June 19, 2015

1983: Backup Woodward Leads Breakers to Win Against Bandits

On June 19, 1983 two teams with playoff aspirations in the inaugural United States Football League season met in Boston. Both were also playing without their regular quarterbacks.

The Boston Breakers were 9-6 and in second place in the Atlantic Division. With the Philadelphia Stars having already clinched the division title, the Breakers were in the hunt for the lone Wild Card playoff spot. Coached by Dick Coury, they had proven adept at rallying for wins with their exciting offense, but veteran QB John Walton was out with a strained knee and the untested Doug Woodward would be making his first start at quarterback.

The Tampa Bay Bandits also had injury problems at quarterback, and were starting Mike Kelley in place of Jimmy Jordan, originally himself a backup who had in turn taken over for John Reaves when the 33-year-old veteran went down with a broken wrist. Under pass-oriented Head Coach Steve Spurrier, the Bandits had gotten off to a 4-0 start but were now at 10-5 and trying to keep pace with the Chicago Blitz atop the Central Division. They had beaten the Breakers in the season’s first week.

There were 15,530 fans in attendance at Nickerson Field of Boston University on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Among those in attendance was actor Burt Reynolds, a minority owner of the Bandits. With the inexperienced Woodward at quarterback, who had thrown just three passes thus far, the Breakers came into the contest utilizing a simplified offense and relying on a good defensive effort.

On the first play from scrimmage, Tampa Bay RB Gary Anderson fumbled and SS Joe Restic recovered for the Breakers. Four plays later, Doug Woodward, rolling to his left, tossed a scoring pass to FB Dennis Johnson from 11 yards out. Tim Mazzetti added the extra point and, less than two minutes into the game, the home team was up by 7-0. To make matters worse for Tampa Bay, Anderson, the star rookie whose arrival at midseason had bolstered the running attack, aggravated a shoulder injury.

The Bandits responded by driving to a 35-yard field goal by Zenon Andrusyshyn, but the Breakers then put together a 46-yard series that was capped by Johnson diving for a two-yard TD. Mazzetti again successfully converted and Boston was staked to a 14-3 first quarter lead.

Early in the second quarter, the Bandits scored on a 20-yard touchdown carry by RB Sam Platt and Mike Kelley threw to WR Eric Truvillion for a two-point conversion. Mazzetti kicked a 22-yard field goal with 2:20 remaining in the first half that increased Boston’s advantage to 17-11. As time expired before halftime, Andrusyshyn kicked a field goal from 51 yards that hit the crossbar but went over. The score was 17-14 at the intermission.

In the third quarter, the Bandits put together a drive that started from their 25 and advanced deep into Boston territory. But facing third-and-three at the seven, Anderson ran for two yards and then, attempting to convert fourth down, the rookie was stopped by LB Marcus Marek for no gain (although the spot by the officials was highly disputed) to end the threat and turn the ball back over to the Breakers.

Later in the period, a 72-yard punt by Boston’s Dario Casarino pinned the Bandits back at their two yard line. Tampa Bay reached the 12 before having to punt in turn early in the fourth quarter, and it took the Breakers just two plays to score from their own 49. Woodward connected with TE Beau Coash for 44 yards and then WR Nolan Franz for a seven-yard TD. Mazzetti kicked the point after.

With 7:50 to play, Andrusyshyn narrowed the margin to seven points with a 35-yard field goal, but that proved to be the last gasp for the Bandits, who failed to cross midfield for the remainder of the contest. On the game’s next-to-last play, LB Ray Phillips sealed the 24-17 win for the Breakers by intercepting a Kelley pass at the Boston 40.

Tampa Bay dominated in total yards (355 to 222) and first downs (22 to 10), and ran 27 more offensive plays than the Breakers. However, the Bandits failed too often to convert long possessions into touchdowns and turned the ball over three times, to none by Boston. The Breakers also recorded four sacks, while Tampa Bay had none.

Staked to an early lead, Doug Woodward completed 12 of 17 passes for just 80 yards, but two were good for touchdowns and he gave up no interceptions. RB Richard Crump rushed for 79 yards on nine carries. Thanks to his one long catch, Beau Coash led the Breakers with 47 yards on two pass receptions.

For the Bandits, Mike Kelley was successful on 22 of 40 throws for 238 yards and no TDs and was picked off once. Gary Anderson, who was knocked out of the contest for a time in addition to reinjuring his shoulder, rushed for 49 yards on nine attempts and Greg Boone contributed 36 yards on 10 carries. WR Willie Gillespie caught four passes for 87 yards.

“It was a fairly simple game plan, but the young kid did an excellent job,” said Boston’s Coach Coury. “He’s a heady kid, throws the ball real well, and came up with a couple of big plays.”

It was the fifth win in six games for the Breakers. Meanwhile, the loss put the Bandits a game behind the Chicago Blitz in the Central Division with two contests remaining. Both clubs ultimately failed to make the postseason. They each split their remaining games and ended up with 11-7 records (Chicago was the Wild Card at 12-6).