Defensive fans were in for a treat as Houston’s defensive and special teams scores were the difference in a 20-3 win over New Orleans.
The Houston Gamblers only ran five plays on their opening drive before being forced to punt in Breakers’ territory. Disaster struck for Breakers’ starting quarterback for the night Zach Smith as he threw an interception on the second play of the game. One of the league’s best linebackers, Donald Payne, was the man responsible as he took it back 12 yards for the touchdown to give Houston a 7-0 lead.
Five plays into their second drive of the game, Smith would once again turn the ball over for New Orleans giving the Gamblers the ball at their own 48-yard line. This time it was Jeremiah Johnson catching the interception the flip the possession arrow to Houston.
Each team would trade three punts each before Houston would establish a solid offensive drive thanks to a short 30-yard punt giving Houston the ball at New Orleans’ 44-yard line. It was Benny LeMay who was able to get a nice 14-yard run and seven-yard catch before Nick Vogel connected a 35-yard field goal to put Houston up 10-0 in the second quarter.
After another New Orleans’ punt, Houston continued their momentum on offense with Kenji Bahar connecting on four of five passes on the drive to set up another Vogel field goal from 36 yards. This score would give Houston a 13-0 lead at halftime.
It was a big first half for the Houston defense as they only allowed 39 total yards in the first half with two turnovers. The Gamblers won the time of possession by 11 minutes and had six first downs compared to the Breakers’ one first down.
The third quarter saw New Orleans holding on to the football for a good portion of the 15-minute quarter. A quick three and out is how the Breakers started their first drive, but it would turn quickly in their favor. Houston cornerback/returner Will Likely fumbled on the punt return that was recovered by New Orleans tight end Sal Cannella as the Breakers would start their next drive at the Houston 28-yard line.
Seven plays later, a promising drive for the Breakers would end with an attempted 33-yard field goal by Taylor Bertolet. In a night that never really seemed to have gone New Orleans’ way, USFL sack leader Chris Odom found his hands on the ball with a blocked field goal that was returned by safety Jeremiah Johnson 77 yards for the touchdown. The Gamblers were now in full control with a 20-0 lead in the third quarter.
New Orleans’ next drive went much better as Shea Patterson was able to drive the Breakers down the field to finally get points on the board. Thanks to Bertolet’s leg, he redeemed himself with a 50-yard field goal to see New Orleans down 20-3 late in the third quarter.
Houston’s next offensive drive seemed promising and even saw Kenji Bahar connect with Teo Redding on a 28-yard touchdown pass. Unfortunately for the Gamblers, Redding was called for offensive pass interference that omitted the play. Three plays later, Bahar tried for play-action but fumbled on the fake handoff that was recovered by New Orleans’ Shareef Miller.
Five more punts would occur before Houston was able to seal the win with a LeMay 13-yard run on third down and four to close the game. Bahar would kneel the ball twice to give Houston their third win of the season and their second straight win.
New Orleans Breakers
The offense of the Breakers was a tough sight to see. With Kyle Sloter sitting out to be ready for the playoff matchup with Birmingham on Saturday, Zach Smith and Shea Patterson stepped in with minimum results. The two quarterbacks combined for 64 passing yards and two interceptions. New Orleans’ running game didn’t fare well either with an average of 2.8 yards per carry.
In a game that would be described as a defensive battle, New Orleans’ defense looked stellar as they look poised to give the Stallions’ offense trouble next week. The Breakers allowed only 168 yards of total offense from Houston while creating two fumbles in the game. Their front seven got two sacks and seven tackles for loss never allowing a play longer than 20 yards.
This was a meaningless game for the Breakers as they were looking to get some reps and hoping no one would get hurt for the Birmingham game in Canton, Ohio. They finish the regular season at 6-4 and second in the south division. The biggest question will be if Sloter will be ready to go against the Stallions and can he protect the ball enough to pull off the upset.
It wasn’t the prettiest performance for the offense, but not much was needed from them thanks to the play of the defense and special teams. Bahar had yet another efficient game passing the ball with 100 yards in the air and completing 63.6 percent of his passes. The real story on offense was the play of LeMay who led the team in rushing yards (70) and receiving yards (26).
There are so many compliments that can be given to the performance of the Gamblers’ defense. Chris Odom shined like a star again with 1.5 sacks and his fourth blocked field goal of the season in the win. Donald Payne once again started the game with a pick-six to give Houston an early lead. Jeremiah Johnson had a nice game with an interception and returning a blocked field goal for a touchdown.
Likely’s muffed punt return was the only slip-up for Houston on special teams in the game. Odom’s blocked field goal changed the game as it never gave New Orleans a chance to make any kind of comeback. Nick Vogel’s two field goals contributed to a multiple-possession game proving once again that he is one of the league’s best kickers.
Houston ended the season on a high note as they finished with a 3-7 record and won two straight games to close the regular season out. Now the team begins their long postseason as they see what is up next for their roster and prepare for the draft.