The Gamblers lost a tough one to Birmingham last week, falling short 33-28 against the feisty Stallions. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay had been rocked by New Orleans losing 34-3 in an utter blowout.
Heading into Saturday’s slate, both squads were in need of a win to get back on track, especially with how solid the south division is shaping up to be so far. Let’s take a look at what happened in today’s electrifying opener to week three in the USFL.
Tampa Bay needed to get off to a quick start, and they did. On 3rd and 10, Jordan Ta’amu found Derrick Dillon on a short throw, who then took it the rest of the way. Within just a couple of minutes, the Bandits held a 7-0 lead.
Houston kicked things off on a solid note offensively, marching down the field quickly. Mark Thompson was excellent as expected, putting the Gamblers in scoring position. Nick Vogel knocked through a 46 yard field goal, and it was 7-3.
.@NickVogel5 is the best kicker in the @USFL and we will not be taking questions at this time.
A bobbled handoff between Ta’amu and Dillon put the Bandits in a deep hole on their next drive. They were forced to punt, giving the ball back quickly to Houston.
The Gamblers capitalized immediately. Clayton Thorson found Anthony Ratliff-Williams deep down the field in stride – who proceeded to fumble the ball, pick it up, and waltz into the endzone for six. Just like that, the Gamblers led 10-7.
Things began to get ugly for Tampa Bay, as a promising drive resulted in a missed field goal. On the very next play from scrimmage, Mark Thompson broke loose for a massive score, putting the Gamblers on top 17-7.
The Bandits showed some resilience, however. After giving up 17 straight points, Ta’amu efficiently marched Tampa Bay down the field. An impressive run from Juwan Washington brought the Bandits back within three points, giving Todd Haley’s group some momentum.
Houston took advantage, swiftly pushing the ball down the field. Isaiah Zuber has been a star during the short season, and showed that off on this drive. Thorson found Zuber on consecutive big plays, who made an incredibly athletic move to score the touchdown.
Tampa Bay stalled out, having to punt again. Will Likely had a massive return, but with only a few seconds left Houston did not have enough time to score. The Gamblers went into halftime with a 23-14 lead, dominating offensively.
Houston got the ball to start the second half, and looked good. Thorson made an incredible throw to Ratliff-Williams which put them at midfield, but the team ended up having to punt.
On Tampa’s first drive of the half, missed opportunities haunted them. Ta’amu found Dillon for what was another long touchdown – but a penalty negated the score. De’Quan Hampton then dropped a perfect pass in the endzone, and the Bandits had to settle for only three.
Mark Thompson was sensational for Houston, as expected. He is the first USFL running back to rush for over 100 yards in a game this season, doing it in under three quarters. A solid march from the Gamblers allowed for a field goal attempt, and Nick Vogel banged through the 51 yarder.
Tampa Bay struggled to find a rhythm towards the end of the quarter. Bruno Reagan went down with an injury earlier in the game, causing the offensive line to stumble. Ta’amu had very little time to work with in the pocket, leading to another punt.
Houston dealt with a couple of unfortunate circumstances to start the fourth. A big throw from Thorson to Dawkins was called back due to a penalty. Then, a blocked punt gave Tampa Bay the ball right on Houston’s five yard line, completely shifting momentum.
The Bandits kept the pressure on Thorson and company, forcing a quick three and out. With several minutes left to play, Tampa Bay got the ball back, losing by two. Disappointingly for Ta’amu, he was intercepted by Elijah Holder, shutting down the positive drive Tampa Bay had going.
Tampa Bay’s defense held up, however, forcing another punt. Houston did have a solid drive going, but penalties once again hurt the team. With two minutes left, the Bandits had a chance to win the game.
In the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay found a rhythm offensively, and that was evident on their final drive. They swiftly marched down the field, setting up Ty Rausa for a field goal. Rausa buried the 46 yard attempt, putting Tampa Bay on top 27-26 with very little time remaining.
This was one heck of a way to kick off week three in the USFL. Both teams performed quite well across the board, and the game was exciting from start to finish. Houston’s offense was exceptional throughout the majority of the afternoon, while Tampa Bay found their rhythm late in the game.
Ultimately, it was the Bandits who found a way to win. It’s not always how you start, it’s how you finish – and that’s what Tampa Bay made evident today.
Clayton Thorson looked a lot better overall, and the Gamblers played an excellent game. To put it simply, they just haven’t figured out how to close out games.
What it's like when a defensive player is coming at you full speed as a running back 😳😳