The 1-7 Pittsburgh Maulers and 5-3 Philadelphia Stars met at Protective Field in Birmingham, Ala. and with the playoff field already set, there wasn’t much to play for besides pride. The Stars took home the win, 17-16 after a missed Maulers field goal with 58 seconds left.
Philadelphia opened the game with possession and a nice return by WR Maurice Alexander started Philadelphia at their own 36. Philadelphia went three-and-out and punted, and then were hit with a facemask on the punt.
QB Vad Lee returned as the Maulers starter after being benched for QB Roland Rivers last week, and Lee came through on third-and-six, finding WR Jalen McCleskey for a 12-yard gain and a first down. After another completion to McCleskey, Lee was picked off by USFL interception leader Channing Stribling. It was Stribling’s seventh interception of the season, and he returned it to the Pittsburgh 27. Despite going backward on offense, Stribling’s return got the Starts good enough field position for a field goal attempt, and K Luis Aguilar hit a 47-yard try to put Philadelphia up 3-0 with 7:02 left in the first quarter.
On third-and-seven, Lee and TE Hunter Thedford connected for a big 23-yard gain that picked up a first down.
Lee then went to his other tight end, Artayvious Lynn and Lynn gained 10 yards and a first down. On third-and-five from the Philadelphia 27, Lee was sacked and fumbled, but he recovered the fumble for a loss of 14. K Ramiz Ahmed, who hit a 61-yard field goal last week, nailed a 59-yard try to tie the game at 3-3 with 2:16 left in the first quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff return, the Maulers pinned Philadelphia at their own 13 after great kick coverage. On third-and-ten, Stars QB Case Cookus and TE Bug Howard hooked up for a 28-yard reception, and a pass interference call against Pittsburgh cost them another 15 yards on the last play of the first quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, RB Matt Colburn II fumbled and it was recovered by Pittsburgh, who took possession at their own 43. Roland Rivers came in at QB for Pittsburgh, called timeout, had a seemingly heated discussion with Head Coach Kirby Wilson, and was pulled immediately. Pittsburgh came out in punt formation on fourth-and-three, but P Max Duffy faked the punt and lofted a pass to Thedford for a first down.
Thedford picked up another first down on third-and-four with an eight-yard reception, but then he suffered an injury. With first-and-ten from the Philadelphia 17, RB James Gilbert ran for four yards. Pittsburgh didn’t pick up the first down, but instead of kicking the field goal, they ran a fake and a pitch to Ahmed resulted in a 14-yard touchdown pass to LB Marcus Howard, and the Maulers took a 10-3 lead with 10:11 left in the first half.
On their next drive, the Stars picked up back-to-back first downs on a third-and-four completion to Bug Howard for 12 yards, and then WR Jordan Suell had a catch-and-run that went for 12 yards. On third-and-six from Pittsburgh’s 36, Cookus was incomplete to Howard and the Stars brought out their field goal unit. Aguilar, with a previous long of 49, was unable to hit the 54-yard attempt and the score remained 10-3 Maulers with 5:44 left in the first half. The missed kick was Aguilar’s first of the year.
Pittsburgh took over at their own 44 after the missed field goal, but Lee made a terrible throw while being hit and it was picked off by LB Te’Von Coney. On third-and-seven, Cookus was hit as he threw by LB Kyahva Tezino to force the incompletion. Aguilar punted it away for Philadelphia, and the punt went out of bounds at the Pittsburgh 17. RB Garrett Groshek ran for nine yards on first down and then earned Pittsburgh a new set of downs with a five-yard gain on second down. On the last play before the two-minute warning, Groshek ran for seven yards to set up a third-and-one. Groshek picked up the first, but on first down, OL Chidi Okeke was hit with a 15-yard penalty for a blow to the head after the play. The Maulers ran the ball the next two plays and punted it back to Philadelphia with 1:09 left in the half. Duffy’s punt traveled just 30 yards, and the Stars took over at their own 30.
On first down, Cookus was hit as he threw and CB Terrell Bonds picked off the pass to give Pittsburgh the ball at their own 49. Lee caught his own pass deflection on first down and was hit for a five-yard loss, and then RB Madre London carried the ball to run out the second quarter. At the half, the Maulers led 10-3.
