March 20, 2011

1983: Mazzetti Field Goals Lift Breakers Past Federals

The Boston Breakers had split their first two games on the road in the United States Football League’s inaugural season. On March 20, 1983 they played their first home game, drawing 18,430 to the 20,535-seat Nickerson Field at Boston University. Under Head Coach Dick Coury and offensive coordinator Roman Gabriel, they had 35-year-old John Walton at quarterback, a veteran of four different pro football leagues (Continental, Midwest, NFL, and WFL) who had come out of retirement as head coach at Elizabeth City State to lend his strong passing arm to a fifth league.

Their opponents, the Washington Federals, had lost both games thus far under Head Coach Ray Jauch. They were further handicapped coming into the contest at Boston by the loss to injury of starting QB Mike Hohensee and RB Craig James, two prize rookies.

Veteran NFL backup QB Kim McQuilken took over for Hohensee, and the Federals started off the scoring when Obed Ariri kicked a 38-yard field goal 5:43 into the first quarter. The Breakers responded when Tim Mazzetti, the former bartender-turned-NFL placekicker who spent three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, booted a 20-yard field goal. The score stood at 3-3 after one quarter.

Mazzetti kicked a 47-yard field goal in the second quarter to put Boston ahead by 6-3, but Washington regained the lead by scoring the first touchdown of the game on a 17-yard pass from McQuilken to WR Joey Walters. A third Mazzetti field goal, from 21 yards, made it 10-9 in favor of the Federals at the half.

Washington extended its lead to 16-9 in the third quarter when DB Mike Guess returned a punt 43 yards, setting up a two-yard touchdown carry by RB James Mayberry. The extra point attempt was missed.

It seemed as though the underdog Federals would pull out the win on the road, especially since Boston’s offense was missing scoring opportunities. On four occasions, the Breakers made it inside the Washington ten yard line without scoring a TD - Walton had turned the ball over on two of those occasions, with a fumble and an interception. But turnovers on special teams by the Federals in the last five minutes of the game ultimately determined the outcome.

With the ball deep in their own territory, an attempted punt by Steve Coffman was botched due to a bad snap, forcing the punter to fall on the ball on the one yard line. With 4:37 remaining on the clock, Boston RB Richard Crump ran for the one-yard touchdown. The successful PAT tied the score at 16-16.

Then, with time running down, Washington got another chance to retake the lead, lining up for a 42-yard field goal attempt. However, the snap passed over Ariri’s head, and traveled all the way to the Federals’ 35 yard line, where Ariri finally fell on it, resulting in a 40-yard change of possession.

Walton completed passes of 13 yards to WR Dwayne Strozier and 9 yards to Crump to set up Mazzetti’s fourth field goal of the game, which was successful from 29 yards out with 27 seconds left on the clock. The Breakers came away with a 19-16 win.

Obed Ariri kicked a field goal for the Federals, but also missed an extra point and had a 33-yard field goal attempt blocked. C Dave Pacella was handling the long-snapping in place of another injured player, Bruce Byrom, with disastrous results. Breakers NT Jeff Gaylord disrupted Pacella, causing the bad snaps that ultimately cost the Federals the game.

Boston outgained Washington (390 yards to 335) and had the edge in first downs (19 to 18), although the Federals held onto the ball longer (31:42 to 28:18). As would prove typical throughout the season, the Breakers gave up no sacks as the line gave Walton good protection.

The veteran Walton had a relatively ordinary day, completing 21 of 42 passes for 247 yards with no TDs and two interceptions. Richard Crump (pictured below) had an outstanding game, rushing for 130 yards on 15 carries, including the short touchdown, and caught 5 passes for another 50 yards. WR Nolan Franz had 5 receptions for a team-leading 73 yards and ex-Patriots RB Andy Johnson also grabbed 5 passes for 55 yards.

For the Federals, Kim McQuilken went to the air 47 times, with 25 completions for 322 yards, but also gave up four interceptions. RB Eric Robinson caught 9 passes for 98 yards and Joey Walters gained 112 yards on 7 catches. However, the running game was ineffective, with a total of 27 yards on 27 attempts – Robinson led the club by gaining 32 yards on 20 carries.

The narrow win would come to characterize the Breakers throughout the ’83 season. 11 of their 18 games were decided by fewer than nine points, and the outcome of 10 weren’t determined until the fourth quarter. Overall, Boston went 11-7 to finish second in the Atlantic Division, just missing a chance at the playoffs. Washington ended up at the bottom with a 4-14 record.

John Walton suffered a knee injury late in the season, but still managed to lead the USFL with 589 pass attempts, of which he completed 56 percent for 3772 yards with 20 touchdowns against 18 interceptions. Richard Crump ran for 990 yards on 190 carries for a good 5.2-yard average and 8 touchdowns – he scored another four TDs among his 44 pass receptions. Tim Mazzetti was the league’s second-leading scorer with 119 points that included 27 field goals and 38 extra points.