Tampa Bay Bandits
The Tampa Bay Bandits’ playoff hopes were just about buried coming into the weekend. Then, they got handed a shovel.
The Bandits held on for a 13-3 victory over the Houston Gamblers to stay one game out of the last USFL playoff spot. The win gained greater significance with the New Orleans’ Breakers loss on Saturday to the Birmingham Stallions. The Bandits now head into a critical tilt with those Breakers next Sunday to determine who has the inside track for the South division’s second playoff slot.
“This was do or die for us” said Bandits head coach Todd Haley. “Our guys really fought their butts off today.”
Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu produced back-to-back subpar efforts by accumulating just 98 yards through the air to go with a touchdown pass and an interception. This time it was the ground game that kept the offense alive as the team racked up 145 rushing yards. The offense took a 10-0 lead in the second quarter thanks to a Ta’amu seven-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Dillon.
The defense put in arguably its best performance of the season when they truly needed it. A shutout in the first half and just three points given up in all was led by huge hits from contributors like Antonio Reed and Anthony Butler. A key sequence came in the second quarter on back-to-back plays with Reed supplying a big hit before Butler was able to stonewall Houston on a fourth down attempt near midfield. Linebacker Michael Scott also contributed with two sacks on Houston quarterback Kenji Bahar as the defense set the tone.
“Even if we didn’t get the sack we definitely made sure he was on the ground enough to look down on him and let him know we were there in his face” said Scott.
The Bandits were throttled by the Breakers 34-3 in week 2. With a win next week and in week 10 the Bandits will find themselves in the playoffs, against most odds.
With key play makers absent from the lineup, The Gamblers had their most lackluster offensive performance of the season. Quarterback Clayton Thorson, running back Mark Thompson and wide receiver Isaiah Zuber all were missing from the starting lineup. This left QB Kenji Bahar to navigate a makeshift offensive personnel and was held in check all day.
“We’re a little handcuffed there, but I have confidence in our other players” said Gamblers’ head coach Kevin Sumlin. “Obviously the effort’s still there. That’s not the issue. It’s the execution.”
A 7-game losing streak that has typically seen blown 4th quarter leads was extended by a game in which the Gamblers never led. Bahar went 19-for-34 with 159 yards and an interception while being kept out of the end zone.
Houston’s defense kept the Gamblers in the game thanks to their two defensive stars Donald Payne and Chris Odom. Coming off winning defensive player of the week, Payne added to league lead in tackles with 11, now giving him 96 on the season. Odom tortured Ta’amu with 3 more sacks to give him 11.5 on the season, tops in the USFL. It did not matter if the Bandits sent a running back or a tight end to chip Odom as he was in Ta’amu’s face most of the day.
“He continues to be as I’ve said in the last 3 weeks, he’s an elite player” said Sumlin in regards to Odom.
Despite the defense forcing two fourth quarter turnovers the offense failed to capitalize and capped a miserable day for the unit.
The Gamblers will face the Birmingham Stallions in week 9 in an attempt to break away from their misfortune.
Stay with USFL News Hub to the road to the playoffs.