April 16, 2011

1983: Invaders Roll Up Yards, But Bryant & Stars Prevail

The Philadelphia Stars were off to a 5-1 start in the inaugural United States Football League season as they faced the Oakland Invaders at Veterans Stadium on April 16, 1983. Under the direction of Head Coach Jim Mora, the Stars boasted a stingy defense and a ground-oriented offense that featured rookie RB Kelvin Bryant (pictured above). The Invaders, coached by John Ralston, were 3-3, but that made them contenders in the Pacific Division as, entering Week 7, all of the teams had identical records. Two ex-Raiders, RB Arthur Whittington and TE Raymond Chester, were key players on the offense, as was QB Fred Besana, a former minor league star.

There were 34,901 fans in attendance for the Saturday game at the Vet. For much of the first half, they saw Oakland outplay the Stars, but fail to score points. Bryant, who had been held to under a hundred yards in the previous two games as he played with a bruised sternum, was held to three yards in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, Oakland ran up 215 yards of offense in the first half, yet came up empty. Within inches of a touchdown on one first quarter possession, FB Jairo Penaranda fumbled into the end zone and CB Antonio Gibson recovered for the Stars. In addition, PK Kevin Shea missed two field goal attempts, of 46 and 42 yards, to stifle scoring opportunities.

Deep into the second quarter, Philadelphia’s offense had generated just one first down and was being kept in check. However, that all changed when Bryant took a handoff in his own territory, appeared to be stopped behind the line of scrimmage near the sideline, but then broke a tackle and reversed field. 45 yards later he was pulled down at the Oakland 25, setting up a 39-yard field goal by David Trout for the first score of the game.

Following the Trout field goal, the Stars got the ball back quickly when safety Mike Lush intercepted a Besana pass and returned it 33 yards. Bryant again made a big play with less than two minutes remaining in the half, running for a 37-yard touchdown, and Philadelphia went into halftime with a 10-0 lead. Bryant, thanks to the two long runs, gained 99 yards rushing in the second quarter alone.

Near the end of the third quarter, Besana threw to WR Wyatt Henderson for an eight-yard TD, the first touchdown the Stars defense had allowed in three weeks (they had surrendered just six points in their previous two games combined). However, Philadelphia put the game away in the fourth quarter when QB Chuck Fusina connected with WR Tom Donovan for an 18-yard touchdown. The defense kept Oakland in check the rest of the way and the final score was 17-7.

The Invaders outgained Philadelphia (339 yards to 270) and generated far more first downs (23 to 12). But they failed to score points when they had the opportunity and turned the ball over three times (the Stars suffered no turnovers at all).

Kelvin Bryant gained 118 yards on 14 carries that included one touchdown. Chuck Fusina completed 9 of 16 passes for 146 yards with a TD and no interceptions. Bryant, WR Willie Collier, and FB Booker Russell each caught two passes, with Collier’s 57 yards leading the club.

For Oakland, Fred Besana was successful on 26 of 42 throws for 271 yards and included a touchdown, but two were picked off. Arthur Whittington gained 89 yards rushing on 27 attempts. Raymond Chester caught 6 passes for 51 yards while Wyatt Henderson accumulated 78 yards on five receptions and scored the team’s lone TD.

“I’ve never been around a defense that comes through like these guys, week after week after week,” said Coach Mora. “They bend, but they don’t break.”

A disappointed Fred Besana said afterward, “It’s the same old story, we drive up and down the field, then we have breakdown after breakdown.”

The Stars continued on to a 15-3 record, winning the Atlantic Division, and advanced to the USFL Championship game, which they lost in a close 24-22 contest against the Michigan Panthers. The Invaders finished first in the Pacific Division with a mediocre 9-9 tally and lost to the Panthers in the Semifinal playoff round.

Kelvin Bryant was leading the league in rushing after the win over Oakland with 713 yards. He ultimately ended up as the runner-up to New Jersey’s Herschel Walker with 1442 yards on 318 carries (4.5 avg.) and was named MVP by the league.