June 2, 2010

1984: Fred Besana Sets Mark as Invaders Defeat Bulls

QB Fred Besana had been a major find by the Oakland Invaders in the inaugural United States Football League season. After failing to catch on in the NFL and playing in the semi-pro California Football League with the Twin City Cougars from 1980-82, the University of California product joined the USFL at age 29. Besana had an outstanding year in ’83 as he placed second in the league passing standings and led in completions (345), completion percentage (62.7), and yards (3980). The Invaders won the Pacific Division, albeit with a 9-9 record.

1984 had proven to be a more difficult year for Besana and the Invaders. The club lost its first nine games and had problems putting points on the board – the Invaders were shut out three times during the streak, and scored fewer than 10 points in five contests. Besana suffered from nagging injuries – not helped by a lack of mobility and an offensive line that allowed a league-leading 69 sacks during the year. He also was missing two favorite receivers from 1983 in TE Raymond Chester, who retired, and WR Wyatt Henderson, who was lost in the expansion draft.

However, after finally breaking into the win column, Oakland proceeded to win five straight games to creep back into the postseason picture in a weak division. Besana was part of the turnaround, as he demonstrated to good effect on June 2 as the Invaders hosted the expansion Jacksonville Bulls at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (the Bulls, one of six expansion teams in ’84, were the club that had claimed Henderson).

Besana, who had completed his last two passes in the previous week’s win over Oklahoma, proceeded to complete his first 17 passes against the Bulls for a USFL-record 19 straight. However, it didn’t translate into many points as Oakland scored just one TD on a five-yard pass from Besana to TE Brian Williams. Sandwiched between field goals of 21 and 32 yards by Jacksonville’s Brian Franco, it was good enough for a 7-6 halftime lead.

The Invaders finally pulled out the win with a 10-point fourth quarter that included a 37-yard field goal by Kevin Shea and three-yard touchdown run by FB Tom Newton. The Bulls scored a late TD on a two-yard pass by QB Robbie Mahfouz to WR Alton Alexis (followed by a failed two-point conversion attempt). It was too little, too late as Oakland eked out a sixth straight win by a 17-12 margin.

Thanks to the passing streak to start the game, Besana ended up with an 82.8 completion percentage (24 of 29 passes) for 214 yards with a TD and no interceptions. Brian Williams was the club’s top receiver with 8 catches for 88 yards and the one score. The Invaders outrushed the Bulls, 119 yards to 75, with Tom Newton the leading ground gainer at 72 yards on 10 carries.

As was usual during the year, the Bulls split the quarterback duties between veteran Matt Robinson (14 of 24 for 112 yards with two interceptions and no TDs) and Mahfouz (9 of 14 for 89 yards with a TD and none picked off). RB Larry Mason was the leading rusher with 45 yards on 8 attempts. Both WR Aubrey Matthews and TE Robert Young caught 6 passes, with Matthews gaining the most yards (65). In his Oakland homecoming, Wyatt Henderson had two catches for 22 yards.

While the Invaders outgained the Bulls and benefited from Besana’s accuracy, they also handicapped themselves by committing 11 penalties (for a total of 85 yards) as opposed to just two by the visitors. However, while Besana was sacked three times, the Oakland defense managed to sack the Jacksonville quarterbacks a total of seven times (DE Monte Bennett led with two).

The Invaders ultimately won seven straight games before losing the final two contests and finishing at the bottom of the Pacific Division with a 7-11 record. Jacksonville ended up last in the Southern Division with a 6-12 tally.

Fred Besana ranked far lower in the USFL’s passing standings for the ’84 season, coming in at 11th. His yards-per-attempt (6.3) were nearly a yard below his ’83 figure (7.2), but he still completed a healthy 57.6 percent of his passes and threw for more touchdowns (14) than interceptions (12).

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