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USFL WEEK 1 RECAP: Houston Gamblers V.S. Michigan Panthers

Two undefeated teams take the field after an hour rain delay. Both teams come in with plenty of questions however, many favor the Panthers to take this one. For me two questions I have are, will the Offensive line protect Shea Patterson and will the Houston Gamblers take advantage of the opportunities their defense gives them.

Quarter One

Gamblers and Panthers kicked off after an almost hour rain delay. We see the Gamblers rely heavily on the run as Thorson shows off his mobility in addition to a heavy helping of Mark Thompson after picking up a first down. The Gamblers can’t anything else going and have to punt, pinning the Panthers inside their ten. 

The Panthers hit a quick three and out. Reggie Northrup establishes himself as a menace, Forcing a fumble and creating havoc. Panthers are quick to punt early.

Gamblers continue to push a healthy dose of Mark Thompson on drive two. Thorson is able to pass for a first down however, a big drop by TE Brandon Barnes forces Nick Vogel to hit an easy field goal 3-0.

3-0 Houston Gamblers 7:07 Remaining in 1st Quarter

Shea Patterson doesn’t get the ball quick enough out. Sacked by Ahmad Gooden for a forced fumble. Patterson makes a strong throw to Lance Lenior for Five Yards, but a 3rd and 10 pass is tipped by my Pre-season All USFL pick Donald Payne forces the Panthers to punt.

Quick 3 and out by Gamblers Thorson overthrows Palka, looks like a timing issue. Thompson is clearly the guy the Gamblers will ride.

Panthers are able to get Patterson in space. Finds his buddy Joe Walker for a first down. Stevie Scott is mixed in for some rushes but doesn’t do much. The front seven has dominated so far but Patterson and Walker have found some chemistry. Despite the constant pressure of Shea Patterson this whole drive he has been able to make something out of nothing converting a big 3 and 10 on the Gamblers side of the field. Cameron Scarlett has another strong run to close the first quarter out. Panthers have the ball inside the Gambler Five. 

Quarter Two

Shea Patterson slips and on the broken play gets sacked by Ahmad Gooden who forces another fumble. Reggie Northrup Picks up the fumble and runs 87 yards for a touchdown 9-0. Dalyn Dawkins rushes for the two point conversion 11-0. Ahmad Gooden now has 5 tackles 2 sacks and two forced fumbles at this point.

11-0 Houston Gamblers 14:42 Remaining in 2nd Quarter

Three straight rushes and the Panthers get a first down. Paxton Lynch comes in starts with a rush to Stevie Scott. Scott begins to pick up some steam as the Panthers go to him four out the first five plays. Lynch’s first drop back results in a 6 yard rush, his second play is a wide snap by Center Sean Pollard in which Lynch has to recover. A dropped pass by Lance Lenior on a perfect throw by Lynch forces the Panthers to punt. Lynch in his one drive looks way move poised than Patterson at this point who has been running for his life. 

Gamblers aren’t able to generate anything after being deep in their own territory. A Panthers sack by Frank Ginda (4) and T.J. Carter (96), set up a fourth down punt at the ½ yard line. Panthers look to turn the momentum however, a Joe Walker punt return is nullified by the Alexandaer Vainikolo (10) who is flagged for a blindside block on Gamblers Ahmad Gooden.

Panthers take over and try a quick pass from Lynch to Walker. Houston’s defense continues to dominate as Joe Walker is tackled for a three yard loss. Followed by an incomplete pass, on a  third and long Lynch is forced to escape the pocket only to be chased down by once again Gamblers Star Ahmad Gooden who forces his third fumble. Gamblers recover at the Gambler 34. 

The Gamblers get Thorson on the edge and he finds Jojo Ward for a first gain of 10. After a Panthers penalty, Thompson continues to wear down the Panthers defense with another first down. A Panther sack by Jameson Houston(1) is nullifed by a roughing the passer penalty. The Gamblers go back to Dalyn Dawkins, set up Thorson who comes out under center. Thorson runs a play action pass and floats a beautiful pass to Isiah Zuber (1), as the Gamblers extend their lead 17-0. Two-point try is no good. 

17-0 Houston Gamblers 5:08 Remaining in 2nd Quarter

Paxton Lynch comes out again for his third drive. After a quick pass to Marcus Baugh, Lynch runs a power run calling his own number a uses his 6’7 frame to get a first down. Lynch’s second down throw is short, as he throws an interception to Will Likely, who throws the ball his father after the play. 

