Vad Lee’s game-winning touchdown pass as time expired helped the Pittsburgh Maulers get win number one on the season against the Houston Gamblers 21-20.
Pittsburgh quarterback Kyle Lauletta got the start for the Maulers and led the team down to the Gamblers’ 20-yard line. Ramiz Ahmed missed a 38-yard field goal giving the ball back to Houston. It only took four plays, but Clayton Thorson and Mark Thompson looked sharp on their first possession which ended with a spectacular 24-yard touchdown catch by Isaiah Zuber to put Houston up 7-0.
After the Maulers went three and out, Houston got back to work with a ten-play drive that ended with a 45-yard field goal by Nick Vogel to increase the Gamblers’ lead to 10-0.
Maulers backup quarterback Vad Lee entered the game for the first time in the second quarter after being on the team for less than a week to take over. Lee went two for two on the drive leading to an Ahmed 51-yard field goal to cut into the deficit and make it a one-possession game.
Houston would counter with a three and out giving the ball back to Pittsburgh. Lee once again led another long drive that ended with 13 plays being run. While they didn’t end with a touchdown, Ahmed converted an easy 22-yard field goal to make the score 10-6 to Houston’s advantage.
Houston would go on to miss a 47-yard field goal, as well as Pittsburgh, came up empty-handed as the score was Houston leading 10-6. The Gamblers got off to a fast start though in the third quarter with Thorson ending the 12-play drive with a one-yard touchdown run to increase the Houston lead to 17-6.
Pittsburgh would drive right down the field afterward with receiver Tre Walker leading the way with two catches for 34 yards on the drive. The Maulers would not go empty-handed nailing a 24-yard field goal to only be down by eight points. Heading into the fourth quarter.
The second play of the fourth quarter would be disastrous for Houston. After a clean game with no turnovers, Thorson would have his pass deflected and intercepted by Keith Gipson Jr. which would give the ball back to the Maulers.
Nothing would come of it as both Pittsburgh and Houston traded three and outs on the next six plays. Lee would be the next quarterback to fall victim to the turnover bug as he threw an interception to the USFL interception leader Will Likely.
Once again, both teams would go three and out on their next possessions leading to yet another turnover in the fourth quarter. It would once again be Thorson losing a fumble on a sack by Olive Sagapolu and recovered by Carlo Kemp to put the Maulers inside the Houston 30-yard line.
Two plays later, Bailey Gaither would go up and snatch a 30-yard touchdown catch in double coverage to have Pittsburgh only down 17-15 after the missed two-point conversion.
The Houston offense would respond with Teo Redding making his presence felt with a great one-handed catch for a gain of 36 yards. Vogel would finish the drive with a field goal to give Houston a 20-15 lead heading into the final drive of the game.
The Maulers would not give up the ball back again for the rest of the game as they conduct a 15-play drive. Lee completed eight passes of 11 that ended with a nine-yard slant play to Gaither for his second touchdown of the game and the game-winner. Pittsburgh would win the game 21-20 with no time remaining on the clock to secure their first win of the season.
Pittsburgh improved to 1-4 after starting the season with four straight losses. The Maulers will shift their focus to the 3-2 New Orleans Breakers Sunday as they look to start a winning streak in a North Division that is still wide open for the second playoff spot.
For Houston, it becomes their fourth straight loss and their third straight loss surrendering a game-winning score with under 20 seconds left in the game. The Gamblers’ record drops to 1-4 as they face a tough challenge in a North Division matchup against the 4-1 New Jersey Generals.
For a team that has struggled all season to develop the passing game and find their identity on offense, they seemed to have figured it out. It wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but once Vad Lee was put into the game at quarterback, it all changed. The defense has been solid all season and made a couple of big plays in the fourth quarter to support the offense, but Lee stole the show.
Lee showed great mobility and was able to have good control of the offense despite not being with the team for a week. The passion he showed inspired the rest of the team to step up their game and find a way to win. His emotions after the game showcase why spring football is so important to players who just want a chance.
The Pittsburgh defense shouldn’t be overshadowed in the game though as they had one of their strongest performances of the season. Thorson was not able to throw many accurate balls as receivers were covered up pretty well. The two turnovers in the fourth quarter made the difference in putting the offense in the best position to get some points on the board.
Nothing about their performance was perfect, but it’s a confidence booster Kirby Wilson has been looking for all season. More than likely, fans will see Lee as the starting quarterback leading the Maulers the rest of the way. While New Orleans will be a challenge for them being one of the top passing teams in the league, no longer can teams in the USFL sleep on the Maulers. They are ready to make a run of their own.
There might not be a more disappointing team in the USFL than the Houston Gamblers. They have multiple defenders who are top five in certain statistical categories as well as have one of the top rushers and one of the top touchdown passers in the league. Despite all that talent, they can’t bring it together as a team.
It was nice to see Mark Thompson bounce back as he gained 41 yards on his first two carries of the game, but didn’t really do anything else the rest of the game finishing with 80 yards on 17 carries. Thorson once again fell apart in the second half with turnovers and inaccurate throws that hurt his team. Isaiah Zuber and Teo Redding made some spectacular catches to boost the offense. None of it was enough in the second half.
It seemed as though the team was looking better with Jamar Summers back in the lineup and Will Likely continued his ball-hawking ways with another interception on the season. The front seven was perfect against the run allowing just 51 yards in the game. Once again, it was Houston losing the time of possession and allowing the last score in the last seconds that cost them the game.
Kevin Sumlin is going to have to review this roster and depth chart to see if he has the right guys to help them win. Houston is now in danger of knocking themselves out of the playoff picture altogether with Birmingham and New Orleans looking like the representatives of the South Division. It’s going to be a long week for Houston, but it might just take a small gamble in changing the team’s look to get them back in the hunt for a USFL title.