April 14, 2010

1984: Gold Overcomes 3-TD Deficit to Defeat Maulers

The Pittsburgh Maulers were one of six new teams in the United States Football League’s second season, and were experiencing plenty of difficulties as they got off to a 2-5 start. Coached by Joe Pendry, the offense was directed by former Cowboys backup QB Glenn Carano and featured rookie Heisman Trophy-winning RB Mike Rozier. However, the defense was mediocre, Rozier got off to a slow start, and Carano struggled (at least, prior to a 388-yard passing performance the week before in a losing effort at New Orleans).

Pittsburgh’s opponent at Three Rivers Stadium on April 14, 1984 was the Denver Gold. Under Head Coach Craig Morton, the Gold had gotten off to a 6-1 start and sat atop the Pacific Division. It hardly seemed likely that the Maulers would mount a strong challenge.

However, at halftime the score was 21-0 in favor of Pittsburgh. Carano had thrown touchdown passes of 21 and 24 yards to WR Greg Anderson and, in between, connected for a 65-yard TD to WR Jackie Flowers.

Denver finally got on the board in the third quarter as QB Craig Penrose threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to WR Kevin Williams. Shortly thereafter, Penrose went down with torn knee ligaments, but reserve QB Bob Gagliano stepped in and narrowed the margin to 21-13 with a 25-yard TD throw to WR Leonard Harris (the extra point attempt failed).

In the fourth quarter, Gagliano connected with Harris for another score, this one from five yards out, and the quarterback ran for a successful two-point conversion to tie the contest. The Gold pulled ahead thanks to an 18-yard touchdown run by Williams on an end-around, and Brian Speelman’s 20-yard field goal with under two minutes to play sealed the 31-21 Denver victory.

The game had been all Pittsburgh in the first half, all Denver in the second. The Maulers outrushed the Gold, 176 yards to 97, and controlled the ball for almost 34 minutes to Denver’s 26. However, Carano (pictured at left) threw three interceptions and was sacked six times (three times apiece by defensive ends Dave Stalls and Bruce Thornton), as opposed to Denver suffering one sack and neither quarterback having a pass picked off. Pittsburgh also committed 12 penalties, adding up to 100 yards, to Denver’s four for 26 yards.

A bright spot for the Maulers was the performance of Rozier, who had his first pro hundred-yard game with 137 yards on 24 carries. Carano’s numbers reflected his inconsistency as he threw three touchdowns, three interceptions, and completed just 14 of 34 passes. Greg Anderson caught 6 passes (for 96 yards) while Jackie Flowers led the team in receiving yards with 125 on three catches.

For Denver, Bob Gagliano’s solid relief performance was summed up by his completing 8 of 9 passes for 90 yards and the two TDs. Prior to that, Craig Penrose was successful on 7 of 16 passes for 106 yards and a score. Leonard Harris was the top receiver with 5 catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns. RB Harry Sydney led the runners with 60 yards on 15 carries.

The win marked the high point of the season for the Gold – they lost their next five contests and won only two more games the rest of the way to finish at 9-9 and in third place in the Pacific Division. Pittsburgh never got on track, ending up at the bottom of the Atlantic Division (along with the Washington Federals) with a 3-15 record. The Maulers folded following the season while the Gold changed ownership and Morton was replaced as coach by Darrell “Mouse” Davis, who had popularized the “run-and-shoot” offense.