June 1, 2013

1984: Late Field Goals Propel Showboats Past Breakers

The United States Football League matchup in Memphis on June 1, 1984 featured the New Orleans Breakers, at 8-6 struggling to stay in the playoff hunt, against the Memphis Showboats, 6-8 and in an even more precarious situation, although much improved after a 2-7 start.

The Showboats, coached by colorful Pepper Rodgers in their first USFL season, had an exciting offense but had backup QB Mike Kelley (pictured at right) behind center in place of injured rookie QB Walter Lewis. And while the defense had a star in rookie DE Reggie White, the unit as a whole gave up too many yards.

New Orleans was coached by Dick Coury and was moving in the opposite direction of the Showboats, having stumbled after winning seven of the first nine games. Veteran QB John Walton led a talented offense, but the defense, while also containing talent, had trouble against the pass.

There were 31,191 in attendance at the Liberty Bowl for the Friday night game. They saw the visitors score first on a 42-yard Tim Mazzetti field goal. The Showboats scored the initial touchdown of the game on their second possession that ended with Kelley throwing to TE Gary Shirk from three yards out.

A blocked punt set up the second Memphis TD late in the second quarter. RB Cornelius Quarles ran in for the score from a yard out with less than a minute left on the clock and the Showboats led by 14-3 at the half.

The Breakers narrowed the margin in the third quarter thanks to a three-play, 69-yard drive that ended with John Walton throwing to WR Frank Lockett for a 42-yard TD. Walton struck again in the fourth quarter with a 10-yard scoring throw to RB Buford Jordan and it was 17-14 in favor of New Orleans with just over five minutes remaining in regulation.

The Showboats fought back and with 1:10 left on the clock Alan Duncan booted a 45-yard field goal to tie the score. Overtime appeared likely until DB Mike Thomas made the biggest defensive play of the game, intercepting a Walton pass and returning it 28 yards to the New Orleans 35. Duncan came through with another long field goal, from 52 yards, with two seconds to spare and Memphis came away with a stunning 20-17 win.

New Orleans outgained the Showboats (341 yards to 266) and had the edge in first downs (15 to 14). Memphis even turned the ball over five times, to four by the Breakers, but the last New Orleans turnover proved to be fatal.

Mike Kelley completed 17 of 25 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown, but also tossed three interceptions. RB Glenn Ford gained 80 yards on 18 carries and caught 5 passes for 36 yards. WR Cormac Carney gained 49 yards on his three pass receptions.

For the Breakers, John Walton was successful on just 14 of 29 throws for two touchdowns but also the one big interception. Buford Jordan rushed for 104 yards on 14 carries and scored a TD on one of his three pass receptions for 16 more yards. RB Marcus Dupree led the team with four pass receptions, for 37 yards, to go along with his 12 carries for 29 yards while Frank Lockett had 59 yards and a score on his two catches.

Despite the win, Memphis was eliminated from postseason contention two days later. The Showboats ended up fourth in the Southern Division with a 7-11 record. The Breakers were right ahead of them at 8-10, having lost all of their remaining games.
Alan Duncan, who had been drafted by the NFL’s Eagles in 1981 but never made it to the regular season and was an assistant coach at Carson Newman College in 1983, was successful on 21 of his 28 field goal attempts and all but one of his 36 extra point tries to end up with 98 points in what was his most successful pro season.