April 24, 2013

1983: Stars Hold Off Rally to Beat Breakers

The Philadelphia Stars were off to a 6-1 start in the inaugural United States Football League season as they hosted the Boston Breakers on April 24, 1983. Head Coach Jim Mora’s team benefited greatly from the presence of rookie RB Kelvin Bryant on a ball-control offense directed by QB Chuck Fusina. The “Doghouse Defense” was even more the key to the club’s success, having given up an average of just eight points a game in the first seven weeks.

Boston was 5-2 and right behind the Stars in the Atlantic Division standings. Coached by the offensive-minded Dick Coury, who had ex-NFL star quarterback Roman Gabriel as offensive coordinator, the Breakers had a fine passing game with 35-year-old QB John Walton, a veteran of the WFL and NFL who had come out of retirement as a college coach, throwing to wide receivers Frank Lockett, Nolan Franz, and ex-Eagle Charlie Smith. Ex-CFL halfback Richard Crump was productive both as a receiver out of the backfield and runner from scrimmage.

There were just 10,257 fans in attendance at Veterans Stadium. The home team started off the scoring as Fusina tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to WR Willie Collier seven minutes into the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, Kelvin Bryant ran around the left side for a 21-yard TD.

The defense set up another scoring series for the Stars when FS Mike Lush knocked the ball out of the hands of Nolan Franz and LB Sam Mills recovered at the Philadelphia 37. The resulting drive ended up with a 34-yard David Trout field goal for a 17-0 margin.

Five minutes into the second half, Trout added another field goal, this time from 34 yards, and it seemed as though the Stars were cruising at 20-0. However, the Breakers came up with a big play with just over five minutes to go in the third quarter. Walton connected with Frank Lockett down the middle for an 86-yard touchdown to get them on the board.

Two minutes later, LB Ben Needham intercepted a Fusina throw and that resulted in a Boston possession that concluded with Walton tossing another TD pass, this time from eight yards out to Richard Crump. Suddenly, the Breakers were only six points down with plenty of time remaining.

The Stars defense showed its mettle in keeping the surging Breakers from again reaching the end zone. In the closest call, a fake field goal attempt by the Breakers came up short at the Philadelphia three yard line with 4:19 left on the clock.

The Stars couldn’t move out of their end of the field and took an intentional safety with 2:29 remaining in the game as punter Sean Landeta ran out of the end zone. But while that pulled the Breakers to just four points behind, Boston RB Ira Matthews fumbled the free kick and CB Jonathan Sutton of the Stars recovered at the Breakers’ 30. David Trout added a 42-yard field goal to make it a seven-point game.

The Breakers had one last shot and drove to the Philadelphia 10 with 26 seconds remaining. However, they could get no further as Walton threw two incomplete passes and the Stars hung on for a tough 23-16 win.

Although Philadelphia held the ball for five minutes longer than the Breakers, Boston outgained the Stars (471 yards to 254) and had more first downs (19 to 14). However, the visitors also turned the ball over five times, to three by Philadelphia.

As usual, Kelvin Bryant was the key producer on offense for the Stars with 110 yards on 23 rushing attempts that included a TD. Chuck Fusina completed 12 of 18 passes for 124 yards with a touchdown and the one costly interception. WR Rodney Parker led the receiver s with three catches for 55 yards.

For the Breakers, John Walton went to the air 44 times and was successful on 31 for 367 yards and two TDs with one intercepted. Nolan Franz caught 7 of those passes for 74 yards while, with the one long scoring grab, Frank Lockett gained 131 yards on 5 receptions. Charlie Smith contributed another 5 catches for 97 yards. Richard Crump ran for 51 yards on 13 carries and pulled in 6 passes for 50 more yards and a TD.

The fumble on the free kick, not surprisingly, drew the most comments after the game.

“I think the Stars made a poor decision in calling for the safety,” said Dick Coury. “It gave us a chance, but we fumbled it away, and that fumble cost us the game.”

“The biggest thing we wanted to do was make sure we made the tackle to keep them from getting good field position,” explained Jonathan Sutton of the key turnover. “Mark McCants made a good hit. We saw the ball pop out and I was right there to cover the ball.”

The Stars continued on to win the Atlantic Division with a 15-3 record, eventually losing to the Michigan Panthers in the USFL Championship game. Boston won the rematch with Philadelphia but finished second in the division at 11-7 and missed the postseason.

Kelvin Bryant ranked second in the league in rushing with 1442 yards on 318 carries (4.5 avg.) and 16 touchdowns and had 53 pass receptions for 410 more yards and a TD. He received All-USFL recognition and was named MVP by the league.

John Walton led the USFL in pass attempts (589) and ranked second in completions (330) and yards (3770) while tying for third (with Alan Risher of Arizona) with 20 touchdown passes. Nolan Franz led the Breakers with 62 catches, for 848 yards, while Charlie Smith gained 1009 yards on 54 receptions for a fine 18.7-yard average and five scores. Frank Lockett, who missed five games, had 37 catches for 535 yards and three TDs.