Wes Hills Leads Michigan Panthers Past Showboats In Memphis

Wes Hills Leads Michigan Panthers Past Showboats In Memphis

Week five of the UFL wrapped up yesterday, with the Memphis Showboats hosting the Michigan Panthers in what was a crucial divisional showdown.

Heading into this game, the Memphis Showboats were in a downhill spiral. They had lost three games in a row, pushing themselves to the bottom of the USFL Conference with Houston.

Michigan, on the other hand, was 2-2 – and has been relatively inconsistent from week to week. The Panthers needed to get back on track in order to secure their #2 position for another week, and they did exactly that.

It’s impressive that Michigan was able to do everything they did offensively against Memphis, having lost starting QB E.J. Perry for the year. Filling in was QB Danny Etling, making his first UFL start.

First Quarter

John DeFilippo decided to make a quarterback change ahead of this matchup. Troy Williams went on the field on this opening drive, which was his first start since the USFL Championship last year when he was with the Pittsburgh Maulers.

Unfortunately for Troy, things did not get off on the right foot. A few plays into their first possession, Breeland Speaks strip sacked Williams, and Garrett Marino recovered for Michigan.

Wes Hills, who’s name was called quite a bit today, put Michigan in front early. With the solid field position, Hills hurdled his way inside the five yard line, and then finished things off himself with a two yard rushing touchdown. The PAT was successful from Etling to Siaosi Mariner, and the Panthers took a 7-0 lead.

The struggles for Memphis continued. They punted on their next drive, and the Panthers got right to work on the ground again. On 4th and 12, they ran a fake punt for the second time this season – and picked up the first down with Wes Hills.

This time, it was Matt Colburn’s turn to score, who burst into the end zone on a 35 yard rushing touchdown. The PAT was no good, and Michigan led 13-0.

Second Quarter

Titus Swen set Memphis up with excellent field position on their ensuing possession. Disappointingly, it would not result in production from the offense. Troy Williams missed on a throw to Diondre Overton, and Adonis Alexander came away with an interception.

For the first time all season, Jake Bates missed a field goal attempt. Mike Nolan sent him out from 58 yards away, and the kick was no good, giving Memphis the football right back.

The Showboats just could not get out of their own way, though. After a completion to Sage Surratt to get the drive moving into Michigan territory, the turnover bug would strike again. Williams completed a pass to Daewood Davis – who had the ball knocked away by Levonta Taylor – and Noah Dawkins recovered for Michigan. He returned it all the way to the Showboats five yard line, and Michigan was cooking.

Just a couple of plays later, Hills made another appearance. He ran it in from two yards out, and the Panthers took a commanding 19-0 advantage.

Both teams traded punts with each other, and then Memphis finally had their first big break of the game. With little time left on the clock, Williams found Daewood Davis down the sidelines – who broke away for an 82 yard touchdown.

The Panthers had an opportunity to score thanks to a big return from Gavin Holmes, but Jake Bates couldn’t connect from 62 yards out.

Third Quarter

Danny Etling did not have to do a ton in this game because of their rushing attack – but he was spot on when needed. Etling dropped a dime to Cole Hikutini to begin the second half, setting up another scoring opportunity.

Just a couple of plays later, Etling called his own number. He scrambled for the score from a few yards out, and put Michigan in front 25-6.

Memphis would make a play to get themselves back into this one. After having to punt it away again, Gavin Holmes muffed the catch, and Jay Jay Wilson recovered for the Showboats.

It was only a matter of time before some of the other Showboats’ receivers got involved. Jonathan Adams caught a touchdown on a dart from Troy, and it was a 25-12 ball game.

Memphis made a push in this third quarter, finding a way to claw themselves back into it. Michigan had to punt again, which led to an excellent drive for the Showboats. A deep pass to Adams put Memphis inside the 10, and Sage Surratt cashed out on a touchdown to make it 25-18.

With one quarter to go, the Showboats had some life for the first time all afternoon – knocking on the door with it being a one score affair.

Fourth Quarter

Michigan would regain control during the final period. Danny Etling put together a fantastic drive with a couple of completions to Marcus Simms, and for the third time in this game, Wes Hills found the end zone again.

