After being down by 11 points going into the fourth quarter, the Philadelphia Stars come from behind to beat the Houston Gamblers 35-24.
Things got off to a fast start for the Houston Gamblers as their defense only needed three plays into the game before creating a turnover. Thanks to the pressure created by Dominique Davis, Donald Payne picked off Case Cookus and returned it 39 yards for the touchdown to give Houston an early 7-0 lead.
Houston’s defense forced a three and out on the next Stars offensive drive. The Gamblers’ offense would take their first offenisve possession and drive 45 yards on 12 plays before settling for a Nick Vogel 29-yard field goal to increase their lead to ten.
Cookus got the Stars offense rolling on the next drive setting themselves up with a 35-yard field goal by Luis Aguilar to make the score 10-3 Houston leading.
The Gamblers’ next possession with not go as well as all three offensive plays went for -13 yards forcing a punt from their own end zone. Andrew Galitz would find his punt blocked by tight end Bug Howard as Philadelphia would start their offensive possession in the red zone.
The offense for the Stars would go three and out and have their kicker Aguilar kick another field goal to pull the Stars within four points.
Houston would punt on their next possession giving the ball back to the Stars as momentum shifting to Philadelphia’s direction. After a big 36 yard run by Darnell Holland, Matt Colburn would finish the drive with a four yard touchdown run to give the Stars their first lead of the game at 13-10.
Defense would be the star of the end of the first half as Philadelphia kicked things off with James Crawford getting a sack, forced fumble, and fumble recovery on Clayton Thorson. This would be a key play as this would be the play that led to Thorson’s elbow injury. He would only play one more play before being replaced by Kenji Bahar for the rest of the game.
Two plays later, Reggie Northrup would pressure and hit Cookus and force a second interception by Donald Payne to put the Gamblers in good position for points.
Thorson would throw one more pass to tight end Julian Allen for a 24 yard completion to the Stars six before being replaced by Bahar. The move would pay off as Bahar hit the other tight end Brandon Barnes in the back of the end zone for a touchdown to give Houston a 17-13 lead going into halftime.
Both teams traded three and out punts to start the second half. The second Houston drive of the half would be impressive as Bahar was able to drive a defensive offsides while hitting Teo Redding deep down the field for a big 45 yard completion into Stars territory.
The impressive 70 yard drive would end with Mark Thompson getting his second rushing touchdown of the game with a nine yard run to give Houston a 24-13 lead.
Philadelphia’s offense got into Houston territory quickly, but after five plays, they went for it on fourth and short that resulted in Chris Odom holding Holland to no gain and giving the ball back to Houston.
Houston’s offense didn’t move the ball much as they were forced to punt after just three plays. This would begin the Stars’ dominate fourth quarter performance. The second play of the fourth quarter saw Cookus roll out of the pocket and throw a perfect deep ball to Jordan Suell for a 39 yard touchdown pass to find Philadelphia down by four.
Houston’s next drive got off to a good start as Bahar connected with Allen on a 32 yard pass to the Stars’ 45 yard line. The drive ended with Vogel attempting a 49 yard field goal that was no good and putting Philadelphia in good field position. It took Philadelphia ten plays before Holland running it in the end zone for a touchdown to complete the comeback and giving the Stars a 27-24 lead.
A domino effect would begin for Houston as their next offensive drive saw Bahar throw an interception to Channing Stribling.
Philadelphia would take advnage and convert on an Aguilar field goal to increase their lead to 30-24.
Houston’s final drive heroics fell flat on the first play of the drive as Bahar fumbled the ball and was recovered by Philadelphia giving them the ball right back.
Philadelphia went three and out and converted yet another field goal to increase their lead to 33-24 and once again giving Houston hope they would win the game. Bahar was sacked twice by Adam Rodriguez resulting in a safety on the final play of the game to give the Stars the win 35-24.
While Cookus turned the ball over, he was able to be effecient with his passes and was able to use his legs a few times to complete passes and galloped for 29 yards on one run. The rushing attack for Philadelphia once again shined brightest on offense with Colburn and Holland leading the charged as the team combined for 152 yards. It took the offense some time to get it rolling, but get into a rhythm and scored 22 points in the fourth quarter to back Houston into a corner.
Philadelphia’s defense was able to make multiple key plays in the fourth quarter to ensure that Bahar and company never got the momentum back. They were able to shut down the running game as Thompson never really got going. While the secondary allowed a high percentage of completions, they did enough to hold Houston from big play touchdowns.
Love has to be given to the performance to the special teams of Philadelphia. They were able to get good returns to put the offense in good positions to begin drives. Howard’s punt block in the first half helped Philadelphia’s offense get easy points. Aguilar’s performance was one of the highlights of the game with four field goals and converting all three extra points.
The Stars increased their record to 4-3 and keep themselves in position to make a trip to Canton for the playoffs in a few weeks. They will once again face another one win team when they take on the 1-6 Michigan Panthers on Sunday.
The Gamblers have had a halftime lead in every game this season. It’s once again another game where they blew a fourth quarter lead to lose a game. This time, the game got out of control in the fourth quarter to the point where they essentially beat themselves.
Thorson’s injury was the big story of the game for Houston, but fans got to see a somewhat impressive outing from Bahar. During the game, Bahar only threw three incompletions, but also saw him throw an interception and fumble on back to back plays. He hasn’t been able to play much this season, but could be a sign that head coach Kevin Sumlin may want to consider Bahar to start next week.
Thompson struggled to develop any traction on the ground as Houston was held to just 70 totals yards on the ground. The receivers weren’t really explosive as we have seen outside of Teo Redding’s big catch. It was the tight ends Allen and Barnes making the biggest contributions of the game in the passing game. In a rare underwelming performance, Houston’s offensive line allowed six sacks in the game including the last two plays of the game.
Defense was once again able to apply pressure on the quarterback and created multiple turnovers by Payne. While Houston had no sacks, they were able to make Cookus uncomfortable at times during the game. Once again, the biggest struggle for this defensive unit is the fourth quarter and holding a lead. Granted, turnovers on offense didn’t help the defense be in good positions, but allowing 22 points in one quarter says a lot about the group.
Now sitting at 1-6, Houston is as good as done when it comes down to the playoffs. This could result in some younger players getting more playing time as Sumlin thinks about the future of the franchise. The Gamblers prepare for their Sunday showdown with the Tampa Bay Bandits.
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