CANTON, Ohio — After a slow start offensively, Michigan Panthers quarterback Josh Love caught fire in the second half in his team’s 25-22 victory over the New Jersey Generals on Sunday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
Love was 1-of-5 for six yards in the opening quarter. But the rest of the way, he completed 15-of-24 passes for 259 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
The difference? Love said he stayed the course, remaining confident in offensive coordinator Eric Marty’s playcalls.
"I just stuck to the game plan," Love said. "Trusting the guys, trusting Coach Marty and just going out there and executing."
Love’s favorite target was Joe Walker, who finished with five catches of 121 yards. Walker’s effort included a backbreaker — a 68-yard touchdown catch for Michigan’s final score of the game with 2:28 left in the contest in which the Delaware product bulled his way through two would-be tacklers and ran away from New Jersey’s defense to score.
"I just tried to be relentless and tried to get as much YAC (yards after catch) as I can," Walker said. "I knew we needed a first down, so I was just fighting."
Walker’s teammate Trey Quinn added three catches for 61 yards, including a 22-yard catch for a score. Running back Reggie Corbin helped put away the game late, finishing with 81 rushing yards on 20 carries.
The Panthers ended a four-game losing streak with the victory. At 3-4, Michigan is a game back of the North Division leaders, the Philadelphia Stars (4-3).
Not everything went perfectly for the Panthers. They fumbled twice but recovered both times. Loves had five passes knocked down by New Jersey’s defensive line at the line of scrimmage.
And Michigan had a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Kaden Davis called back because of a holding penalty but ended up scoring anyway on Quinn’s touchdown catch.
The Generals played without three of their top defenders, with middle linebacker Chris Orr (bicep), strong safety Shalom Luani (knee) and defensive end Tyshun Render (toe) inactive because of injuries.
Safety Trae Elston, linebacker Jalen Choice and defensive tackle Kalani Vakameilalo started in their places, helping to keep Michigan’s lead to 6-3 at halftime. However, the Panthers broke loose in the second half.
"Defensively, we played real well for a long time, but then they got a couple scores on us," Generals head coach Mike Riley said. "And we had to fight back like crazy."
Down 25-16 after Walker’s long touchdown, the Generals engineered a six-play, 65-yard drive capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass to Darius Victor from Kyle Lauletta, cutting Michigan’s advantage to three points.
However, the Generals went for the tie. And on the three-point conversion play, Lauletta’s pass to receiver Arthur Jackson in the back of the end zone fell incomplete.
New Jersey then tried the fourth-and-12 conversion play to get the ball back, but Lauletta couldn’t connect with Alonzo Moore. Michigan salted the game away from there.
Moore led the Generals with six catches for 63 yards and two scores. Lauletta finished 9-of-15 for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
Generals QB De’Andre Johnson carted off field with head injury
With 8:34 left in the game, Generals quarterback De’Andre Johnson scrambled up the middle of the field, violently hitting his head on the turf after being tackled by Michigan safety Kai Nacua.
While Johnson lay motionless, the medical staff from both teams immediately tended to him on the field. Johnson was strapped to a backboard and carted off the field, where an awaiting ambulance transported him to the hospital.
The Generals received good news, as Johnson reportedly could move all extremities after an initial evaluation and appeared to be doing well. Johnson will remain in the hospital for further tests.
"I heard he’s doing well, but they are continuing to look at him," Riley said. "That’s all I really want to say about it."
Other injuries during the game included Michigan receiver Marcus Simms getting knocked out of the game early in the second half on a big hit from New Jersey safety Paris Ford. Simms had to leave the game, but later returned.
New Jersey receiver Cam Echols-Luper suffered a shoulder injury on a big hit across the middle by Michigan linebacker Frank Ginda. Echols-Luper had to leave the game in the first half. He later returned in the second quarter.
New Jersey free safety Trae Elston suffered an arm injury in the second half and did not return. Michigan center Noah Johnson had to leave the game because of a knee injury.
Left tackle Isaiah Battle suffered a right knee injury and had to leave the game.
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.