Kyshon Tyson (92) motivates the Panthers by making a tackle for loss however, on second and long Thorson on the run finds Isiah Zuber for a first down. Coming out of the two minute warning the Gamblers go to a heavy helping of Mark Thompson to get inside the ten. Throson makes a dangerous pass to Brandon Barnes that is deflected by Orion Stewar( 6). Vogel’s FG attempt is no good as with 38 seconds left the Panthers remain down 17-0.

Fisher sends Patterson out to run the clock out with two rushes by Cameron Scarlett. Panthers go into the locker down 17-0.

HALFTIME 17-0 Houston Gamblers

Patterson comes out to start the half. Stevie Scott gets the ball three times in a row, picking up a first down. Cameron Scarlett, picks up where he left off and helps the Panthers pick up their 2nd first down on the drive. On the 6th play of the drive Patterson avoids pressure again to complete a nine yard pass to Cameron Scarlett, they return to the ground to pick up their 3rd first down. Patterson on 2nd and 9 finds Lance Lenior for 13 yards. The Gamblers defense looks flat but on 1st and Goal, Gambler Linebacker Reggie Northrup comes up with a tackle at the line of scrimmage. Patterson comes out in gun and motions Lance Lenior who despite a short pass is able come down with the Pass for a Touchdown. The Panthers finally get on the board trailing 17-6. 2 point try is no good but the Panthers make the second half interesting.

17-6 Houston Gamblers 9:35 Remaining in 3rd Quarter

Thorson completes an easy throw Jojo Ward to open the second half, Mark Thompson sets up a 3rd and 5 but two penalties on Gamblers by Guard Tyler Higby and a Delay of Game by Thorson sets the Gamblers back to a 3rd and 15. A Nine-yard reception by Jojo Ward isn’t enough as the Gamblers are forced to punt. On the ensuing punt, Gamblers Gunner Tyler Palka runs into Panthers Punt Returner Joe Walker (8) for a kick catch interference penalty. Panther gets the ball on their own 36.

The Panthers and Patterson come with Cameron Scarlett rushing for six yards, Patterson is able to convert several first downs with Devin Ross (18) having a 12 yard catch and run from Jeff Badet (13). Two rushes by Cameron Scarlett allow for the Panthers to get another first down. The Gamblers are able to string two plays great together however, a Danald Payne sack is nullified by Chris Odom hands to the face penalty, which results in a first down. The Gamblers continue to put pressure on Patterson who continues to run around like he’s playing back yard football. Michael Carrizosa is called upon to kick a 43 Yd field goal, however, misses wide left. Panthers continue to trail 17-6, even worse Jeff Badet is sidelined with an injury it looks like.

Gamblers offensive line can’t get it together. Gamblers RT Joe Yarbrough has two back-to-back penalties to set the Gamblers from a 3rd and 4 to a 3rd and 14. Quarter ends with the Gamblers still leading 17-6

Quarter Four

Thorson on 3rd and 14 is able to once again take what the defense gives him and pick up nine more yards. Gamblers come out to punt.

Shea Patterson is finally able to have a clean pocket and finds Devin Ross for 29 yards on a deep in route. Patterson finally goes over 100 yds passing, and the Gamblers Defense looks gassed. On a 2nd and 6 Patterson calls his own number and rushes for 11 yards and a first down. On 3rd and 6 Patterson misses Marcus Baugh who drops a pass that was slightly off the mark. Fisher keeps his Offense on the field for 4th and 6 and puts the ball in Patterson’s hands. Against a sluggish Gamblers pass rush, Patterson delivers a strike to Lance Lenior for 12 yards to set up first and goal. Two plays later Stevie Scott (25) pushes his way in for a Panther touchdown. On the two point try Cameron Scarlett fails to score leaving the Panthers still behind 17-12.

17-12 Houston Gamblers 10:20 Remaining

Thorson and the Gamblers come out looking to solidify and expand their lead. Thorson runs a naked boot leg and overthrows Bardon Barnes who is then picked off by Jameson Houston (1), who returns it for sixteen yards. Panters start their drive at the Houston 43.

