March 27, 2014

1983: Federals Defeat Panthers for First Win

The Washington Federals had endured tough going in the first three weeks of the inaugural United States Football League season, losing all three of their games, including the most recent thanks to a late field goal. On March 27, 1983 they hosted the Michigan Panthers, who came into the contest at 1-2.

The Federals, coached by Ray Jauch, had a good rookie running back in Craig James, but he was already sidelined with an injury. WR Joey Walters was a dependable receiver, but quarterback was unsettled with another promising first-year play, Mike Hohensee, injured and veteran NFL backup Kim McQuilken taking his place.

Michigan had a big-name rookie of its own, WR Anthony Carter, who was off to a slow start and a less-heralded first-year quarterback in Bobby Hebert. LB John Corker already had five sacks, but Head Coach Jim Stanley’s team was still coming together and, following a low-scoring opening win, was struggling.

There was an extremely disappointing crowd of 11,414 fans in attendance on a rainy day at RFK Stadium. The Federals got on the board first, just three minutes into the contest, with a 32-yard field goal by Obed Ariri.

That was it until midway through the second quarter when Washington extended its lead on a pass from Kim McQuilken to WR Mike Holmes that was good for a 40-yard touchdown. The Panthers responded by driving 81 yards in 12 plays, culminating in a TD pass from Bobby Hebert to Anthony Carter that covered 33 yards. It was Carter’s first pro touchdown and, with Novo Bojovic adding the extra point, Washington’s lead was narrowed to 10-7.

In the waning seconds of the first half, the Federals scored another touchdown on an eight-yard McQuilken toss to Joey Walters. Ariri missed the extra point, but the home team took a 16-7 lead into halftime.

Late in the third quarter, the Panthers came through with a big play to once again cut into Washington’s lead. Hebert connected with WR Derek Holloway for a 69-yard TD, although Bojovic also failed to convert the extra point. Still, it was a three-point contest heading into the fourth quarter. It was almost enough for the Federals, but Bojovic tied the game with a 43-yard field goal as time expired in regulation.

The Federals had the first possession in overtime and drove 72 yards in six plays, the last of which was a pass from McQuilken to Walters, who outdistanced the coverage on a down-and-in pattern for a game-winning 23-yard touchdown at 2:43 into the extra period. Washington finally broke into the win column by a final score of 22-16.

The Panthers had the edge in total yards (326 to 314) and each team recorded 20 first downs. Most of the yards came through the air as neither club mounted much of a ground attack (the Federals had the edge at 48 yards to 42). Michigan recorded six sacks (five of them by John Corker, on his way to leading the USFL in that category) but also turned the ball over seven times (six on fumbles) to just one turnover suffered by Washington.

Kim McQuilken had a big day as he completed 24 of 48 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Mike Holmes caught 6 passes for 124 yards and a TD while Joey Walters also contributed 6 receptions, gaining 99 yards and scoring twice. RB James Mayberry was Washington’s leading ground gainer with 25 yards on 10 carries while RB Eric Robinson was held to just 22 yards on 17 attempts, although he caught 5 passes for 37 yards.

For the Panthers, Bobby Hebert was successful on 22 of 44 throws for 292 yards and two TDs, tossing one interception. WR Frank McClain led the receivers with 6 catches for 76 yards and Anthony Carter added three receptions and 51 yards, including a touchdown. RB Ken Lacy ran for 35 yards on 7 attempts.

The win for the Federals did not signal a turnaround. They were thrashed by the powerful Philadelphia Stars the next week and went on to finish at the bottom of the Atlantic Division with a 4-14 record. Michigan’s fortunes did improve dramatically, however. The Panthers lost again to drop into a 1-4 hole before reeling off six straight wins on the way to a 12-6 tally, best in the Central Division. They went on to win the first USFL Championship.

Kim McQuilken saw most of the action at quarterback for the Federals, throwing for 1912 yards with seven touchdowns against 14 interceptions in what would be his last pro season. Joey Walters remained productive as he caught 63 passes for 959 yards (15.2 avg.) and six TDs.