The (5-3) Memphis Showboats went into Canton and defeated the (2-6) New Jersey Generals 25-16 on Sunday afternoon. Despite the Generals scoring two touchdowns compared to just one for the Showboats, six Alex Kessman field goals helped fuel a nine-point win for Memphis.
Turnovers hurt the New Jersey Generals badly once again, giving the ball away three times and losing the turnover battle, which has become the norm. At 5-3 the Memphis Showboats are in prime position for the USFL playoffs and have now won five straight games.
The Generals defense set the offense up nicely when linebacker Kolin Hill caused a fumble on the Showboats first possession and gave the ball to quarterback Kyle Lauletta and co. The Generals picked up a couple of first downs but stalled out. Fortunately for them, kicker Nick Sciba stayed perfect on the year and nailed a 56-yard field goal to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead early in the first quarter.
The Showboats were able to answer right back off of a terrific kickoff return by wide receiver Derrick Dillion on their next possession. On a drive that looked destined for a touchdown, the Generals defense stiffened in the red zone and held Memphis to a field goal. Kicker Alex Kessman nailed a 29-yarder and knotted it up at 3-3 in the first quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff return, wide receiver Warren Newman fumbled the ball and gave it right back to the Showboats setting them up at the Generals 33-yard line. After a key fourth down conversion, the Memphis offense was halted again and settled for a 37-yard Kessman field goal to make it 6-3 as the first quarter winded down. It was the second consecutive red zone trip to end in three points instead of seven.
After another turnover by the Generals when Kyle Lauletta threw an interception to linebacker Greg Reaves, the Showboats had great field position yet again. This time they were able to cash in for a touchdown. It was a five play, 22-yard drive that was finished off with a two-yard touchdown run by running back Kerrith Whyte and extended the Memphis lead to 13-3 early in the second quarter. It was Whyte’s first career touchdown. The score would remain that way heading into the second half.
The first score of the second half went to the Memphis Showboats off of another takeaway. Showboats safety Antonio Reed intercepted New Jersey Generals quarterback Dakota Prukop on the first drive of the second half and they took advantage. They did have to settle for another field goal in the red zone, but still extended their lead to 16-3 on Kessman’s third field goal of the game, this one from 30-yards out with under eight minutes remaining in the quarter.
The Generals finally answered back with a little over four minutes left in the third quarter. Quarterback Dakota Prukop found wide receiver Alonzo Moore for a 17-yard touchdown pass, Moore’s fifth of the year. It brought the score closer at 16-10 and was points the Generals needed badly against a terrific Showboat defense. The seven play, 60-yard drive for New Jersey was fueled almost entirely by Prukop’s arm and legs.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Memphis Showboats answered with a score of their own. A 38-yard field goal by Kessman made the score 19-10. It was his fourth in four attempts but still kept it a one-score game. This was another promising Memphis drive that ended with a field goal rather than a touchdown when their offense sputtered deep in New Jersey territory.
After a three-and-out by the Generals offense, the Showboats scored on their third consecutive drive. It was their kicker Kessman again; this one was also from 38-yards out and continued his perfect streak at five for five. With seven and a half minutes left, it made this a two-score game at 22-10, and the Generals needed a couple scores quickly.
The Generals got the first of the two needed scores when Prukop found running back Darius Victor for a four-yard touchdown pass. It was a seven play, 70-yard drive that took just over three minutes. They went for a three-point conversion and were unsuccessful and the score held at 22-16 with four minutes remaining. It was Victor’s fifth touchdown of the year as he has two on the ground and three through the air.
After a very long 46-yard run by Memphis Showboats running back Kerrith Whyte, the Generals defense forced a sixth field goal attempt inside the red zone from Kessman that was good from 24-yards out. It was the fourth straight drive that ended in a field goal for Memphis, and it made the score 25-16 with two minutes remaining but was still a one-score game that gave New Jersey one more shot to tie it up in regulation.
The Showboats defense held strong and got the ball back to their offense with less than two minutes left and the final score was 25-16. Despite Generals head coach Mike Riley having a chance to take timeouts and get the ball back, he chose to let the clock run and concede victory.
