May 25, 2013

1984: Late TD Pass Propels Gold Over Gunslingers

The Denver Gold of the United States Football League had gotten off to a 7-1 start during the 1984 season, but were in the midst of a five-game losing streak as they faced the San Antonio Gunslingers on May 25. At 7-6 Denver was still on top of the mediocre Pacific Division, but Head Coach Craig Morton’s club desperately needed a win and was without injured starting QB Craig Penrose.

The Gunslingers, in their first season in the USFL, were 5-8 despite coming off a win at Washington the previous week and had their own difficulties. Poorly managed, the Gunslingers, who were coached by Gil Steinke, were respectable on the field and had overcome a 0-4 start. Rookie QB Rick Neuheisel showed considerable promise, but it was the young-but-tough defense that fueled the improvement.

There were 20,077 in attendance for the Friday night game at Alamo Stadium. The Gunslingers took a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter on a 32-yard field goal by Nick Mike-Mayer. Brian Speelman tied the score less than five minutes into the second quarter with a 23-yard field goal and then backup QB Fred Mortensen (pictured above) threw to RB Bill Johnson for a 23-yard touchdown with 4:20 remaining in the first half. It was 10-3 in favor of the visitors at the intermission.

In the third quarter, San Antonio took advantage of a fumble recovery at the Denver 7. RB George Works ran for a TD from two yards out and, with the successful extra point, the game was tied at 10-10. Speelman added another field goal later in the period to make it 13-10 and, before the quarter was over, Denver got a break when the Gunslingers failed to convert a fourth down, allowing the Gold to take over at the San Antonio 29. Four plays later, and now in the final quarter, RB Harry Sydney ran for a three-yard touchdown and Denver was ahead by 20-10.

The Gunslingers got within seven points as the 34-year-old veteran Mike-Mayer kicked his ninth straight field goal, from 33 yards out four minutes later. A blocked punt by LB Reggie Oliver then set up another score for San Antonio. Works scored his second touchdown from a yard out and Mike-Mayer booted the tying extra point. But the decisive play of the game came with 1:52 left on the clock as Mortensen tossed a pass to RB Dave Preston that was good for a 32-yard touchdown. It was enough to give the Gold a 27-20 win.

Denver outgained the Gunslingers (394 yards to 252) and had more first downs (16 to 10). However, they also turned the ball over twice, to one by San Antonio.

In his relief role, Fred Mortensen completed 19 of 27 passes for 308 yards and two touchdowns with none intercepted. WR Elmer Bailey led the Denver receivers with 4 catches for 82 yards while WR Leonard Harris was right behind with three receptions and 81 yards. Harry Sydney rushed for 42 yards on 9 carries.

For the Gunslingers, Rick Neuheisel was successful on 11 of 20 throws for 148 yards and no TDs or interceptions. RB Marcus Bonner had 43 rushing yards on 6 attempts and also caught 4 passes for 29 yards. WR Danny Buggs gained the most receiving yards with 50 that all came on a single reception. George Works (pictured at left), who scored two touchdowns, gained 37 yards on 10 carries.

Ending the losing streak did not mark a turnaround for Denver. The Gold lost the following week and won just once more the rest of the way, finishing at 9-9 and in third place in the Pacific Division – although, in a week division, they remained in contention until the season finale. San Antonio also finished third in the Central Division with a 7-11 record.

Fred Mortensen appeared in seven games and completed 64 of 100 passes for 994 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions. Released by the Gold following the season, he was picked up by San Antonio for 1985.