Breakers come back to beat Panthers in first USFL OT
Just when it looked like the Panthers would get their second win, the Breakers pulled off the OT victory, RJ Young writes.
By RJ Young
FOX Sports Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Halfway through the press conference, after taking questions from folks inside Protective Stadium, a call was put out to media members present via Zoom to ask their questions.
After a long, awkward silence, New Orleans Breakers head coach Larry Fedora piped in from between players Kyle Sloter and Anthony Jones.
"They’re all in bed," Fedora joked.
The night had been full.
After 54 points scored in regulation, a 60-yard field goal, five two-point conversion attempts — including one in regulation — a fumbled kick return and overtime, the Breakers felt fortunate to walk out of the media conference at 11:52 p.m. CT with a victory over the Michigan Panthers — not to mention a chance to stay in the fight for one of two playoff spots at the end of the inaugural USFL season.
But to get there, Sloter first had to roll to his left, throw up a duck and hit wideout Jay Adams, who caught the pass just in time for the Breakers to call timeout with the clock showing one second on the clock.
"The quarterback getting hit," Fedora said, "and when he was throwing it, the ball being floated up in the air — that was not planned by any means."
Breakers defeat Panthers, 31-27 in USFL's first OT thriller
That set up New Orleans kicker Taylor Bertolet to nail a 26-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime.
Under league rules, overtime consists of a best-of-three shootout from the 2-yard line. Each score is worth two points. If one team goes up by four in their first two possessions, the game ends.
If the teams remain tied after the best-of-three shootout, the period immediately goes to sudden death.
For the Panthers, who had possession first, their first attempt was forgettable, ending with a fumbled snap.
The Breakers scored on their first possession when Sloter found Jones open in the flat for the first points ever scored in a USFL overtime.
The Panthers missed again on their second attempt, then Sloter ran into the end zone on a broken play to secure a 31-27 win in overtime. He finished 15-for-24 for 182 yards with two TDs.
"I think, just as a competitor," Sloter said, "you look for those opportunities to help your team win a game, and we had some great play calls there at the end."
Patterson switches sides
It wasn’t enough that Panthers coach Jeff Fisher made the decision to release quarterback Shea Patterson — the No. 1 overall draft pick — earlier in the week. Patterson patrolled the sidelines for Larry Fedora’s Breakers doing everything he could to try to tell the New Orleans defense what plays the Panthers were attempting to run.
It didn’t matter.
The Panthers nearly earned their second win of the season behind the play of Patterson's replacement, Josh Love. Love completed 18 of 36 passes for 173 yards.
"We got a boost at the quarterback position," Fisher said.
Love was steadied by an outstanding rushing attack that featured running back Reggie Corbin dashing past the century mark on the ground.
Corbin leads the league in average yards per rush. He carried the ball 13 times for 108 yards (8.3 yards per rush) while the Panthers' offensive line rolled over the Breakers' defense to allow Panther rushers to average better than 5.5 yards per carry.
In a matchup featuring the top pass offense (Breakers) against the top pass defense (Panthers), the Breakers decided to feature the run-game to start before hitting for a big gain on a screen to running back Jordan Ellis. But an end-around hand-off to Adams ended up on the floor with Panther defensive end JaQuan Bailey covering it for the first turnover of the game.
Love chose not to look a gift horse in the mouth and quickly found wideout Devin Ross down the middle of the field to put the Panthers into a first-and-goal situation for 33 yards.
The Breaker defense held up inside its 10-yard line, though, forcing the Panthers to kick a field goal to go ahead 3-0 with 6:07 left in the first quarter.
After a planned quarterback change for New Orleans, former Tulsa quarterback Zach Smith led the Breakers downfield on a 10-play scoring drive for the first touchdown of the game with his first touchdown pass in the USFL to a wide-open Sal Cannella.
He finished 5-for-8 for 46 yards with that passing TD.
With one minute left, Sloter, the starter, reentered the game and led the Breakers down the field for their second TD of the game. Sloter found Adams on a top-shelf fade route to help put the Breakers ahead of the Panthers by a score.
A(nother) record-setting field goal
At the half, the Breakers held just a 14-9 lead after reigning USFL Special Teams Player of the Week Cole Murphy smashed a USFL record 60-yard field goal as the clock hit zero for halftime.
"Just a great kick," Fisher said.
Murphy was 4-for-5 on field-goal attempts against the Breakers.
Murphy set the previous USFL record for longest field goal when he nailed a 56-yarder last week in the Panthers’ loss to Birmingham.
Cole Murphy drills a 60-YARD field goal to give Panthers a boost heading into halftime
Late lead changes
Coming out of halftime, Breakers kicker Bertolet extended New Orleans’ led to 17-9 with three points of his own before the Panthers began to put together their first sustainable drive of the second half.
The New Orleans defense bowed up at their own 16-yard line and forced Michigan to settle for three one more time at the end of a 16-play drive. With the Breakers leading 17-12 with 1:21 left in the third quarter, the Panthers had to feel good about keeping Fedora’s team within a single score.
Their optimism paid off. On the ensuing kickoff, Taywan Taylor fumbled the ball on his kick return and the ball was recovered by Michigan inside the Breakers’ half of the field.
At the end of the third quarter, the Panthers held the ball on the New Orleans seven-yard line with third-and-seven to go. Fullback Stevie Scott III later punched in for a TD and set the Panthers up for a go-ahead two-point conversion on a pass from Love to Lance Lenoir with 14:20 left to play.
The Panthers led for the first time since there were six minutes left in the first quarter. The lead didn’t last long.
Jones took a screen from the Michigan 42-yard line and found paydirt to help the Breakers retake a 24-20 lead with 12:12 left to play. But the Panthers wasted no time getting back on the board.
Breakers and Panthers score TDs on three straight drives to start fourth quarter
They rode Corbin into the red zone and took their second lead in five minutes when running back Cam Scarlett became the second back to rush for a TD for the Panthers on a seven-play drive lasting two minutes and 51 seconds.
Michigan was back on top, 27-24, with 9:23 left to play. The Panther defense would not allow another point scored — until the last second of regulation.
By the game’s end, Michigan had scored 11 points off turnovers, and their 27-point total was the most the Panthers have scored in a single game all season.
The Panthers suffered yet another heart-wrenching loss in a game that they looked like winning.
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast "The No. 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young." Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young, and subscribe to "The RJ Young Show" on YouTube. He is not on a StepMill.