June 25, 2013

1983: Invaders Edge Breakers to Win Pacific Division Title

The Oakland Invaders had a mediocre 8-8 record with two contests to go in the inaugural United States Football League season, but that was enough to put them in control of their own destiny in the weak Pacific Division. On June 25, 1983 they hosted the Boston Breakers, who were 10-6 and trying to secure the lone Wild Card playoff spot.

The Invaders, coached by John Ralston, had uncovered a hidden talent in 29-year-old QB Fred Besana, a former semi-pro player who was proving to be one of the USFL’s most productive passers. Two former members of the NFL Raiders, TE Raymond Chester and RB Arthur Whittington, were better known to Bay Area football fans and key players on the offense, although Whittington was out with an injury for the Breakers game. The inconsistent defense had a good group of linebackers, most notably Frank Manumaleuga and Gary Plummer on the inside as they utilized a 3-4 alignment.

Head Coach Dick Coury’s Breakers boasted a well-balanced offense directed by QB John Walton, a veteran of the Continental and World Football Leagues as well as the NFL who had come out of retirement to play in the USFL. With a fine group of receivers plus ex-Canadian Football League RB Richard Crump, Boston could typically move the ball. Like the Invaders, the best part of the defense was the linebacking corps that was led by rookie Marcus Marek, but stopping the pass was a chronic problem.

There was a crowd of 30,396 on hand at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for the Saturday contest. They saw the home team take the early lead when Besana, rolling to his right, just got off a pass before going out of bounds that was caught in the end zone by HB Louis Jackson for a touchdown. Kevin Shea’s successful extra point made it 7-0, and that was the score after a period of play.

Boston got on the board in the second quarter thanks to a 35-yard Tim Mazzetti field goal. Oakland again moved into scoring position but a field goal attempt was blocked and returned 75 yards for a touchdown by LB Ben Needham. Instead of extending their lead, the Invaders were behind by 10-7. Before the half was over, Shea got another shot at a field goal and was successful from 22 yards out to tie the game at 10-10 at the half.

Mistakes by the Breakers in the third quarter put Oakland back in front. A fumble was recovered at the Oakland 48 and, with the help of three penalties, the Invaders moved to the Boston three. On the first play of the fourth quarter, FB Ted Torosian powered into the end zone for a touchdown and, with the successful extra point, Oakland took a 17-13 lead.

The Breakers again hurt themselves when an apparent touchdown was called back due to a penalty. Mazzetti was able to add a 24-yard field goal but the Oakland defense held the rest of the way and the Invaders won the game, and the division title, by the slender margin of 17-16.

Oakland outgained the Breakers (322 yards to 282), had more first downs (18 to 9), and significantly dominated time of possession (39:21 to 20:39). The Invaders also recorded five sacks, for a total loss of 31 yards, while Boston got to Besana twice. The Breakers turned the ball over three times, to one suffered by Oakland, and while the Invaders were penalized 11 times, Boston was flagged on 12 occasions, often in key situations, at a total cost of 115 yards.

Fred Besana had a solid, if unspectacular, performance as he completed 25 of 36 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. In place of Arthur Whittington, Louis Jackson rushed for 90 yards on 23 carries and caught 8 passes for 110 yards and a TD. Ted Torosian pulled in 10 receptions for 63 yards in addition to his 8 rushes for 16 yards and a score as most of Besana’s completions went to backs. Raymond Chester added 4 catches for 45 yards and only two completions were made to a wide receiver.

For the Breakers, John Walton was successful on only 7 of 20 throws for 109 yards with no TDs and one picked off while Doug Woodward went two-for-six and 28 yards with another interception. Richard Crump gained 122 yards on just 13 rushing attempts. WR Nolan Franz caught three passes for 36 yards while WR Charlie Smith gained 55 yards on his two receptions.

The Invaders lost their season finale and ended up at 9-9. They were defeated decisively by the Michigan Panthers in the Semifinal playoff game. Boston finished second in the Atlantic Division at 11-7 and out of the postseason. 

Fred Besana led the USFL in passing yards (3980) and completion percentage (62.7) while ranking second in passing overall. He tossed 21 TD passes as opposed to 16 interceptions.  In a backup role, Louis Jackson rushed for 273 yards on 82 carries (3.3 avg.) and caught 29 passes for 294 yards – his touchdown against Boston was his only one of the year.