After leading 26-17 after three quarters, the Houston Gamblers found themselves on the wrong side of things as the Tampa Bay Bandits won 27-26.
Tampa Bay started off fast with Jordan Ta’amu throwing a short pass to Derrick Dillion that resulted in a 64-yard touchdown to put the Bandits on top 7-0 early.
Clayton Thorson got Houston off and running on the first drive completing three of four passes that led to a Nick Vogel field goal to see the Gamblers down by four. After forcing Tampa Bay to punt, Thorson throws a beautiful deep ball to Anthony Ratliff-Williams for a touchdown. What made the play the craziest play of the season was Ratliff-Williams fumbled in the middle of the play but was able to recover his own fumble and still score. A missed extra point gave Houston a 9-7 lead after the first quarter.
Tampa Bay was forced to kick a field a 55-yard field goal to begin the second quarter as Tyler Rausa missed it giving the ball back to Houston. Houston running back Mark Thompson needed just one play to miss four tackles and go 55 yards for a touchdown to put the Gamblers up 17-7.
Ta’amu would run a smooth, methodical nine-play drive that resulted in Juwan Washington rushing for a 13-yard touchdown as the Bandits found themselves down 17-14.
After Houston went four and out on the next possession, the Bandits took advantage of the short field and was able to get inside the five yard line. Receiver Rashard Davis would catch a Ta’amu pass and when he started to stretch for the end zone, he fumbled at the one yard line and the ball hit the pylon resulting in a touchback and Houston getting the ball.
Houston would only need six plays to drive 80 yards before Thorson connected with Isaiah Zuber on a 16-yard touchdown to increase their lead to 23-14. They would take that lead into the locker room at halftime.
Both teams traded field goals to make it 26-17 Houston lead going into the fourth quarter. The turning point of the game came early in the fourth quarter when the Bandits were able to get a blocked punt on Houston to give them the ball inside the five-yard line.
Ta’amu would use his legs and take advantage of the short field to get into the end zone for the touchdown as Tampa Bay found themselves down 26-24.
Houston’s offense struggled to move the ball the rest of the quarter, but the defense was able to give the offense a chance with an interception by recently signed Alijah Holder with about six minutes left in the game.
Tampa Bay got the ball back and were able to close the game out with a game-winning field goal by Tyler Rausa from 46 yards out to give the Bandits a 27-26 win.
Tampa Bay Bandits
Head coach Todd Haley spoke to the team beforehand about making sacrifices as he was missing his daughter’s graduation to coach the team. It appeared to have helped motivate the team as they played hard from start to finish. It wasn’t the prettiest performance overall, but one that felt like the most complete performance from the team all season.
Ta’amu wasn’t perfect as he did throw a big late fourth quarter interception that could have costed them the game. Overall though, he fought all game and was able to put together his best game of the season. He used his legs for runs and passes to make some nice plays. The running game between Washington and BJ Emmons was able to help support him in getting short yards. Dillion had a field day on a banged up Houston secondary as he recorded six catches for 124 yards and a touchdown.
Tampa Bay’s defense struggled mightily against Houston’s running game allowing Thompson to run for 147 yards. Their secondary struggled the first half of containing the passing game as Thorson was able to find plenty of open receivers. The Bandits’ defense deserves a ton of credit holding Houston to three second half points and never giving Thorson a chance to pick things up. Tampa Bay’s blocked punt changed the game in their favor and gained all the momentum after that.
This is a type of game that can change the course of the season for Tampa Bay. The expectations were the Bandits were going to have one of the best offenses in the league with Ta’amu at quarterback. After their performance today, Haley’s group might be able to build this momemtum going into week four against a tough Brimingham Stallions team with the home crowd behind them.
It’s another game where the second half of a game was a major letdown by the Gamblers with not much happening. They were firing on all cylinders with Mark Thompson racking up about 100 yards rushing and Thorson was near perfect on his passes in the first half. The Bandits’ defense was able to rattle Thorson and shutdown Thompson as the Houston offense did nothing in the second half.
Thorson had his best game of the season as he was stellar in the first half hitting on over 80 percent of his passes. He didn’t do much in the second half as their offense was not able to move the ball at all. Thompson had the best performance by any USFL running back being the first to run for over 100 yards in a game with 147 and his 55-yard touchdown. Anthony Ratliff-Williams and Isaiah Zuber have proven to be the top receivers on the team with their big play potential with each catching touchdowns.
Houston’s defense overall played a decent game and did get the turnover they needed late in the game to give their offense a chance. The secondary was the biggest weakness to the defense due to the injuries of Jamar Summers (who was inactive for the game) and Ryan White (got injured in the game). It caused Alijah Holder who just joined the roster on Thursday to play, but did make the interception in the fourth quarter. Chris Odom had a strong game with 2.5 sacks as well as linebackers Donald Payne and Reggie Northrup making big plays. At the end, their defense didn’t do enough to stop the Bandits from scoring and it was part of what cost them the game.
Kevin Sumlin has his work cut out for him as he finds his team last in the south division facing a must win situation next week. The focus in practice has to be on their secondary and coming up with ways to win close game. They shift their focus to their week four showdown with the red hot New Orleans Breakers where another loss could see him in danger of not being able to catch up in the playoff hunt.