This was the nail in the coffin for Memphis, who fell back into making the mistakes they had in the first half. Troy Williams tried to force a throw to Davis, and instead was picked off by Kai Nacua – who has had a tremendous season for this Panthers secondary.

While Michigan had to punt, their defense continued to hold strong. Memphis went four and out, turning the ball over on downs. The Panthers successfully kicked a field goal with Bates, and took a 35-18 lead.

Down the stretch of this game, Michigan’s defensive unit continued to apply pressure. One notable was safety Bryce Torneden sacking Troy Williams – a little bit of former Mauler-on-Mauler crime.

Memphis did have one last moment of hope, with Williams completing a deep ball to Diondre Overton. However, a super challenge overturned the big gain, and the Showboats turned it over on downs.

Michigan would secure a critical road win, taking down Memphis with a final score of 35-18.

Standout Playmakers

QB Danny Etling: In his first start, Etling looked really solid. He made smart decisions, protected the football, and showcased his big arm on a couple of key throws. Etling threw for 175 yards, and added a rushing touchdown on the day.

RB Wes Hills: Obviously, Wes Hills gets some love in this section. He posted 82 yards on 16 carries, averaging 5.1 YPC. His three scores gave Michigan a comfortable lead throughout. His patient style of running outmatched the Showboats defensive front all day long.

RB Matt Colburn: Colburn’s performance went under the radar with Hills’ big day – but Matt added 68 yards of his own and a 35 yard score. He’s found his rhythm in this offense over the past few weeks, which has been satisfying to watch unfold.

DB Levonta Taylor: Taylor was excellent in coverage, and made plays all over the field on special teams as well. Levonta’s forced fumble on Davis was a key momentum changer in the second quarter.

DE Breeland Speaks: The former All-USFL defensive end had a phenomenal outing. He took advantage of a weak Showboats’ offensive line, totaling: 4 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 TFL, and a forced fumble. Speaks was in the backfield on seemingly every play.

DB Kai Nacua: Nacua continues to impress week in and week out for this Michigan secondary. He posted three tackles, an interception, and 2 PBU’s against Memphis.

Memphis Showboats

WR Daewood Davis: Davis showed up for the Showboats offense, with six catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. He could have had an even better day, having dropped a deep ball in the second half that could have gone for another score.

DL P.J. Hall: Hall made an impact in the trenches today, with six tackles, a TFL, and a sack. Hall was an offseason addition for the Showboats, and has continued to grow his role on this team as the season goes on.

Post-Game Comments

Panthers Head Coach Mike Nolan was pleased with how the team played, noting the importance of picking up another divisional win:

“I thought this was an important win, especially because it was a divisional game. Oddly enough, as much as the score was lopsided, our entire football team felt like it was a close game the whole time. They are very explosive on offense, so I thought it was a game where everyone competed until the very end. I’m very proud of the offense, we had a lot of players who stepped up today…I thought Marcel called a great game.”

RB Wes Hills also commented on his performance, having gone up against his former USFL coaching staff:

“It worked in the cards that way. It was a big game for me personally playing against my old staff. I had some fun with that. Just went out there and got some opportunities, and made the most of them.”

On the other hand, Showboats HC John DeFilippo has quite a bit to figure out for his team moving forward:

“The Panthers started fast, we didn’t. I always felt like we were playing from behind. A lot of plays, credit to them, but also some plays, un-credit to us. I thought at times we shot ourselves in the foot in all three phases. There are going to be a lot of plays that we will go back and watch, and will be disappointed about. We have a short week this week, so we have to get ready quickly and turn this thing around.”

Final Thoughts

The Michigan Panthers are now 3-2, just one win away from their total a season ago – and we’re only halfway through the year. Mike Nolan and his coaching staff have done an impressive job of weathering the early storm, and pushing through despite dealing with injuries. This has been a fun team to watch, and one should expect them to only get better heading into this second half.

For the Memphis Showboats, DeFilippo said they can’t “hit the panic button” – but, something has to give sooner than later. It’s been a disastrous four weeks for this team, and now they’ll have to prepare to play against the 5-0 Birmingham Stallions. This season is slipping away, and one has to wonder how much longer Memphis can keep themselves alive in the playoff race if things keep going in this direction.

What are your thoughts on this game between the Michigan Panthers and Memphis Showboats? Which UFL players impressed you the most? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!