The Pittsburgh Maulers put up a good fight in their opening week matchup versus the New Orleans Breakers. But between offensive miscues, untimely drops, and special teams mishaps, the Breakers were able to escape in a narrow touchdown victory.
The game seemed to be a defensive chess match from the beginning. Neither offense could muster much of anything once they got inside the red zone. Settling for field goals or punts early on. Both teams put a clinic on defensively. The Maulers scored the first touchdown of the day. A defensive score, after linebacker Reuben Foster, forced a goal-line fumble and Kyahva Tezino recovered the ball in the endzone.
After failing the two-point conversion, and a pair of field goals from the Breakers, they went into halftime tied at 9. The Maulers had tried out both quarterbacks James Morgan and Troy Williams, but neither had a solid command of the offense in the first half.
The Maulers’ offensive woes continued on into the third quarter. But the defense remained tall. Forcing two goal-line stands. Including a key pass deflection from Marcus Gilbert. The Breakers near touchdown opportunities turned into field goals that they had to settle for. Thanks to this upgraded Pittsburgh defense, they remained in the game going into the final quarter down only six points at a 15-9 score.
In the fourth quarter, it was put up or shut up time for the Maulers. Quarterback James Morgan and running back Garrett Groshek lead the offense down the field on their best drive of the game. But a common theme of this game was goal-line defense, and it was the Breakers’ turn to thrash the offense’s hopes and dreams. On fourth and goal at the one, Groshek was stuffed for no gain and a turnover on downs.
The Breakers had the tough task of manufacturing a drive from their own one-yard line. After some clutch plays from Breakers’ quarterback McCloud Bethel-Thompson, the defense forced a punt. Maulers kick returner Isiah Hennie would flash his ability as a return man and took this kick to the endzone in the most exciting play of the Maulers’ young season. Though Nathan Hierhlihy would miss his PAT to keep the game tied at 15. To make matters worse, Hierlihy would commit an illegal kick by sending the kickoff out of bounds, setting up New Orleans at mid-field.
The Breakers, in excellent field position, would take advantage of the Maulers’ special teams mishap. Driving down to the goal line where on third down Bethel-Thompson would roll out and find running back Anthony Jones in the end zone to make the game 22-15 with just over a minute to play.
Pittsburgh, desperate for juice, would make a questionable quarterback change, benching Morgan for Williams on what would be the final drive of the game. Williams converted one first down, finding Bailey Gaither. But after two incomplete passes and a seven-yard scramble. The Maulers faced fourth and three with 15 seconds to play. Williams would throw a bomb deep to Tre Walker, but the ball was just out of reach for his receiver. The Breakers would take a knee and the game ended there, in a 22-15 Maulers defeat.
The Maulers showed excellent promise on defense. Reuben Foster, Terry Beckner Jr, Boogie Roberts, Olive Sagapolu, Mark Gilbert, and Kayhva Tenzino all made key defensive plays. But the offense is still very much in the works. Neither quarterback showed a whole lot of promise. Morgan finished his night 6/15 for 58 yards. Williams wasn’t much better going 4/12 with 23 yards. Their leading rusher, Duane Gary, only had three carries for 34 yards. There’s a lot of work to do on this side of the ball. But defensively, it looks like the Maulers have a unit that can keep them in games. We’ll see if they can take advantage next week when they take on the New Jersey Generals at home in Canton, Ohio.