The (3-6) New Jersey Generals and (4-5) Philadelphia Stars played an all-time USFL classic on Sunday night in Canton. The Generals came out on top 37-33 in a shootout that almost saw one of the greatest comebacks in USFL history.
New Jersey coming out with the win means that next week’s matchups between the North Division will both be win-and-in situations when the Generals face the Maulers, and the Stars go up against the Panthers. After the Generals went up 37-16 in the fourth quarter, the Stars stormed back and scored 17 unanswered points but fell just short in the final minute. The postseason is going to be starting early in the North with week ten being a pseudo-playoff game for all four teams.
We didn’t have to wait long at all for our first score. Generals wide receiver Cam Echols-Luper took the opening kickoff 85 yards to the house for six. Just 11 seconds into the game New Jersey led 7-0. It was their first special teams touchdown of the year and gave them some early momentum.
The Philadelphia Stars answered right back on their first drive of the game. After a good kickoff return and some assistance from a defensive pass interference, quarterback Case Cookus found wide receiver Corey Coleman for a six-yard touchdown pass. It was a 12 play, 59-yard drive that lasted over seven minutes. With seven and a half minutes remaining in the quarter, it was tied at 7-7.
On the New Jersey Generals first offensive possession following the Stars score, they had a solid drive that stalled out in the red zone. Kicker Nick Sciba came in and nailed a 37-yard field goal to give New Jersey a 10-7 lead with less than three minutes left in the first quarter. It was a nine play, 42-yard drive that took just over five minutes.
In the second quarter, the Stars answered yet again on their second possession of the game. A huge run by Cookus set Philly up deep in Generals territory but two offensive penalties pushed them back and forced them to settle for a field goal. Kicker Luis Aguilar came in and nailed a 27-yard attempt following the eight play, 45-yard drive. It was all tied at 10-10 with just under 11 minutes left in the half.
The following drive was another score for New Jersey. After an incredible 43-yard circus catch by wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr., head coach Mike Riley pulled out some trickery. Quarterback De’Andre Johnson pitched the ball back to running back Darius Victor and he threw a quick pass out to tight end Braedon Bowman for a one-yard touchdown. The eight play, 75-yard drive made it 17-10 with six minutes left in the first half.
After a huge punt return by Corey Coleman, the Philadelphia Stars were able to get into kicker Luis Aguilar’s range on a drive starting with only 23 seconds left. He was able to hit a 46-yard field goal with one second remaining in the first half. It made the score 17-13 and the Stars were also set to receive the second half kickoff.
The first score of the second half went to the New Jersey Generals. Quarterback De’Andre Johnson threw a 56-yard bomb to wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. and set the Generals up with great field position one play in. It was capped off three plays later by running back Darius Victor on a five-yard touchdown run. It was a four play, 75-yard drive that took two minutes and gave the Generals a 23-13 lead early in the third quarter. The extra point was missed by New Jersey kicker Nick Sciba, his first missed PAT of the year.
The Stars got a huge deep pass of their own when Case Cookus found Corey Coleman again and set them up inside the New Jersey Generals ten-yard line. A sack set Philly behind the chains, and they were forced to settle for a field goal. Aguilar came in and hit his third of the day, a 32-yarder. It made the score 23-16 with less than seven minutes remaining in the quarter. It was a six-play drive that went 35 yards and took just over three minutes.
On the following possession the Generals had a fantastic drive, especially on the ground. Right as the third quarter approached a close, running back Darius Victor found the endzone again. It was an eight-yard score that capped off a nine play, 65-yard drive, with 51 of those yards coming via the run game. The drive took over five minutes and with less than two minutes remaining in the third, the Generals led 30-16.
The Generals forced another fumble on defense and started to look like they would pour it on in the fourth quarter. Running back Trey Williams made it 37-16 on a 22-yard touchdown run. It was a six play, 61-yard drive that took just over two minutes and virtually put the game away with 13 minutes left in the game. Or so we thought.
The Stars scored their first touchdown of the second half with just under 12 minutes left in the game. Case Cookus found wide receiver Terry Wright for a 26-yard touchdown pass. It was a very quick drive that took less than two minutes and went 64 yards in four plays to make the score 37-23. This was a desperately needed score if they had any hope of making a comeback.
On their following possession after a defensive stop, the Stars got another touchdown on a ‘got to have it’ drive. Cookus took a beating the whole drive but found wide receiver Diondre Overton for a six-yard touchdown pass on a nine play, 69-yard drive that took just under four minutes. It was an incredible play with a defender draped all over Cookus. It made the score 37-30 with a little over four minutes remaining in the game. Philly had life after they looked dead earlier in the quarter. They now had an opportunity to make an all-time comeback.
The Stars drove deep into Generals territory on their next possession and opted for a 42-yard field goal from Aguilar, his fourth of the day, to make the score 37-33 with less than two minutes left on a fourth and long. They then opted for the 4th & 12 conversion attempt to get the ball back and try to get the win. The attempt was successful following a defensive pass interference and gave the Stars a chance for an incredible victory.
Unfortunately for the Stars, New Jersey Generals defensive end Hercules Mata’afa got a strip sack on Philadelphia quarterback Case Cookus on fourth down with less than a minute left. The Generals were able to recover it and kneel on the ball to secure a crazy 37-33 victory in one of the best games we have seen since the USFL’s return.
