Maulers sparked to first win by newly signed QB Vad Lee
Led by emotional, newly signed quarterback Vad Lee, the Pittsburgh Maulers finally earned their first win, RJ Young writes.
By RJ Young
FOX Sports Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In a mid-game interview on Sunday, Pittsburgh Maulers quarterback Vad Lee shared some advice for football players trying to find their way into the pro game.
"Just keep working," he said. "Don't quit. I was so close to quitting so many times. But I'm here, and I have nothing to lose."
The Maulers are certainly glad Lee didn't quit, as the 29-year-old journeyman, who signed less than a week ago, led Pittsburgh to its first win of this inaugural USFL season, 21-20 over the Houston Gamblers at Protective Stadium.
The victory lifted the Maulers to 1-4 at the midway point of the regular season. Houston, which has suffered heartbreaking defeats in consecutive weeks, dropped to 1-4 as well.
Pittsburgh fell behind 10-0 early and trailed 17-6 midway through the third quarter. In fact, the Maulers never led until Lee's nine-yard pass settled into the arms of Bailey Gaither, who toppled into the end zone for the winning score as time expired.
Pittsburgh won the game with grit and determination, mimicking the tough, straightforward approach of coach Kirby Wilson.
But the Maulers also won because of a few big performances from key players, chief among them being Lee.
A crucial addition for Maulers
The signing of Lee was announced on Tuesday with little fanfare.
And that's understandable, as the well-traveled signal-caller was far from a household name.
Lee played two years at Georgia Tech, passing for 1,057 yards and 17 touchdowns across the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He later spent two productive seasons at James Madison before heading out on a journey that took him to the Canadian Football League, Your Call Football, the XFL and The Spring League.
On Sunday, he thanked his wife, who is studying to be a dentist, for "allowing me to be here and play ball."
He also talked about the difficulty of being ready to play only a few days after signing.
"You can't simulate getting hit and all those things," he said. "But you gotta stay ready. I'm here for all the guys working hard who just want an opportunity."
The new guy saves the day
Lee entered the game in the second quarter in place of starting QB Kyle Lauletta. His first touch was a three-yard keeper up the middle. His third was a 10-yard pass to Gaither for a first down. That first drive resulted in a 51-yard field goal by Ramiz Ahmed that pulled the Maulers within 10-3.
It wasn't all smooth — Lee ultimately completed just 19 of his 32 passes for 170 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
But he saved his best for last.
Trailing 20-15 with 3:34 remaining, the Maulers embarked on a 14-play, 71-yard drive that used up the entire clock. Lee completed eight of his 11 passes on the drive, three of which converted first downs, and one of which provided the game-winning score.
All of it left Lee feeling emotional after the game.
Gaither makes an impact in his return
Gaither proved to be a solid offensive weapon for the Maulers early this season, catching 10 passes for 159 yards across his first two games. But then he missed Weeks 3 and 4 with an injury, and his absence hurt an already struggling offense.
The 25-year-old San Jose State product returned with a vengeance on Sunday, though. He was targeted 10 times, catching eight of them for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
Pittsburgh's Bailey Gaither pulls in 30-yard TD from Vad Lee
He also provided a great complement to Tre Walker, who emerged while Gaither was out. Walker led the team in targets (13) and receptions (10), while gaining 92 yards through the air. And some of those catches were dazzling.
All in all, it looks like the Maulers are starting to craft a collection of weapons for their new quarterback.
The Houston Gamblers lose in brutal fashion, again
Lost in the emotion of the Maulers' victory was the other side of things — for the second straight week, the Gamblers lost a game in the final 10 seconds.
This week was tough, with Houston losing a lead it held all game long as the clock hit zero.
Last week was hard to take as well, as the Gamblers were on the wrong end of a last-gasp victory by New Orleans, a win the Breakers didn't secure until Kyle Sloter hit Jonathan Adams on a 29-yard back-shoulder route with 10 seconds left.
Go inside the Breakers' game-winning drive vs. Houston
So now it's back to the drawing board for Houston, which still boasts a ferocious defense led by players like Donald Payne and Chris Odom, and which does have some talented offensive weapons, like receiver Teo Redding.
USFL MUST-SEE: Teo Redding amazing one-handed catch
Houston can still turn things around and make a run, but time is clearly running short.
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.