June 5, 2010

1983: Newcomer JoJo Townsell Scores Winning TD as LA Defeats Wranglers

The Los Angeles Express were tied for the lead in the United States Football League’s Pacific Division as they hosted the Arizona Wranglers at the Memorial Coliseum on June 5, 1983, but with a mediocre 6-7 record. While the defense was adequate, the team was at the bottom of the league in running the ball while Head Coach Hugh Campbell split the quarterbacking between CFL and NFL veteran Mike Rae and rookie Tom Ramsey.

The Express also sought to bolster the receiving corps as the season progressed, adding WR Anthony Allen midway through and, two days prior to the contest with the Wranglers, rookie WR JoJo Townsell, a local talent out of UCLA (where he had been a teammate of Ramsey’s). It did not take long for the 5’9”, 180-pound receiver to make an impression.

Arizona, 4-9 coming into the contest, scored in the first quarter on a 25-yard field goal by Phil Denfeld, but Rae staked LA to a 7-3 halftime lead thanks to a one-yard touchdown plunge in the second quarter. The Wranglers moved back ahead in the third quarter with a 13-yard scoring run by RB Darryl Clark. Vince Abbott tied the score with a 33-yard field goal later in the period.

Arizona regained the advantage in the fourth quarter due to another Denfeld field goal, this from 34 yards. But with 2:38 remaining in the game, Ramsey passed to Townsell for a 26-yard touchdown to win the game for the Express, 17-13.

Neither team mounted much of a running attack, with LA actually outgaining the Wranglers 79 yards to 72. Time of possession was virtually the same, but the Express defense sacked Arizona’s quarterbacks a total of 9 times – both LB Eric Scoggins and NT Eddie “Meat Cleaver” Weaver recorded three apiece.

Of the two Los Angeles quarterbacks, Mike Rae completed 12 of 20 passes for 115 yards with no TDs and two interceptions; Tom Ramsey was successful on 11 of 14 throws for 101 yards with the winning TD and none picked off. Townsell was the headliner with two catches for a team-leading 57 yards and the critical TD, but Anthony Allen led the club in receptions with 6 (totaling 44 yards). RB John Barnett led the runners with 32 yards on 7 carries.

QB Alan Risher completed 14 of 17 passes for 143 yards with no interceptions for Arizona; QB Dan Manucci added another 41 yards while completing 5 of 12 passes with an interception (RB Harold Blue also completed a nine-yard pass). TE Mark Keel caught 6 passes for 44 yards and WR Neil Balholm gained 53 yards on four catches. RB Calvin Murray gained 44 yards on 10 carries to lead the team.

While the win over the Wranglers allowed the Express to stay even with Oakland at the top of the Pacific Division, ultimately LA finished second to the Invaders with an 8-10 record. It did not help that they had difficulty drawing fans to the Coliseum (there were 13,826 on hand for the June 2 contest). Arizona lost its remaining games to stay at the bottom of the division with a 4-14 tally.

The two late-arriving receivers performed well overall, with Allen catching 37 passes for 613 yards (16.6 avg.) and three touchdowns in eight games and Townsell making 21 catches for 326 yards (15.5 avg.) and three TDs over five contests. TE Ricky Ellis, who was with the Express all year (although not initially in the starting lineup) was the leader of the club’s solid group of receivers with 69 receptions for 716 yards and 6 TDs (he grabbed three passes for 21 yards against Arizona). But the lack of a running game badly hindered the offense (LaRue Harrington led the team in rushing for the year with just 547 yards and a 3.8 average).