June 2, 2016

1991: Down by 17, Monarchs Rally Past Knights in WLAF Playoff Game

The World League of American Football Semifinal playoff game on June 2, 1991 featured the London Monarchs, representatives of the European Division and the league’s winningest team with a 9-1 record, and the New York/New Jersey Knights, 5-5 finishers in the North American East Division.

The Monarchs, under Head Coach Larry Kennan, featured an efficient offense that rarely turned the ball over and an aggressive defense. QB Stan Gelbaugh (pictured above) was the league’s top-rated passer with a 92.8 rating and also topped the developmental circuit in passing yards (2656) and touchdown throws (17, tied with Orlando’s Kerwin Bell). RB Judd Garrett topped the WLAF in pass receptions with 71 and WR Jon Horton gained a league-high 931 yards on his 43 catches.

New York/New Jersey was coached by Darrel “Mouse” Davis, the chief architect of the “run-and-shoot” offense, and had the league’s leading ground gainer in RB Eric Wilkerson. The Knights had lost both regular season contests against the Monarchs, but received a break in being able to host the Semifinal game rather than travel to London. Due to soccer matches scheduled at Wembley Stadium, the Monarchs were forced to go on the road despite having the better record.

There were 23,149 fans in attendance at Giants Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands. The Knights ran into trouble early when center Pete Scott went out with a back injury, forcing changes on the offensive line, but they still managed to take an early lead when Kendall Trainor kicked a 33-yard field goal late in the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, New York/New Jersey added to the lead as QB Jeff Graham threw to WR Kip Lewis for a 13-yard touchdown. Trainor added the extra point to make it 10-0.

It was Graham connecting with Lewis again a few minutes later, this time for a 49-yard TD and, with Trainor’s point after, the Knights held an improbable 17-0 lead. The Monarchs began to mount their comeback as Gelbaugh threw to WR Andre Riley for a six-yard touchdown to finally get on the board and then to RB Judd Garrett for a 21-yard TD. Both were followed by Phil Alexander conversions. On the final play of the first half, Trainor kicked a 48-yard field goal and New York/New Jersey took a 20-14 edge into halftime.

Early in the third quarter, London scored again on a one-yard touchdown toss from Gelbaugh to TE Pat Davis and Alexander’s extra point gave the Monarchs their first lead of the day at 21-20. Still in the third quarter, Gelbaugh fired his fourth scoring pass, this time to WR Jon Horton, who leaped to pull it in and went the distance for a 68-yard TD. With the successful conversion by Alexander, the visitors were now in front by 28-20.

The Knights had been moving the ball well and finally added points on a six-yard touchdown run by Eric Wilkerson. The attempt for a two-point conversion failed but London’s lead was cut to 28-26.

Down by two points in the fourth quarter, the Knights advanced into London territory but turned the ball over on a first down play at the 24 when Graham fumbled the snap and LB Marlon Brown recovered for the Monarchs. On their next series, once again the home team advanced into London territory and again turned the ball over. Facing third-and-four at the visitors’ 25, the Knights went to the air and Graham’s throw was intercepted by CB Corris Ervin at the seven with 3:38 remaining to play.

The Monarchs, having twice dodged bullets on their end of the field, responded with a touchdown on a pass from Gelbaugh to Horton that covered 78 yards. Alexander converted and it was more than enough to clinch the result, but London scored one more TD on a three-yard carry by RB David Smith with 51 seconds left on the clock to win by a final score of 42-26.

The Monarchs had the edge in total yards (518 to 418), first downs (25 to 21), and time of possession (34:05 to 25:55). While the Knights moved the ball well through the air, they also turned the ball over five times, to four suffered by London, and the Monarchs recorded nine sacks, to three by New York/New Jersey. The Monarchs missed scoring opportunities on three failed field goal attempts by Alexander while Trainor made good on two of three for the home team. There were many penalties, with 11 flags thrown on London at a cost of 78 yards and eight tossed against the Knights for 69 yards.

Stan Gelbaugh completed 25 of 41 passes for 391 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions. Jon Horton, with the two long scoring catches, had 8 pass receptions for 225 yards. FB Jeff Alexander rushed for 123 yards on 21 carries.

For the Knights, Jeff Graham was successful on 19 of 35 throws for 399 yards and two TDs while also giving up three interceptions. Kip Lewis had a big performance in defeat with 9 pass receptions for 245 yards and the two early touchdowns. Eric Wilkerson led the club in rushing with 47 yards on 10 attempts.

The win over the Knights put London in the WLAF Championship game, the World Bowl, against the Barcelona Dragons. The Monarchs won a 21-0 shutout to achieve the league’s first title. New York/New Jersey came back with a better record at 6-4 in 1992, but failed to qualify for the postseason.