February 24, 2014

1985: Zendejas Field Goals Propel Outlaws Over Breakers

The season-opening United States Football League game in Tempe, Arizona on February 24, 1985 featured the Arizona Outlaws and the Portland Breakers, two teams that had undergone transformations over the course of the offseason.

The Outlaws were a combination of clubs that played as the Arizona Wranglers and Oklahoma Outlaws in 1984. From Oklahoma came QB Doug Williams, previously of the NFL Buccaneers, who performed well until knocked out of action by a knee injury. WR Alphonso Williams and TE Ron Wheeler were capable receivers. From the previous Arizona franchise that had reached the USFL Championship game came such savvy veterans as RB Kevi n Long, DT Kit Lathrop, and DE Karl Lorch (although they were missing WR Trumaine Johnson, who held out). One newcomer was rookie PK Luis Zendejas out of Arizona State, where he set a NCAA record with 368 career points. Also new was Head Coach Frank Kush, long-time coach at ASU who had most recently been with the NFL Colts.

The Breakers, coached by Dick Coury, were in their third city in three USFL seasons. Originally based in Boston with an inadequate home venue, they moved to New Orleans for ’84 but, with the announced plan to shift to a Fall schedule in 1986, the club was forced to move again, this time to Portland, Oregon. The Breakers had featured an exciting offense led by QB John Walton, but he was now retired and being replaced by backup Doug Woodward. Still, there were good receivers in WR Frank Lockett and TE Dan Ross and capable runners in RBs Buford Jordan and Marcus Dupree. LB Marcus Marek was the keystone of a solid defense.

There were 20,321 fans in attendance at Sun Devil Stadium in what would prove to be a low-scoring struggle. The Outlaws scored first eight minutes into the opening period when Luis Zendejas kicked a 25-yard field goal. Zendejas added another field goal, from 29 yards, in the second quarter. It was set up by a pass from Doug Williams to WR William Davis that covered 46 yards to the Portland nine yard line (it would be the only catch of the year for Davis). The Outlaws took a 6-0 lead into halftime.

Late in the third quarter, the Breakers drove 80 yards on 15 plays and scored on an 11-yard touchdown carry by Marcus Dupree. Tim Mazzetti’s extra point put Portland ahead by 7-6.

In the final period, an interception by Arizona CB Carl Allen gave the Outlaws the ball at the Portland 39, and that set up a Zendejas field goal from 43 yards with 6:33 remaining to play. The Breakers reached the Arizona 37 in a last-gasp effort to pull the game out, but Doug Woodward fumbled the ball away on a fourth down play with 32 seconds left on the clock and the Outlaws came away with a 9-7 win.

Arizona had more total yards (279 to 210), although only 31 of those yards came on 25 rushing attempts while New Orleans had more balance on offense (108 rushing, 102 passing). The teams were even with 11 first downs apiece. Each team turned the ball over two times.

Doug Williams completed 16 of 26 passes for 254 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Ron Wheeler had three catches for 85 yards while WR John Mistler and RB Allan Clark also contributed three receptions apiece, for 30 and 28 yards, respectively. Kevin Long led the miniscule running attack with 18 yards on 11 carries. Luis Zendejas was the scoring star, with three field goals in as many attempts in his pro debut.

For the Breakers, Doug Woodward was successful on just 11 of 26 throws for 140 yards and had one intercepted. Marcus Dupree ran for 69 yards on 17 carries but had to be carried off the field on a stretcher with just over two minutes remaining in the contest. TE David Bayle caught three passes for 33 yards and Dan Ross gained 49 yards on his two receptions.

Dupree’s knee injury proved to be severe and finished him for the season. It would be a disappointing one for the Breakers, who were less productive on offense and finished at 6-12 and fifth in the Western Conference. Arizona ended up not being much better, going 8-10 in placing fourth in the conference.

Luis Zendejas was the USFL’s seventh-leading scorer (tied with Danny Miller of Birmingham) as he connected on 24 of 33 field goal attempts and added 36 extra points, albeit with five misses, in compiling 108 points. He went on to play in the NFL, with the Cowboys and Eagles, as did two of his brothers, Tony and Max (a cousin, Joaquin, kicked in one game for the Patriots).