By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFC West Writer
Canton, Ohio — John DeFilippo believed his team was in for a tough test in the New Jersey Generals at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, describing the New Orleans Breakers escaping with a gritty, 20-17 road victory as a being in a "14-round heavyweight fight."
The 20 points was the lowest output for a New Orleans offense that leads the USFL in scoring so far this season.
"No offense to any of the other teams we played, but we knew coming in that this was going to be the best defense we played," DeFilippo said. "So, we give a lot of credit to them."
In a closely contested game that they never trailed, the Breakers relied on their stalwarts on offense and relentless defensive effort led by linebacker Vontae Diggs to outpunch the Generals.
USFL leading rusher Wes Hills grinded out 89 rushing yards on 26 carries, scoring his team’s only two touchdowns of the game. Hills also had another 71 receiving yards and finished with 159 scrimmage yards.
He now has eight touchdowns on the year in just four games, one short of Darius Victor’s league-leading nine rushing touchdowns from last season.
While New Orleans scuffled a bit on offense, the Breakers did have two touchdowns called back due to penalties, and Bethel-Thompson fumbled trying to throw the ball away at the end of the half, with New Orleans failing to get a potential field goal off because time ran out.
"We feel like we were sloppy," Bethel-Thompson said. "We feel like we weren’t executing like we want to. We consider ourselves a high-octane offense. And we want to get to that point."
With the win, the Breakers remain atop the South Division at 4-0, while the Generals dropped to 2-2 on the season.
New Jersey kept it close by leaning on the USFL’s No. 1-ranked running game.
The Generals finished with 176 yards rushing. Trey Williams led the way with 70 yards on eight carries, including a 19-yard run for a score, while Victor added 65 yards.
However, New Jersey quarterback De'Andre Johnson couldn’t generate much in the passing game to balance things out, musting just 113 yards in the air, with most of that coming on a 62-yard touchdown pass in the first half to Cameron Echols-Luper.
New Jersey also finished with nine accepted penalties for 105 yards.
"We haven’t been a high-scoring team, so we need it in that range to win," Generals head coach Mike Riley said of the low-scoring game. "And we did. But after we scored on a nice drive, we didn’t come back with another one that changed the game."
Defensively, the Breakers held the Generals to 278 total yards, sacking Johnson three times. Down by three points in the fourth quarter, New Jersey had two chances to move into field-goal position to tie the game but could not get past midfield.
"We just did a good job of making our plays and doing our job," said Diggs, who finished with a team-high 11 combined tackles and a sack. "We had 11 hats to the ball the majority of the time."
New Orleans kicker Matt Coghlin remained perfect on the year, making two field goals from 25 yards. Coghlin is 8-for-8 on fields goals this season and has not missed an extra point.
New Orleans leading tackler safety Greg Eisworth II suffered what appeared to be a knee to the head while tackling Victor early in the second half.
He was attended to by trainers on the field, helped up and taken off the field on a cart. But Eisworth was sitting up and alert.
"Greg has been cleared, and is moving all of his extremities," DeFilippo said. "I was on the field when he sat up on his own accord. And our thoughts go out to him. Obviously, I can’t speak too much on the medical side of things. But as of right now our doctors are very positive that he’s going to be just fine."
While Eisworth was on the ground injured, New Jersey left tackle Isaiah Battle threw a punch at Diggs and was ejected from the game.
Echols-Luper suffered what appeared to be a chest injury late in the first half but later returned in the second half.
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.