A Look at the Numbers
The Memphis Showboats offense has been so much better since Cole Kelley was brought in at quarterback for them. Much like he has all year, he didn’t have eye-popping numbers, but he was efficient and showed incredible leadership. He was 15/24 (63%) for 176 yards passing and an interception. He had a QBR of just 67.4 and added 24 yards on the ground. Although he didn’t stuff the stat sheet, he had one drive where he called all the plays in the huddle.
Examples like this show why his guys play better when he’s leading, and he makes everyone play harder for him. He doesn’t make the big mistakes and despite the one interception thrown in the end zone, he didn’t hurt his team and kept them on track. Running back Kerrith Whyte got his first career touchdown and was their bell cow carrying the ball 23 times for 102 yards, including a 46-yard scamper that nearly ended in a game-ending touchdown.
He had 116 total yards and helped provide balance on the ground. Kelley spread the ball around as he typically does, and their leading receiver was tight end Jay Jay Wilson with three catches for 43 yards. He also forced a fumble on special teams that helped his offense score points and set the tone early.
Both linebacker Greg Reaves and safety Antonio Reed got interceptions, one on each of the Generals quarterbacks and the defense was their same dominant selves. They did not register a sack but were very disciplined and stingy as a unit.
New Jersey Generals
The Generals started the game with Kyle Lauletta at quarterback and he didn’t do much. He threw just four passes and following an interception that set up the Showboats with great field position, he was benched for Dakota Prukop. The offense looked better with Prukop in at QB, but they were far from elite. Prukop was 14/25 (56%) for 128 yards passing and two touchdowns.
As mentioned earlier, he threw a bad interception on a promising drive but was very solid outside of that. He also ran the ball six times for 76 yards and had 204 all-purpose yards. His 80.1 QBR was pedestrian, but he progressively played better as the game went on.
Running back Darius Victor had a reception touchdown and had 65 total yards on 15 touches. He was their leading receiver and wide receiver Alonzo Moore added three catches for 36 yards with his league-leading fifth touchdown catch.
The Generals defense did all they could and were continually put in bad positions thanks to turnovers and poor kickoff and punt coverage. Linebacker Chris Orr was back in the lineup and led them in tackles (12 total, seven solo) as he has every time he’s been on the field this year. Linebacker Kolin Hill forced a fumble and Hercules Mata’afa added the lone New Jersey sack.
DJ Daniel had his third interception of the year on a great play in the end zone. Despite some good play by the defense, they were on the field a ton and they wore down.
The Showboats won the time of possession battle by a staggering margin of 40:55 to 19:05. They also had more offensive drives than the Generals did thanks to turnovers and won the turnover battle three to two. They ran 27 more offensive plays than the opponent and despite having less yards per play, they had 71 more yards.
Hidden yardage from special teams as well as short fields via takeaways were clearly the story and allowed Memphis to score points on seven of their possessions. The killer for New Jersey was the same things I had mentioned in my game preview on Friday, the kickoff and punt coverage, as well as turnovers by their offense and special teams.
The Memphis Showboats continue their hot streak and are now in a very good place to grab a playoff spot during the final stretch of the year. They repeatedly play complimentary football and are the hottest team in the league with their fifth straight win. Next week they face off against the New Orleans Breakers in a game that will have high stakes in regard to the South Division playoff race. Cole Kelley continues to lead this team well and head coach Todd Haley has been pushing all the right buttons. They’ve caught fire at the right time without question.
On the other side, the New Jersey Generals playoff hopes in the North Division look bleak and they now need to hope for what seems like a miracle. Their quarterback situation has been a mess all year and doesn’t appear to be improving anytime soon. In comparison to his counterpart, head coach Mike Riley has made so many head-scratching decisions this year, and a team that was so tightly knit last year has had terrible body language and communication this year.
They’re extremely frustrated and need to win next week against the Philadelphia Stars and in week 10 against the Pittsburgh Maulers if they have any hope of squeaking into the playoffs. These are two teams moving in very different directions, but the city of Memphis should be thrilled to have some great football in their backyard.
What are your thoughts on this USFL matchup between the New Jersey Generals and Memphis Showboats? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!