By Eric Williams
FOX Sports Writer
CANTON, Ohio — In a hard-hitting contest filled with head-scratching penalties and at times poor execution, the New Jersey Generals made a few more plays than the Pittsburgh Maulers, pulling away in the second half for a 20-3 victory at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on Sunday.
With both offenses mired in quicksand most of the game, Chris Orr and New Jersey’s defense provided the juice the Generals needed to pull away by scoring 17 straight points in the second half after going into the locker room with the game tied at 3-all at the half.
The linebacker out of Wisconsin finished with a team-high of 10 tackles and a sack. New Jersey held Pittsburgh to 166 total yards, notched four sacks and forced three turnovers.
How did Orr feel about the defense’s performance? Let him tell you.
"We feed off each other," Orr said. "That’s what playing defense is all about. Nobody watches the game and roots for the defense. We go into every game feeling like our backs are against the wall and we only have each other to lean on. Anytime we can pull some energy from anybody, we’re definitely going to do it."
Added Generals head coach Mike Riley: "One thing we did today is defensively we played like crazy, and offensively we kept playing hard. And that is much appreciated. That’s how we got the win."
The Generals improved to 1-1 with the victory, while the Maulers dropped to 0-2 on the young season.
In his second game, Pittsburgh head coach Ray Horton’s offense mustered just three points. Horton used both his quarterbacks in James Morgan and Troy Williams, but neither could get anything going on offense.
Williams finished 11-of-16 for 70 yards, while Morgan was 8-of-14 for 54 yards, with an interception and a lost fumble. The Maulers couldn’t run the football either, with just 70 yards on the ground.
"I didn’t go to MIT, but I know if you extrapolate three points a game over 10 games, that’s 30 points for a season," Horton said. "And that’s not going to get it done. The turnovers were atrocious, and the special teams were atrocious. And that doesn’t fall on the players. That falls on me. I’ve got to find a way to help these young men that are busting their butts."
Generals kicker Nick Sciba put New Jersey up 6-3 with his second field goal of the game, this one from 47 yards out midway through the third quarter. But New Jersey seized control of the game on the following possession when backup quarterback Dakota Prukop connected with Cam Echols-Luper on a bubble screen for a 10-yard score.
WR Alonzo Moore made the key block on the perimeter to spring Echols-Luper down the sideline for the score with 11 minutes remaining in the game.
"Before we even broke the huddle, Zo told me, ‘just dip and slip,’" Echols-Luper said. "What we talk about that in meetings all the time is dip inside and cut back outside."
New Jersey’s final score was set up by a pass deflection by Hercules Mata’afa on a backward pass by Morgan that the defensive lineman recovered on Pittsburgh’s 1-yard line. Running back Darius Victor did the rest from there, bowling in from a yard out for the final tally.
Goal-line stand flipped momentum for Generals
The Maulers squandered a prime opportunity to get points in the first half.
Pittsburgh got a big play with 2:37 in the first quarter. Linebacker Kyahva Tezino stripped the ball away from Generals running back Kingston Davis on a swing route. Pittsburgh’s Nasir Player recovered the ball on New Jersey’s 41-yard line. Tezino finished with a game-high 15 tackles on the day.
However, the Maulers failed to capitalize on the turnover, as the Generals twice kept Pittsburgh out of the end zone from the 1-yard line on quarterback push plays by Morgan, including fourth down.
"That was huge," Orr said about the goal-line stand. "We knew this was going to be a defensive game. They have a pretty good defense as well. And we wanted to show that we were the better defense. No shot at them at all, but that’s what you want to do every week."
It was the second straight week the Maulers went for it on fourth-and-goal from a yard out and failed to get into the end zone.
Horton reiterated that he wants to be aggressive on offense.
"How do you get success and confidence (in your offense)? You score," Horton said. "Six points won’t win professional football games. I want to have confidence that we can score (in those situations). That’s two weeks in a row, and we’ve had in essence six snaps from the 1-yard line, and we haven’t gotten one yard.
"So, would I do it again next week? Yes."
Failing to convert on fourth down was one of several missed opportunities for the Maulers, who also dropped three would-be interceptions. Pittsburgh also whiffed on a chance at three points in the third quarter when long snapper Riley Lovinggood rolled the snap back to holder Matt Mengal and the Maulers didn’t get a chance to convert a game-tying field goal.
Pittsburgh receiver Isaiah Hennie led the Maulers with nine receptions for 53 yards and finished with 142 yards all-purpose yards. But he also had to leave the game in the second half because of cramps. Hennie did not return.
According to Horton, linebacker Reuben Foster, who finished three combined tackles, suffered a shoulder stinger late in the second half and did not return.
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.
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