April 4, 2011

1985: Late Collier TD Clinches Orlando Win Over Memphis

After two unsuccessful seasons as the Washington Federals (a combined 7-29 record and average attendance in 1984 of 7694 fans per home game), the franchise moved south to Florida and became the Orlando Renegades for the 1985 United States Football League season. They had a new owner (Donald Dizney) and head coach (Lee Corso) in addition to a new name and surroundings. However, they still yielded the same results, losing their first six games. To be sure, the club was becoming more competitive, losing one game in overtime and, in the sixth contest, led the Gold by 17-0 at halftime before succumbing by a final score of 21-17.

On April 4, 1985 the Renegades hosted the Memphis Showboats at Orlando Stadium. The Showboats, in their second USFL season under colorful Head Coach Pepper Rodgers, had started strong with three wins, but then lost the next three games prior to the contest in Orlando.

There were 21,223 fans in attendance for the Thursday night game and they saw it get off to a rousing start as WR Jerry Parrish took the opening kickoff for the Renegades, found a hole up the middle of the field and then broke for the right sideline on his way to an 87-yard touchdown.

Midway through the first quarter, the Showboats responded as QB Walter Lewis completed a 10-yard TD pass to TE Mark Raugh to cap an eight-play, 64-yard drive. Just under two minutes later, Orlando culminated an eight-play possession that covered 70 yards, including three straight pass completions that moved the ball from the Memphis 38 to the one. QB Reggie Collier, starting his second game in place of injured veteran Jerry Golsteyn, sneaked for a one-yard TD to put the Renegades back in front at 14-7 after one period.

That was all the scoring until the fourth quarter as neither team was able to generate much offense. Collier ran for his second TD, this time from two yards out on the second play of the final period. At that point, with a 21-7 lead, it seemed as though Orlando had the game in hand, but the Showboats mounted a comeback.

RB Harry Sydney ran for a 13-yard touchdown to culminate a quick possession by Memphis in which QB Mike Kelley, who took over for Lewis, completed two passes that covered 49 yards, including a 30-yard throw to Raugh.

Kelley passed the Showboats into scoring position again with a crucial completion to RB Ricky Porter that covered 34 yards on a third-and-23 play. When Chuck Bushbeck kicked a 26-yard field goal with 4:25 left on the clock, Orlando’s margin shrank to 21-17.

The Showboats again threatened, and it seemed as though another late defeat was in the offing for the Renegades. But Kelley then missed on four straight passes, including a fourth-and-ten play at the Orlando 30 with the clock running down to 58 seconds in which his throw was just beyond the outstretched fingertips of RB Anthony Parker. Three plays later, Collier dropped back to pass, couldn’t find an open receiver, eluded two Memphis linemen in the backfield, and took off down the right sideline on an electrifying 63-yard run for a touchdown to nail down the win with 33 seconds remaining. The final score was 28-17.

Memphis had more first downs (24 to 15) and led in both rushing (185 yards on 33 attempts) and passing yards (216). The Renegades had 147 rushing yards on 29 carries and 136 passing yards. In addition, Memphis missed two costly field goals, to one by Orlando.

Reggie Collier ran for a team-leading 70 yards on 6 carries and completed 12 of 19 passes for 136 yards with none intercepted. RB Curtis Bledsoe ran for 45 yards on 12 attempts and caught three passes for 25 yards. FB Rickey Claitt had 29 yards on three catches.

For Memphis, Walter Lewis, who entered the game as the USFL’s top-rated passer, completed 6 of 13 throws for 64 yards with a TD and had none picked off before being benched, while Mike Kelley was successful on 7 of 15 passes for 152 yards with one intercepted in relief. Harry Sydney rushed for 95 yards on 16 attempts. Mark Raugh caught 5 passes for 97 yards.

“I said all along that we were becoming a better team each week,” Coach Lee Corso commented afterward. “Our philosophy this week was that if we could win this week we could wipe out all the other games and get respect.”

While there was jubilation among the Renegades and their fans, an angry Coach Pepper Rodgers and GM Steve Ehrhart of the Showboats locked the locker room door, refusing to admit reporters after the game in violation of USFL rules. The club’s PR director appeared with a statement from Rodgers that read, “To say that I'm disappointed is the understatement of the year. This is undoubtedly one of the low points of the season for the.Showboats.”

It was the fourth straight loss for Memphis after a 3-0 start. They recovered to end up at 11-7 for third place in the Eastern Conference and qualified for the postseason – after dismantling the Denver Gold by a score of 48-7 in the Quarterfinal round, they lost to the Oakland Invaders in the Semifinal game. Orlando continued to improve, at least offensively (the defense gave up a league-high 481 points), and went 5-7 after the 0-6 start, which still left them in the Eastern Conference basement with a record of 5-13.

Third-year QB Reggie Collier, as he did decisively against Memphis, continued to make the most of his mobility by running for 606 yards on 92 carries (6.6 avg.) with 12 touchdowns. His passing statistics were less impressive as he was successful on 53.6 percent of his passes for 2578 yards with 13 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.