April 17, 2012

1983: Breakers Pull Away in Second Half to Beat Wranglers

The United States Football League Week 7 contest at Tempe, Arizona on April 17, 1983 featured the Boston Breakers, a 4-2 team that was in contention in the Atlantic Division, against the Arizona Wranglers, 3-3 along with the other three clubs in the Pacific Division.

The Breakers, coached by Dick Coury, had a potent offense directed by 35-year-old QB John Walton, who came out of retirement following previous stints in the Continental, World, and National football leagues. WR Charlie Smith, formerly of the NFL Eagles, combined with rookie wide receivers Nolan Franz and Frank Lockett to provide good targets and the running game was paced by HB Richard “Fast” Crump (pictured above). A solid linebacker corps, led by rookie Marcus Marek, anchored the defense. Boston was a game behind the division-leading Philadelphia Stars coming into the contest in Arizona.

Head Coach Doug Shively’s Wranglers had less talent across the board. The roster was undistinguished, but the team was holding its own in a mediocre division and had put together two exciting come-from-behind wins in doing so. Rookie QB Alan Risher played well and had a big-play wide receiver available in Jackie Flowers. Another ex-Eagle, Calvin Murray, was the top running back.

There were 20,911 in attendance at Sun Devil Stadium, and they had little to cheer about. Boston got the first big break early in the first quarter as Arizona punter Jim Asmus fumbled a snap and was tackled at his own two yard line. Walton promptly fired a pass to Crump for a touchdown.

The Wranglers immediately turned the ball over again thanks to a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. The Breakers came away with a 38-yard Tim Mazzetti field goal and the score was 10-0 with 7:21 left in the opening period.

Arizona finally got on the board halfway through the second quarter when Risher tossed a four-yard scoring pass to Flowers. With 31 seconds remaining before halftime, Mazzetti booted a 20-yard field goal and the score was 13-7 at the intermission.

In the third quarter, Boston put together a seven-play, 58-yard drive that resulted in FB Tony Davis running for a six-yard TD. The score was 20-7 with just under nine minutes remaining in the period. It got worse for the home team three minutes later when Breakers safety Joe Restic intercepted a Risher pass which resulted in Mazzetti adding to the margin with a 50-yard field goal.

Before the period was over, Arizona scored again, this time on a one-yard touchdown run by Murray that was followed by a successful two-point conversion on a throw from Risher to WR Neil Balholm. It was 23-15 after three quarters of play and Arizona was still within striking range.

However, there would be no late-game heroics for the mistake-prone Wranglers in this contest. The Breakers put it away with three fourth quarter touchdowns, the first two on four-yard runs by Crump and the last a fumble recovery by Lockett in the end zone. Arizona scored once more on a two-yard pass from backup QB Todd Krueger to Balholm, and the two connected again on a successful two-point conversion, but by then the outcome had long been decided. Boston came away with a convincing 44-23 win.

The Breakers outgained Arizona, 325 yards to 253, while the Wranglers had the edge with 19 first downs to Boston’s 18. Time of possession was nearly equal – the Breakers held the ball for 30:26 to Arizona’s 29:34. However, turnovers put the Wranglers in an early hole and sealed their fate – they gave up the ball five times to Boston’s one.

John Walton had an efficient day, completing 20 of 26 passes for 183 yards with one touchdown and none intercepted. Richard Crump rushed for an even 100 yards on 21 carries that included two TDs and caught 5 passes for 17 yards and one score. Nolan Franz had 6 receptions for 63 yards and Charlie Smith gained 66 yards on his 4 catches. Tim Mazzetti’s three field goals gave him 12 straight and, together with five extra points, he took over as the USFL’s scoring leader with 56 points.

For the Wranglers, Alan Risher was successful on 13 of 26 throws for 123 yards with a TD but two intercepted; Todd Krueger tossed 11 passes in relief and completed 6 for 55 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Calvin Murray was the leading rusher with 77 yards on 19 attempts and a TD. Neil Balholm pulled in 7 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown while Jackie Flowers caught 5 for 35 yards.

The Breakers remained in contention throughout the season, finishing second in the division with an 11-7 record and barely missing a wild card spot in the postseason. Arizona, however, completely collapsed, winning one more game the rest of the way and ending up tying Washington for the USFL’s worst record at 4-14.

John Walton missed time due to injury but still managed to throw more passes (589) than any other USFL quarterback and completed 56 percent of them for 3772 yards with 20 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Richard Crump was the league’s seventh-ranked rusher with 990 yards on 190 carries, giving him a 5.2-yard average. He also scored a total of 12 TDs. The ex-Falcon Tim Mazzetti (pictured below) ended up second in scoring (119 points) and field goals (27).