Center Sean Pollard mis snaps another exchange to Shea Patterson and the Panthers set up for a 2nd and 20. Gamblers LB Reggie Northrup forces Devin Ross to drop another pass that would have made it a 3rd and manageable. On 3rd and 20, Patterson delivers a 19-yard strike to Lance Lenior to set up the 4th and short. Fisher again keeps the ball in Patterson’s hands who calls his own number. Patterson is clearly short as Donald Payne of the Gamblers jumps over the pile to collect his 19th tackle of the game.

Kenji Bahar replaces Clayton Thorson, who hands the ball off to Mark Thompson to obtain a first down. After a TFL by Cavon Walker (99), Bahar finds to Jojo Ward to set up a 3rd and short. LB Terry Myrick (44) creates a stuff at the LOS to force the Gamblers to punt with 5:12 left in the game.

Starting at the Panther 10, Patterson creates a bit of havoc and runs a bootleg to find Lance Lenior for 15 yards. Patterson goes back to Lenior who drops a quick screen in which a perfect block was set up for him by his fellow receiver. Patterson with a new OT Joshua Dunlap (64) calls Cameron Scarlett’s number to set up a 3rd and 2. Patterson calls his number again on 3rd and short and this time converts the first down. Patterson with a fresh set of downs does his best Johnny Manziel impression (ironically with Kevin Sumlin watching) and finds Devin Ross for a 14-yard gain. A pair of Lance Lenior and Stevie Scott rushes are able to convert a 3rd and short. On 2nd and 6 with 1:35 remaining, Patterson finds Joe Walker for a 19-yard gain. After another mishandled shot gun snap between Center Sean Pollard and Shea Patterson, the Panthers get backed up to a 2nd and 17. Followed by the Gamblers Chris Odom 2nd down sack the Panthers faced a 3rd and 26 with little to no hope left. After two unsuccessful heaves to the endzone in which LaMichael Pettway, was inches away from securing a Hail Mary the Panthers ran out of time and would lose the game.

Final Score 17-12 Houston Gamblers Win

Image via Twitter USFL


Michigan Panthers (0-1):A lot of mixed feelings after this game. It was quite bland starting out unlike the Generals vs. Stallions, as it was a heavy dose of rushing between both teams (290 rushing yards total). However, it was clear that the Gamblers had the superior defense coming out. The Gamblers made Shea Patterson and Paxton Lynch uncomfortable until around the third quarter, and even in the third quarter Patterson may have had a clean pocket less than five times. The Panthers did not have any answer until later in the game and honestly it looked a lot more of a school yard offense with Patterson running for his life most of the time. There are some major issues on this Panthers offensive line with Sean Pollard and Panthers QBs having major exchange issues. The Defensive Line of the Panthers took a minute to get started but they left me wanting a bit more Cavon Walker and Kyshon Tyson did make crucial plays at the LOS. Because Thorson didn’t stretch the field the secondary didn’t really get tested, however did make some plays. The Panthers need a kicker Michael Carrizosa is an All-Conference Punter who missed a big field goal, need to find someone who can actually allow the team to come away with points.

Houston Gamblers (1-0): While the Gamblers offense didn’t wow you, Thorson managed the game well enough, and Mark Thompson rushed well enough to win this game. Moving forward, do the Gamblers stick with Clayton Thorson? or do they allow Kenji Bahar to have more meaningful reps. The Gamblers Defense were fast, aggressive and violent, totaling for three sacks, seven tackles for loss, and four forced fumbles. Reggie Northrup, Donald Payne, and Ahmad Gooden all had All-Pro games. Northrup had 11 tackles, a fumble recovery for a Touchdown, Donald Payne had 19 tackles, and Ahmad Gooden had 9 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 Forced Fumbles. Though it was clear they were worn down, they made a couple big plays when it mattered like with Chris Odom making a huge sack on the final drive.

Moving Forward

The Panthers take on the Generals next week, to hopefully get in the win column. Both 0-1 teams are coached by former NFL coaches who will be sure to have their teams prepped.

The Gamblers take on the Birmingham Stallions who may be without QB1 Alex McGough, both 1-0 teams boast stout defenses but Offense that are sputtering a bit.

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Pat Rifino is a former Security Contractor turned writer. He began his writing career talking about geo-politics, and the defense industry. Now Pat writes about alt-league football, while hanging out with his dogs in his off time.

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