The Maulers opened the second half with the ball, and Rivers replaced Lee at QB. They went three-and-out and had to punt out of their own endzone. Pittsburgh was able to turn the field around pretty well though, and Philadelphia started their next drive at their own 32. Cookus was replaced in the second half by KJ Costello. On third-and-seven, Pittsburgh was flagged for pass interference and Philadelphia picked up a new set of downs. On third-and-six, Costello was sacked by LB Zane Zandier, his first sack of the season. Philadelphia punted and Pittsburgh started their next drive at their own 16.
On first down, Groshek fumbled running out of the wildcat but was able to recover for a gain of one. On third-and-nine, Rivers was incomplete and the Maulers again had to punt after a three-and-out.
On first-and-ten from the Philadelphia 38, Colburn II ran for a 26-yard gain that moved Philadelphia to the Pittsburgh 36. On third-and-eight, Costello aired it out and made a beautiful throw down the right sideline to WR Maurice Alexander for a 33-yard gain. On third-and-goal, Costello’s pass was batted down by DE Carlo Kemp. Philadelphia went for it on fourth down, and RB Paul Terry broke a tackle and scored. Aguilar’s extra point tied the score at 10-10 with 1:30 left in the third quarter.
WR Tre Walker returned the kickoff to Pittsburgh’s 48, giving the Maulers great field position to start their drive. Lee came back out to replace Rivers, and on third-and-eight, he hit WR Isiah Hennie who picked up the first down with his feet. Hennie got popped on the end of the play by S Cody Brown in an extremely impressive legal hit, but Hennie managed to hold onto the ball despite losing two teeth for a gain of ten.
Hennie’s reception would be the last play of the third quarter. On third-and-three, Pittsburgh was short of the first down on a Gilbert run, and on fourth-and-one, Ahmed came out for a 49-yard field goal. An encroachment penalty against Pittsburgh gave the Maulers a first down. Two plays later, Walker caught a Lee pass for 28 yards and a touchdown. Ahmed missed the extra point though, and Pittsburgh took a 16-10 lead with 11:56 left in the game.
On third-and-eight, Costello found Suell downfield for a 27-yard gain that brought Philadelphia to the Pittsburgh 46. On third-and-ten, Costello went back to Suell but he was short of the first down, and on fourth-and-two Philadelphia brought Aguilar out for a punt. The punt went out of the end zone and Pittsburgh would start their next drive on their own 20.
On second-and-eight, Lee and McCleskey again connected, this time for a 17-yard gain. Two plays later, London gained nine yards and a first down, and the Maulers were able to milk some clock as the game wore down to under seven minutes left. After another first-down run by London, Lee was hit attempting to hand the ball off to London by S Ahmad Dixon on a blitz, and the Stars recovered and took over just shy of midfield.
On the first play of the drive, Colburn II ran for a 51-yard touchdown. Aguilar’s extra-point was good and the Stars took a 17-16 lead.
Lee got sacked on the first play of the Maulers drive, and on third down London fumbled after a reception and Philadelphia recovered, taking over at the Pittsburgh 27. On third-and-ten, Costello was incomplete to the endzone and the Stars attempted a field goal. Aguilar’s attempt was wide right, and the Maulers took over at their own 28 with 2:22 left in the game.
A seven-yard gain on first down helped kickstart the Maulers’ two-minute drill right before the two-minute warning. A second-down scramble by Lee gave the Maulers a first down, but back-to-back incompletions forced Pittsburgh into a third-and-ten with 1:22 left. Lee’s pass to DelVon Hardaway was dropped on third down, but they called an unnecessary roughness penalty against S LaDarius Wiley for a late high hit, and the Maulers moved into field goal range at the Philadelphia 36. On third-and-six, Lee’s completion to Hennie was short of the sticks and the Maulers brought out Ahmed for a field goal to take the lead, but his 49-yard field goal was no good and the Stars held on to their 17-16 lead with 56 seconds left. The Stars kneeled on three straight plays, but on fourth down, they had to snap it with 10 seconds left. Hennie couldn’t return the punt, and the Stars won their fourth straight game, this one by a score of 17-16.
The Maulers’ dreadful season will continue next Sunday at 4:00 p.m. as they look to pick up their second win of the season in the season finale against the Michigan Panthers.