The Philadelphia Stars are soaring to the USFL Championship game after outshining the New Jersey Generals 19-14. In the shadows of the Football Hall of Fame, Philadelphia stepped up in a pressure-packed situation, while New Jersey came up short in its most pivotal moment of the season.
It was a wacky game for both teams, with poor turnovers, questionable calls by the refs and coaches, and some really poor special teams coverage. But Philly did enough to come on top, and make big plays at the right moments.
Led by an opportunistic defense, the Stars defense, who led the USFL in forced turnovers during the 2022 season, frustrated the Generals’ league offense early and forced two crucial interceptions, including a big fourth-down stop in the red zone. Philly overcame vital injuries and a late second-half rally by New Jersey to earn their way to the Championship game.
The game almost got away from Philly twice. After they squandered a two-score lead with the ball deep in Generals territory in the third quarter. New Jersey stormed back to take a 14-10 lead late. Thanks to league MVP KaVontae Turpin. But on this day, Turpin was topped by one of the USFL’s best returners, Maurice Alexander, who helped put his team in front for good with an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown in the game’s final minutes.
USFL Playoffs: Philadelphia Stars New Jersey Generals Recap
After a 38-yard field goal on their opening drive gave them an early 3-0 lead, the game started to turn in Philly’s favor when Generals quarterback Luis Perez threw an interception deep in Stars territory. Mazzi Wilkins would pick the pass off and return it all the way to New Jersey’s 13-yard line. The turnover would negate a 12-play, 64-yard drive that took nearly eight minutes off the clock.
It would take Philly only two plays to reach paydirt after the momentum-changing play by their defense when quarterback Case Cookus scrambled into the end zone to give his team a 10-0 lead.
The Generals would mount another long time-consuming drive that would come up empty when New Jersey’s Darius Victor was stopped on 4th and short at Philly’s 7-yard line.
The Stars would take a 10-0 lead into halftime. The first time New Jersey had been shut out all season was in the first half.
On the very first play in the third quarter. Cameron Echols-Luper would slip on the kick return untouched and would release the football to the ground, and Chris Rowland would pounce on the loose ball, giving his team the football at New Jersey’s 36 to start the second half.
The game appeared to be in Philly’s control. But thanks to a terrific defensive play call by Generals defensive coordinator Cris Dishman. New Jersey would swing momentum back into their favor when a blitzing Chris Orr would force an errant throw by Case Cookus. The pass would flutter over the middle of the field and was intercepted by Mike Bell.
The Stars would temporarily lose Case Cookus on the play during all this craziness due to a back injury. Philly had also lost running back Matthew Colburn to a leg injury on their opening drive of the third quarter. The Generals would take over on their own 14. The Stars would endure another injury, this time on defense when cornerback Channing Stribling left the game.
To the Generals’ credit, they would take advantage immediately with Stribling out of the action. Luis Perez would find Darrius Shepherd down the sidelines for a 63-yard gain to Philly’s six-yard line.
New Jersey would finally get on the scoreboard after Shepherd’s big catch. But it wouldn’t come easy. On 4th and goal from the one. Darius Victor would barely reach the goal line after a second effort to cut the Stars’ lead to 10-7.
The Stars’ offense would respond nicely with K.J. Costello piloting their offense in place of Case Cookus. Facing a 3rd and eight from their 26, Costello would connect with Chris Rowland for a 43-yard completion. Philly would drive down to New Jersey’s 7, but Paris Ford would dislodge the football from Darnell Holland, and Mike Bell would recover the fumble to thwart the Stars’ drive.
However, The Stars’ defense would force a Generals’ three and out. Case Cookus would return to the game with a bang. He would connect downfield with Diondre Overton for 50 yards. Case’s biggest play of the game to that point. The Generals defense would hold in the red zone and hold the Stars to a field goal attempt as the third quarter ended.
Luis Aguilar would fail to extend Philly’s lead after missing a 25-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter.
Down 3, the Generals offense would take over and drive near midfield. But a holding infraction, followed by a personal foul penalty, would stall New Jersey’s offense. New Jersey would face a 2nd and 30 after the ill-advised penalty by Woody Brandom. The Generals would be forced to punt the ball back to Philly’s offense.
Up 3 with ten minutes left in regulation, The Stars’ offense would have an unconventional three and out. After Case Cookus took three straight deep shots down the field, the last of which was nearly completed to Maurice Alexander. The heave downfield sailed over three defenders and ricocheted off Alexander’s chest. Alexander would redeem himself later in a grand fashion.
The near-hit by Philly would prove costly, as the Stars would punt the ball to league MVP, KaVontae Turpin, who zigged and zagged his way for a 78-yard touchdown. The electrifying score would give New Jersey its first lead of the game, 14-10.
Not to be outdone, Maurice Alexander would return the ensuing kickoff near midfield. Giving his team excellent field position at their 45 down four.
Three plays later, thanks to a 26-yard pass play to Jordan Suell. The Stars would enter the red zone with under 7 minutes left, looking to retake the lead. But the Generals defense would limit Philly to a short field goal attempt. However, this time Luis Aguilar would connect from 29 yards out to cut the Generals lead to one.
With time ticking away, the Generals’ offense looking to nurse their slim lead, started to rely on their ground game. Four straight runs led to two first downs by Darius Victor. But DeAndre Johnson would slip on the turf for a two-yard loss. A common occurrence during the game was that multiple players would lose their footing at Tom Benson Hall Of Fame stadium.
With 2:18 left in the game and the Stars having only one timeout. The Generals would face a second and 12 at their 45-yard line, and Philly would burn its final timeout after holding New Jersey to a one-yard gain. Adam Rodriguez would sack Luis Perez on third down, forcing a punt at the two-minute warning.
Philly’s special teams’ star Maurice Alexander would bobble the punt return at his 12-yard line and then return it 88 yards to the house to give his team the go-ahead 19-14 lead.
The Stars’ two-point attempt would fail after the punt return. But New Jersey was down five, needing a touchdown with 1:36 left in the game.
The game’s climax would come to a halt after a dangerous collision between Ahmad Dixon and Darius Victor on the ensuing kickoff. Dixon would not be penalized on the play after the refs initially called it a personal foul. The non-call would lead to a series of unique penalties on the Generals final possession.
New Jersey would drive into Philly territory with under a minute left. A big hookup between Perez and Alonzo Moore deep into the red zone would be negated by an illegal touch and pass interference penalty, both on Moore. The questionable PI call was tacked on and set New Jersey back to first and 20.
Two straight encroachment penalties on Philly’s defense would give New Jersey a temporary reprieve. But a pressured Luis Perez would throw up an ill-advised prayer down the field that went unanswered when Amani Dennis would intercept the football and seal the win for the Stars.
The Philadelphia Stars are headed to the USFL Championship game to face the winner of tonight’s Birmingham Stallions-New Orleans Breakers South Final.
The 2022 version of the New Jersey Generals is reliving the fate of the original USFL Generals, who were eliminated twice in the postseason by the Stars nearly four decades ago.
Mike Riley and his decorated General troops will have to regroup and attempt to reset for the 2023 USFL season. In a do-or-die setting, Riley and New Jersey fell short of their goal to win it all.
USFL Northern Final Stats