May 5, 2011

1985: Bulls Score Two TDs in 4th Quarter to Beat Generals

The second-year Jacksonville Bulls were 5-5, and had won their last three United States Football League contests, as they hosted the New Jersey Generals on May 5, 1985. Coached by Lindy Infante, they had benefited from the play of QB Ed Luther, formerly of the NFL Chargers, who had joined the team early in the season and took over for the injured Brian Sipe. They also had second-year RB Mike Rozier (pictured at right), a former Heisman Trophy winner out of Nebraska who played for the Pittsburgh Maulers in ’84, a franchise that folded after one season. The defense had improved since the previous year, benefiting from the presence of rookie DE Keith Millard to go along with second-year LB Vaughan Johnson.

The Generals, coming into the contest at 7-3 and tied for the lead in the USFL’s Eastern Conference, were coached by Walt Michaels and had two ex-Heisman Trophy winners of their own – star RB Herschel Walker and rookie QB Doug Flutie – to go along with an array of veteran talent.

Typically drawing well, there were 60,100 in attendance at the Gator Bowl. The fans saw the Generals control the game early, scoring the first two times they had the ball. Four minutes into the contest, Roger Ruzek kicked a 49-yard field goal. Just three minutes later, following a bad punt by the Bulls, Flutie threw to TE Sam Bowers for a 30-yard touchdown. The possession lasted two plays and New Jersey was ahead by 10-0.

Jacksonville got back into the game by putting together a 72-yard drive over nine plays that ended when Rozier ran 23 yards up the middle with less than two minutes remaining in the first quarter. New Jersey held a three-point lead after one period.

The teams traded field goals in the second quarter. Jacksonville’s Brian Franco (pictured below) kicked two, of 23 and 38 yards, and Ruzek booted a 46-yarder with 2:09 left in the first half, knotting the score at 13-13 at halftime.

The Bulls got a break in the third quarter on a fake field goal attempt by the Generals that went awry. Holder Rick Partridge attempted a pass that was intercepted by DB Joe Johnson and returned 16 yards to the New Jersey 49. Franco capped the possession with a 36-yard field goal and the Bulls were ahead by 16-13.

New Jersey opened the fourth quarter in the midst of an 11-play, 77-yard drive with Walker taking off on runs of 18 and 13 yards along the way. FB Maurice Carthon rushed for a 10-yard touchdown, and the Generals were back in front by 20-16 with 10:45 to go.

New Jersey’s lead didn’t last long, however. On the ensuing kickoff, Jacksonville TE Norris Brown, who had been waived by the Generals in the preseason, gathered in the ball at his 18 yard line and ran down the right sideline 82 yards for a touchdown. It was not only the biggest play of the game, giving the Bulls a 23-20 lead, but was the only kickoff return for a TD in franchise history.

Any hopes that the Generals had of coming back were crushed by a 72-yard Jacksonville possession that ran more than six minutes off the clock and ended with Rozier scoring a second touchdown, going around end from a yard out to cushion the lead with 2:17 remaining in the contest and providing the final score of 30-20.

The Bulls had more first downs (21 to 19), and while New Jersey far outrushed Jacksonville (209 yards to 98), the Bulls had more passing yards (195 to 119).

Ed Luther completed 20 of 31 passes for 200 yards with none intercepted. Mike Rozier ran for 87 yards on 22 carries, two of them for scores, and caught three passes for 41 more. WR Perry Kemp and TE Mark Keel each caught four passes, with Kemp gaining 45 yards to Keel’s 33.

For New Jersey, Herschel Walker had a typically strong showing, running for 169 yards on 29 attempts, his fifth consecutive hundred-yard performance. Doug Flutie completed 9 of 17 passes for 148 yards and a TD with one intercepted. Sam Bowers caught two passes for 43 yards and a touchdown. WR Walter Broughton was right behind with 42 yards on his two receptions.

“Norris Brown's run could not have come at a better time,” said Bulls coach Lindy Infante afterward. “It was a great spark.”

“New Jersey waived me so I wanted to do whatever I could to help the Bulls,” said Brown. “I just popped the opening and all I had was field in front of me. I couldn't believe there was all that ground out there with nobody in front of me. I was so wide open, I thought I was going to pull a muscle or something.”

Ultimately, the Generals remained ahead of the Bulls in the final standings. New Jersey finished at 11-7, in second place in the Eastern Conference. They lost to the Baltimore Stars in the Quarterfinal round of the playoffs. Jacksonville had a 9-9 record, placing them sixth in the same conference.

Herschel Walker went on to lead the USFL with a phenomenal 2411 rushing yards. Mike Rozier placed second with 1361. Ed Luther ended up ninth among the league’s passers, throwing for 2792 yards and completing an even 60 percent of his passes, while tossing 15 touchdowns against 21 interceptions. Brian Franco was named All-USFL placekicker by the league, succeeding on 24 of 29 field goal attempts and scoring 117 points.