second straight South Division Title in a home rematch of last years title game vs the Philadelphia Stars.
Stars RB Matt Colburn scores his second TD of the day.
(Jason Miller/USFL/Getty Images)
Stars Shoot Past Maulers in High Scoring Thriller, 37-31
Saturday afternoon kicked off a similar slugfest in the USFL North, between 3-3 Philadelphia and 2-4 Pittsburgh. While every team in the North was also a game away from the division lead, three of the four teams were 2-4, with the 3-3 Stars looking to nab a winning record and pull away from the pack.
Both teams exploded out of the gate in the first half, combining for forty-four points in the first thirty minutes. Matt Colburn punched in the opening score for Philly before Pittsburgh's Bailey Gaither responded with a rush TD of his own. After a Stars field goal, Maulers returner Josh Simmons took the ensuing kickoff eighty-eight yards to the house. Then both QBs traded passing scores, with Pitt's Troy Williams finding Isaiah Hennie for a TD before Philly's Case Cookus matched it with a strike to Samuel Akem. More field goals from both teams made it 24-20 Maulers at the half.
With the passing, rushing, and kicking games all trading blows, it was only a matter of time before one squad had to pull ahead. After a brutal third quarter, that turned out to be the Stars. Cookus found Corey Coleman for a fifty-six yard deep bomb to take the lead, and then pulled ahead on an eighty-six yard drive capped off with a second Matt Colburn score to make it 34-24. The Maulers did bring it back a bit, capitalizing on a great return from Isaiah Hennie for an easy rushing score, but Cookus and the Stars chewed as much clock as they could and capped it off with another Luis Aguilar field goal to wrap things up.
After a disappointing 1-3 start, the Stars have rattled off three straight wins and stand alone on top of the North. They look to continue chasing history with their fifth straight title game appearance, as no USFL title game has lacked the Stars. The rolling Birmingham Stallions are next on their schedule. As for Pittsburgh, despite becoming the first team of the 2023 season to clinch a record of .500 or worse, the Maulers are still in the thick of the North division race and can continue to improve upon their 1-9 2022 season against the Houston Gamblers in Canton.
Memphis' Vinny Papale scores the lone TD of the first half. (Justin Ford/USFL/Getty Images)
Showboats Snag Fourth Straight Win as they Sail Past Gamblers, 23-20
It was a momentous rematch in Memphis to open Sunday. Entering the contest, neither team had lost since their last game against each other in Week 3 (Houston won that one, 30-26). Both teams were riding win streaks of at least three games, and a win for either would put them in playoff position. A loss for either would be a brutal setback.
Despite being the away team on paper due to the league's hub system, Memphis benefitted from an estimated fifteen thousand Showboats fans in the stands. They dominated first-half possession, preventing Houston's offense from going anywhere as they stacked the box to limit star RB Mark Thompson and pressure QB Kenji Bahar. Still, they only found the end zone once themselves, when Cole Kelley connected with Vinny Papale for a passing score. Both teams managed two field goals outside of that, and it was 13-6 Memphis at half.
Another Showboats field goal made it 16-6 entering the fourth, where the Gamblers offense finally came to life. An 80-yard drive was capped off when Thompson punched in his tenth rushing TD of the year, setting a new USFL record. Then he capitalized on a Memphis fumble to do it again, this time getting a head of steam from twenty yards out to put the Gamblers up 20-16. Unfortunately for the Gamblers, Cole Kelley turned around and found Derrick Dillion for a sixty-four yard score to make their lead short lived, and Bahar was picked off on Houston's final drive to give Memphis the win.
The Showboats have now orchestrated a major turnaround, going from 0-3 and potential doom to 4-3 and playoff positioning in just a month. They look to continue riding their momentum as they travel to Canton to take on the New Jersey Generals. The Gamblers' own four-win run has come to an end after the multiple-score comeback came up just short, leaving Houston in the thick of a wildcard race in the South. Houston looks to get back into the win column as they go on the road to face the Pittsburgh Maulers.
Michigan's Joe Walker breaks away for a long score.
(Jason Miller/USFL/Getty Images)
Panthers In Playoff Contention, Beating the Generals 25-22
Week 7's final game saw two 2-4 North teams playing for second in the division. The Panthers had suffered four straight losses, going from first to worst in the league, while the Generals had dropped three straight by a combined twelve points. Someone was going to get their break this week, while the loser's season would be at death's door.
It was yet another slow start for both teams, as they combined just three field goals and a lot of punts in the first half. The Panthers moved the ball slightly better but came up just short on two potential touchdown drives, resulting in a pair of chip-shot field goals and a 6-3 lead at half. Then both teams led scoring drives that took up the majority of the third, with Panthers QB Josh Love finding Trey Quinn for a twenty-two yard score before New Jersey's De'Andre Johnson threw a bomb of his own, hitting Alonzo Moore from thirty-four yards out. Panthers kicker Cole Murphy missed his point after, meaning it was only 12-10 Panthers entering the fourth.
Both teams then fired up in the fourth, trading blows yet again. Love put the Panthers up nine when he found Cole Hikutini for a TD, but Alonzo Moore snagged a second TD pass in response. The Generals then tried for a rare three-point conversion after, but failed. Love then scored his third passing TD of the half when he connected with Joe Walker for sixty-eight yards, but Murphy missed another XP, keeping it a one score game. Under pressure, Generals QB Kyle Lauletta took over for De'Andre Johnson and led a clutch downfield drive, finding Darius Victor on a screen for another score. But with little time left, the three-point conversion failed again, the emergency fourth down (much like the XFL's) failed as well, and the Panthers ran out leftover clock to pick up the W.
There was no better time for Michigan to get another victory, as it moved them to 3-4 and second in the North. They'll look to upset the Breakers next week to even their record. New Jersey, in comparison, dropped another close game to fall to 2-5. A loss next week against the Showboats could potentially spell the end of their 2023 campaign.
This Week's Power Rankings
There was a lot of movement in The Booth's USFL Power Rankings this week, and much of it has to do with momentum. The Stallions sit at first with the best record in the league, seemingly the most consistent team, while the Showboats now have the most momentum of any squad and are gunning for first. Houston suffered a tough loss and is currently struggling to put together a full sixty minutes offensively, but the entire team is doing enough to ensure they're never out of any contest. The Stars round out the top half due to their impressive offensive play, but their defense is still very questionable.
The Breakers drop all the way to fifth after being 4-0 just three weeks ago. The team seems to be stagnating, with their best players having a rough stretch. The Panthers performed well enough to move up to sixth but still need consistency, while the Generals sit at seventh because they are simply unable to perform well in close game scenarios, which they encounter week after week. Finally, the Maulers sit at eighth due to their extremely inconsistent play and heavy reliance on their return unit to generate offense for them.