May 8, 2012

1983: Stars Defeat Gold in Lowest-Scoring USFL Game

The Philadelphia Stars had the United States Football League’s best record at 8-1 and were sporting a five-game winning streak as they hosted the Denver Gold on May 8, 1983. Head Coach Jim Mora’s team utilized a conservative, ball-control offense that featured rookie RB Kelvin Bryant and had QB Chuck Fusina behind center. The “Doghouse Defense” was the new league’s best against the run and had also given up the fewest points thus far (83).

The Gold had hosted the Stars in the first week of the regular season, a low-scoring 13-7 win by Philadelphia. It had been a tough road since for Denver, coached by former Broncos Head Coach Red Miller. While the defense kept the club competitive, the offense had difficulty putting points on the board. But while the team’s record was a mediocre 4-5, it matched the other three clubs in the Pacific Division and thus placed the Gold very much in the thick of the race in the USFL’s weakest grouping.

There were 14,306 fans in attendance at Veterans Stadium, and they sat through a scoreless first quarter. It didn’t look like it would be when the Stars went 72 yards in 10 plays on their opening possession, but after reaching the six yard line they were backed up by two penalties and David Trout’s 32-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright.

Brian Speelman finally kicked a 23-yard field goal for Denver to cap a 53-yard drive with 9:39 remaining in the first half. Philadelphia, unable to move the ball effectively after the opening series, responded with a 53-yard field goal by Trout and the game was tied 3-3 at the half.

The Stars, in a third quarter possession that stretched into the first minute of the final period, drove to the Denver one. However, Fusina threw an incomplete pass intended for RB Jeff Rodenberger on third down and Trout kicked another field goal, this time from 18 yards.

Mistakes by the Gold prevented a possible tie or win during the remainder of the fourth quarter. A fumble at the Philadelphia 46 was recovered by safety Mike Lush with 7:31 remaining, snuffing out a potential threat. Denver had another chance to tie late. A drive stalled at the Philadelphia six yard line when Lush and LB Sam Mills stopped a running play on third down, but with 2:07 left a bad snap on the resulting field goal attempt flew to the right of QB Ken Johnson, also the holder on placekicks, and was recovered by the Stars to clinch the 6-3 win.

Philadelphia outgained the Gold (227 yards to 174), had more first downs (16 to 12), and held onto the ball longer (32:53 to 27:07). Both clubs suffered two turnovers and four sacks apiece. The Stars had eight penalties, at a cost of 65 yards, to just three flags thrown on Denver.

Kelvin Bryant, as usual, was the key to the Philadelphia offense, rushing for 94 yards on 23 carries and catching 6 passes for another 50 yards. Chuck Fusina completed just 15 of 29 throws for 135 yards with no TDs and one intercepted. Only four passes were completed to wide receivers, for 43 yards, while TE Steve Folsom had three receptions for 31 yards. In a game dominated by defense, Mike Lush was the standout with an interception that set up the team’s first field goal, a fumble recovery, and a hand in the big third-down stop that set up the Gold’s ill-fated three-point try.

For Denver, 32-year-old CFL veteran Ken Johnson went to the air 24 times and had 11 completions for 107 yards and was intercepted once. Tellingly, Johnson was also the team’s leading rusher with 35 yards on three carries. Harry Sydney had the most yards among the stable of running backs, with 21 on 8 attempts. Running backs Terry Miller and Larry Canada each caught four passes, for 37 and 29 yards, respectively, and two completions went to wide receivers.

The nine total points scored proved to be the lowest over the three years that the USFL existed. There were three ten-point games (two in 1984, one in ’85), with the last one also involving the Stars.

The low offensive output did not presage trouble for the Stars, who bounced back with 24 points in a convincing win at Arizona the following week on the way to topping the Atlantic Division with a 15-3 record. They advanced to the USFL Championship game, losing a close 24-22 decision to the Michigan Panthers.

Offensive problems continued to plague Denver, however, and after scoring just nine points in a loss to Boston in the next contest, Red Miller became the new league’s first coaching casualty. Owner Ron Blanding replaced him with ex-Broncos QB Craig Morton and the Gold ultimately finished third in the Pacific Division at 7-11.