Michigan Panthers Take out the Houston Roughnecks on the Road

Michigan Panthers Take out the Houston Roughnecks on the Road

The Michigan Panthers traveled to Rice Stadium on Sunday to take on the Houston Roughnecks in their second meeting of the season. These two squads also met in week three at Ford Field and the Panthers won, 34-20. Michigan welcomes back quarterback Danny Etling this week while riding a four-game win streak with the playoffs locked up at 6-2. That streak includes last week’s 24-18 win at home over the Memphis Showboats. Houston is 1-7 and has dropped four-straight games.

Last week, their offense had its best outing of the year but still fell short, 35-28 to the 8-1 Birmingham Stallions. Despite this game having close to no meaning for the postseason, these two teams always play great games. Let’s see what happened in this matchup, in the penultimate week of the UFL regular season.

Game Summary

Late in the first quarter, the Roughnecks took over possession in their own territory following a missed field goal by Panthers’ kicker Jake Bates. On the very first play of the drive, running back Mark Thompson fumbled and Michigan defensive end Kenny Willekes recovered the ball, returning it into the Houston red zone with just over three minutes left in the first quarter.

It didn’t take long for the Panthers to take advantage of the takeaway. They went the remaining 16 yards in four plays and made the score 6-0 with just over a minute remaining in the quarter. The short drive was capped off by running back Nate McCrary beating the defender to the pylon for the rushing touchdown from three yards out. The one-point conversion was no good and we entered the second quarter with a one-score game.

The Roughnecks were able to answer back on the ensuing drive led by quarterback Reid Sinnett. After Nolan Henderson started the game for Houston, Sinnett came into the game in relief and caught a bit of a groove. However, the drive stalled when head coach CJ Johnson decided to attempt a field goal rather than go for it on fourth and short. Kicker JJ Molson came in for the 39-yard attempt and nailed it. The field goal was good making the score 6-3 with 8:33 left in the first half and capped off an 11-play, 45-yard drive that took nearly eight minutes off the clock.

On the following drive by the Panthers, they were moving the ball well, until quarterback Danny Etling was intercepted by Houston linebacker D’Juan Hines. It was a great play by the newly signed defender, and he set up the offense for a chance at more points before the end of the half.

However, the score didn’t change over the remainder of the first half, and we went into the third quarter with Michigan leading Houston, 6-3. The Panthers outgained the Roughnecks 139-84 and had the advantage in yards per play as well at 5.1, compared to 3.8. A defensive battle between two very good defenses in the USFL conference. The second half would tell a different story, though.

Our scoring started in the third quarter early on with the Houston Roughnecks. Just 56 seconds into the quarter, Henderson found wide receiver Justin Hall on a slant pass that Hall took 63 yards to the house. Hall continues to impress in Houston for the second-straight season. The touchdown gave Houston the lead and after the unsuccessful two-point conversion, the score was 9-6.

On the next possession, Bryce Perkins came in at quarterback for the Panthers. On the first third down he faced, his pass was tipped and intercepted by Houston safety Markel Roby. Roby returned the ball to the 26-yard line of Michigan and set up the offense nicely for another quick score.

The Houston offense capitalized on the opportunity quickly. They went 26 yards in under three minutes and it took just four plays to get seven points. Hall took a pass from Henderson seven yards for a touchdown, his second of the day. He then got in on the ensuing one-point conversion to stretch the lead to 16-6 with 9:29 left in the third quarter.

Perkins and the Panther offense answered right back following the Hall touchdown. On a drive that was helped heavily by Perkins’ legs, Michigan went 75 yards in four minutes to close the gap and pull within four. The scoring drive was capped off when Perkins found wide receiver Trey Quinn from four yards out for a touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt was no good on a tough defensive stop, making the score 16-12 Houston, with 5:26 left in the third quarter.

With the pace picking up, we saw the fourth touchdown scored in the third quarter. In the final minute prior to the fourth, Mark Thompson was able to run it in from two yards out. The touchdown gave Houston a 22-12 lead with an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt. It was an eight-play, 60-yard drive that took up a little more than four minutes and made this a two-score game.

On the next possession, Michigan scored another touchdown with Perkins at the helm. He finished off the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run to pull his team within four, trailing 22-18. The one-point conversion attempt was good on a pass from Perkins to tight end Cole Hikutini, making it a three-point game at 22-19 with 11:45 remaining.

The Michigan defense got a big-time stop and forced Houston to punt on their next possession, giving the Panther offense a chance to continue their hot streak. They did just that. It took four minutes and seven plays for Michigan to drive 81 yards for a touchdown. Perkins finished another drive in the endzone, scoring from five yards out. The one-point conversion was good, and Michigan took a 26-22 lead with 3:36 remaining.

Henderson and the Houston offense made one last-ditch effort to steal a win after blowing a ten-point lead. Unfortunately for them, their attempt fell short. They drove into Michigan territory in 13 plays but on fourth and long, Henderson’s pass was batted down with four seconds left and the Panthers won their fifth-straight game. The final, 26-22.

