The Pittsburgh Maulers avoided an 0-3 start to their season, forcing three turnovers in a 21-13 win over the Philadelphia Stars Sunday afternoon. With the win, the Maulers are 1-2 while the Stars drop to the same 1-2 record.
Sunday was one of many firsts for the Maulers’ 2023 year, including Ray Horton’s first win as head coach. After Pittsburgh kicked five first half field goals, QB Troy Williams found WR Bailey Gaither for this eight-yard score, a fade toward the back left corner of the end zone late in the third quarter.
But to get there, the Maulers relied on the foot of kicker Chris Blewitt. The former Pittsburgh specialist tied a USFL record with five field goals, four of them coming in the first half, including this boot from 50 yards out.
The Stars started the game with a first drive that looked like the Maulers’ first two contests. An easy march down the field: six plays, 47 yards, and finished off with QB Case Cookus finding former NFL first-round pick Corey Coleman from 24 yards out.
The Maulers chipped away on their first two drives of the game, Blewitt hitting from 46 yards out and again from 50, to end the first quarter with Philadelphia leading 7-6. The Maulers’ third drive ended in the same result as their first two, another Blewitt field goal, to give Pittsburgh a 9-6 advantage. The fourth drive resulted in Blewitt’s fourth field goal before the Stars added one of their own to close out the half, the Maulers holding a 12-10 lead.
Blewitt’s fifth field goal came on the Maulers’ opening possession of the second half, going 10 plays before the drive stalled out in the red zone and ending in a 35-yard boot through the uprights.
Through the air and against the ground game, Pittsburgh’s defense was stout throughout the contest. After allowing the opening drive touchdown, the Maulers forced Philadelphia to punt or settle for field goals the rest of the half. Later in the second half, the Maulers started to take the football away. Big nose tackle Olive Sagapolu showed quick hands to beat the right guard and force a fumble on Cookus that Pittsburgh recovered, starting the Maulers on the Stars’ 18-yard line and leading to Gaither’s touchdown from Williams that made it a 21-10 game heading into the fourth quarter. Philadelphia added a field goal on the first drive of the fourth quarter and looked to get right back into the game after the Maulers fumbled on the ensuing possession.
But former NFL first-round pick Reuben Foster, returning to professional football, intercepted Cookus in Maulers territory to thwart a potential game-tying drive. Pressure forced Cookus’ pass to float in the air and Foster tracked it to come away with the pick.
Pittsburgh’s offense couldn’t do anything with the takeway but its defense again came up big. After driving to the Maulers’ 32, Cookus was picked again, this time by safety Eli Walker on an overthrow. Pittsburgh tried to kill clock but couldn’t, again punting, and the Stars made one last march into the end zone. They drove into the red zone but on 4th down with seconds left, Cookus’ throw to Coleman fell incomplete. One victory formation later and the Maulers had their first win of the season.
They’ll look to earn their first winning streak next weekend Sunday, May 7th at 6:00 PM/EST as they play host to the Birmingham Stallions, who enter this weekend 2-1.
NOTES: Pittsburgh won the time of possession battle 31:56 to 28:04…the Maulers also won the turnover battle +2 after being -1 in their first two combined games…Pittsburgh outrushed Philadelphia 135-18…Maulers QB Troy Williams threw for just 96 yards but didn’t throw an interception, also adding 65 yards rushing…Foster had a big day, leading the team with 11 tackles (two for a loss) with two pass deflections and an interception…Cookus finished the day throwing for 238 yards with one touchdown and two picks…the Maulers only scored 21+ points in three games last season.