The return of quarterback De’Andre Johnson worked wonders for the New Jersey Generals. They hit a season-high in points and looked smoother than they have the entire year. Johnson was 15/20 (75%) for 213 yards passing and a passer rating of 109. Although he did not have a touchdown, he was very efficient, didn’t turn the ball over, and kept the offense on schedule. He also added 29 yards on the ground on seven carries and even caught a pass for 14 yards on a trick play. He had two deep passes to wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr., one of which was so good it looked like he handed it off to him. It finally looked like we were seeing the Generals of last year.
As usual, running back Darius Victor was one of the best players on the field for New Jersey. He had 11 rushes for 51 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. He added a reception for 12 yards and – threw a touchdown to tight end Braedon Bowman on a fantastic trick play. His three total touchdowns helped buoy the Generals offense and he got a ton of tough yards all night. His running mate Trey Williams got back into the fold as well with 40 yards on just six carries. He also added a touchdown in the fourth quarter that looked like the nail in the coffin prior to Philly’s strong attempt at a comeback. Third running back Kingston Davis even added in 27 yards on four rushes. Overall, the Generals ran for 147 yards at 5.2 yards per attempt and three total touchdowns.
Wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. led the way receiving with two massive deep catches. He had three total receptions for 109 yards and helped contribute to two touchdown drives with those long balls. Outside of his performance, it was a committee at pass catcher. Wide receiver Cam Echols-Luper had four catches for 13 yards and had a 14-yard pass to DJ that helped continue a drive. He also took back the opening kickoff 85 yards to give his team an early lead in a crucial rivalry game, so he contributed all over the field in a multitude of ways.
On defense, the New Jersey Generals had one of their worst performances on the season, specifically in the fourth quarter. But linebacker Chris Orr played terrific as always with nine total tackles (three solo), a sack, and a fumble recovery. Defensive end Hercules Mata’afa had two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, including the game-sealing strip sack on Case Cookus with under a minute left in the game. In total, New Jersey had four sacks as well as three takeaways and made big plays at crucial times. They did allow a season-high in points, but they did just enough when it mattered, specifically in the red zone. They held the Stars to just two touchdowns in their six red zone attempts. For the first time all year, the offense helped out the defense and put up plenty of points.
On the opposing side, the Philadelphia Stars offense put in a fantastic effort after looking dead early in the fourth quarter. As always, quarterback Case Cookus was their fearless leader taking hit after hit and continually getting up and leading the troops. He was 25/39 (64%) for 263 yards passing and three touchdowns. He had a passer rating of 109.2 and was also their leading rusher. He carried the ball seven times for 59 yards, including a long of 28 yards. He took so many sacks and hits, both in the pocket and running the ball. Despite grimacing through the pain for the majority of the second half, he kept making the improbable plays. It was a gutsy effort that any football fan has to appreciate.
Both running backs and Cookus lost a fumble each. Running backs Dexter Williams and Darnell Holland had 30 yards and 14 yards on the ground, respectively. Williams did add 45 yards receiving on three catches as well and had 75 total yards on the night. He was their second leading receiver, but outside of quarterback scrambles and designed runs, the ground game was nonexistent.
Wide receiver Corey Coleman led the way with nine catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. He also had a 41-yard punt return right before the half to set up a field goal that allowed the Stars to steal three points heading into the second half. Wide receiver Diondre Overton added six catches for 42 yards and a late touchdown that made it a one-score game late in the fourth. Wide out Terry Wright had himself a night with 36 yards on two catches and an impressive touchdown, with an additional 225 yards in the return game on seven kick returns. He constantly gave the Philadelphia offense excellent field position and did much of the same as he did in the previous matchup of these two squads.
Despite starting off the game very poorly, the Stars defense did slightly improve with time. They didn’t register a takeaway, but they did get sacks from linebacker Adam Rodriguez and another that was shared among defensive linemen Ali Fayad and LaBryan Ray. Their leading tackler was cornerback Stanford Samuels III with eight, six of those solo. It was a night to forget overall for them after giving up 7 yards per play to the Generals and allowing a touchdown in three of four red zone trips by New Jersey.
The Philadelphia Stars won the time of possession battle 32:25 to 27:35 and ran 12 more offensive plays than the Generals. However, New Jersey outgained Philadelphia 365-333, but the yardage was relatively even throughout. Passing yards were roughly the same but the Stars had a slight edge needing to throw late in the game. The Generals outgained the Stars on the ground by 44 yards, but the Stars did run the ball well per carry. Their issue was struggling to run the ball by anyone not named Case Cookus. Both teams appeared evenly matched, and we even saw great plays by both groups special teams. The main factor in this game was that the Generals finally won the turnover battle this week being +3. They did not turn it over and forced three fumbles that came at big points in the game. The box score shows a close game and that’s exactly what we saw, but turnovers told a big chunk of the story.
Looking ahead, we have a fantastic final week in the USFL. The (3-6) Generals will play the (3-6) Pittsburgh Maulers on Saturday afternoon in what is essentially a playoff game in Canton. The (4-5) Stars will then face off against the (3-6) Michigan Panthers on Sunday night in another win-and-in game in Ford Field. The two winners in the North in week ten will face off on June 24th in Canton with a trip to the championship game at stake.
As Joel Klatt mentioned on the Fox Broadcast, the playoffs start early in the North Division. If this game is any indication of what is to come, then we are in for a treat. The Stars look like they’re back in a groove despite the loss, and the Generals may have finally found their footing with De’Andre Johnson back under center. If both of these teams find a way to win in week ten, we are going to get a rematch in two short weeks. Regardless, this was an instant classic that we won’t soon forget.
What are your thoughts on this USFL matchup between the New Jersey Generals and Philadelphia Stars? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!