Standout Playmakers

QB Bryce Perkins: Perkins played the entire second half after Etling played the first half and he was phenomenal. He finished 12/15 for 121 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He added another 79 yards on the ground on seven attempts and scored the final two touchdowns for his offense. 200 total yards in a half is terrific and head coach Mike Nolan needs to strongly consider making him the starter for the USFL conference championship in two weeks.

QB Danny Etling: Etling was serviceable in his return from injury. He went 12/18 for 110 yards and had an interception in the first half. He had another ten with his legs, but the offense was far less explosive with him under center, scoring six compared to Perkins’ 20. Etling is one of the better quarterbacks in this league, but it’s hard to argue for him over Perkins.

DE Breeland Speaks: Speaks is one of the UFL’s best pass rushers and he had another great game. He finished with six tackles and three sacks for his squad. That brings his total up to 8.5 on the year and you know he’ll be looking to hit double digits in next week’s regular season finale. He only needs a half of a sack to tie the mark he set last season.

WR Siaosi Mariner: Mariner finished with 95 yards receiving and caught all eight of the passes thrown his way, including a game-saving play, where he stole an interception out of cornerback Jimmy Moreland’s hands on the game-winning drive. Mariner has played well in his role this season and showed some impressive effort and explosiveness in week nine.

LB Javin White: White filled in nicely for injured linebacker Frank Ginda, collecting nine tackles, seven of which were solos. That led the team, and his presence was felt throughout the game in the run game, as well as attempting to slow down Henderson’s legs for Houston.

RB Nate McCrary: McCrary only finished with 33 total yards and a touchdown but helped fill in well for injured running back Wes Hills. He provided a nice change of pace compared to Matt Colburn and showed burst on a couple occasions.

Houston Roughnecks

QB Nolan Henderson: Henderson got his first ever professional start this week and he showed flashes. He finished 7/18 for 150 yards and two touchdowns. He ran an additional nine times for 66 yards, which led the team. Henderson should get the start next week and look to build on his successes for next season. He’s a far more developmental player than Sinnett.

QB Reid Sinnett: Sinnett got a few series in the first half and finished 6/11 for 57 yards. He has played fairly well this season but hasn’t done enough to secure a spot on next year’s squad, especially with a potentially new coaching staff. His lack of mobility compared to Henderson is what hurts him the most. Still, he’s been solid and deserves a fair shot to play in ’25.

RB Mark Thompson: Thompson finished with 41 total yards and a score on 12 touches. Thompson hasn’t been the same player he was in years past this season, but he is still one of the elite running backs in this league. The offensive line has certainly hurt his production this year.

WR Justin Hall: Hall has been Houston’s best weapon all year. He finished with six catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns. He also added a gritty one-point conversion following one of the scores. I said it last year in the USFL and I’ll say it again, Justin Hall should be in an NFL camp ASAP.

LB D’Juan Hines: Hines was signed last week and got a pick in his second game of the season. The former New Jersey Generals’ star added another two tackles and proved that several GMs made a mistake by letting him stay on his couch for the first seven weeks of the year.

S Markel Roby: Roby got his second pick of the year on a very athletic play by the safety. He had four tackles as well and has been one of the few bright spots in the Houston secondary this season. He currently leads the team in tackles and interceptions.

Key Factors

This is a game that the Houston Roughnecks should’ve won, without question. For the second consecutive week, they ran the ball very well and topped the century mark on the ground. They won the turnover battle 2-1 and were the less-penalized team. Still, they found a way to lose. That’s been an issue all year. Every time they’ve gotten production out of their offense, their normally stout defense begins to fail them. They held a ten-point lead late in the third quarter and proceeded to give up three-straight touchdown drives to Perkins and the Michigan offense. On those last three scoring drives, they allowed 9.9 yards per play. That’s absolutely unacceptable, especially when your offense is moving the ball well.

For Michigan, Perkins was the key factor. After the offense managed just six points in the first half with Etling at QB, he came in and lit it up in the second half. He accounted for 200 yards by himself after the break and totaled three touchdowns. Head coach Mike Nolan told the broadcast that Etling is their starter moving forward, but it’s hard to ignore what Perkins is capable of. If he plays well again next week, he should certainly get the start for the conference title game. He adds explosiveness to this team with his legs and is the best true passer on the roster. It’ll be interesting to monitor Nolan’s decision going forward.

Final Thoughts

This game was representative of both of these team’s seasons in 2024. Michigan came out of nowhere and shocked everyone with nothing to play for. Houston once again appeared to be close and fell short. Games ending the way this one did is the reason that the Panthers sit at 7-2, while the Roughnecks are at 1-8 with one week to go. Michigan will travel to Birmingham next week to take on the Stallions, which will be a warmup for the following week’s USFL conference championship. Houston will head into Memphis to take on the Showboats in a battle of two one-win teams. The loser will get the number one pick in the UFL Draft.

What was your favorite UFL matchup of the weekend? Let us know down in the comments below or join the conversation on Discord.