By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Needing a spark, New Jersey Generals head coach Mike Riley replaced Luis Perez with the dual threat quarterback De’Andre Johnson In the second half.
And the Texas Southern product made Riley look smart, helping New Jersey overcome an early 10-point deficit for a 24-16 win over the Philadelphia Stars in the USFL Night Cup on Sunday at Protective Stadium. .
The Generals get the comeback against the Philadelphia Stars
The New Jersey Generals earned a 24-16 win over the Philadelphia Stars thanks to a running game led by Trey Williams and De’Andre Johnson.
“The things that he did, the decisions that he made and what he brought to that game, in particular, made a huge difference in the game,” Riley said.
Johnson finished just 6 of 8 for 130 yards. But his ability to execute Riley’s zone reading offense ignited the running game. Johnson rushed 11 times for 94 yards and a touchdown, and the Generals finished with 270 rushing yards.
In the second half alone, the Generals ran him 32 times and passed him just four times, physically imposing their will in advance.
Trey Williams finished with 111 rushing yards on 19 carries, while Darius Victor had 51 rushing yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns.
“It’s pretty easy when your offensive line gets pushed,” Victor said. “I would just hide behind them and get as low as possible.”
With the win, New Jersey improved to 2-1 on the season while the Stars fell to 1-2.
The Stars got to the scoreboard first when tight end Bug Howard made a diving catch up the middle on a Bryan Scott pass. New Jersey safety Dravon Askey-Henry jumped over the receiver to avoid a late hit, but in doing so he couldn’t touch it at all. Then, Howard got up and ran the rest of the way for a 41-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead for Philadelphia.
“With the current rules, we don’t want any penalties or someone being ejected from the game,” New Jersey linebacker D’Juan Hines said. “It was smart, but we still have to touch it. That’s up to us.”
Bug Howard shines for the stars
The Philadelphia Stars were led by Bug Howard, who had an outstanding performance with four receptions and 78 receiving yards against the Generals.
Philadelphia could have led by more, but kicker Matt Mengal missed field goal attempts from 55 and 30 yards. New Jersey kicker Nick Rose also missed twice, from 52 and 43 yards.
All-Star backup quarterback Case Cookus came in for an injured Scott, who limped off the field with an injured knee with 4:03 remaining in the second quarter.
On his first play, Cookus connected with Jordan Suell on a 47-yard pass to the New Jersey 4-yard line. However, the Stars had to settle for a 22-yard field goal from Mengal, going up 10-0 with 2:57 remaining in the first half.
Rose made a 54-yard field goal late in the first half, cutting Philadelphia’s lead to 10-3.
The Generals came out in the second half focused on running the ball. In a Johnson-led drive, New Jersey ran seven straight times, capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by Victor.
That tied the score at 10 overall.
Cookus gave the Stars the lead back, buying some time and finding Diondre Overton up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown. The touchdown put the Stars ahead only 16-10 because Mengal missed an extra point.
The Generals responded again, this time with Victor driving across the line for a 1-yard touchdown, his second touchdown of the night. Rose’s extra point gave New Jersey the lead for good, 17-16 with 11:17 left.
Johnson rounded out the night’s scoring with a 4-yard run with just over six minutes left in the game.
Kickers haven’t found their groove yet
There’s a reason Michigan Panthers head coach Jeff Fisher went two each time in his team’s big win over the Pittsburgh Maulers on Sunday: Kickers are struggling to make kicks during the early part of the season. of the USFL.
Through three games, kickers have made 53.4 percent of their shots from the field and 81.8 percent of their extra points.
Kickers were 2-for-9 from the field in both games Sunday.
By comparison, NFL kickers made 85.1 percent of their field goals and 93.4 percent of their extra points last season, according to Pro Football Reference.
“The whole group, center, starter and kicker, I don’t know if there’s anybody in the league that’s been with another guy in their group,” said Riley, who has coached in college, the NFL and the CFL. “And that part of it, that they’re in sync, is very important to their success: the confidence that the kicker has in both the starter and the center.
“They just haven’t worked together that long, and I think over time it will get better.”
Cookus plays solid in place of Scott
Philadelphia head coach Bart Andrus said he was pleased with the way his backup quarterback Cookus played in relief of an injured Scott.
The 6-4, 205-pound quarterback from northern Arizona was 13-for-20 for 146 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions.
“He played well,” Andrus said. “I expected so. He’s a good football player. He made a couple of shots that he probably would have preferred to recover, but I think he did a good job off the bench.”
New Jersey offensive tackle Calvin Ashley suffered a knee injury and offensive lineman Terry Poole suffered a shoulder injury. Poole returned to the game. Ashley didn’t.
Riley said his team was so thin on the defensive line that offensive lineman Mike Brown played defensive snaps.
All-Star quarterback Scott suffered a knee injury, and although he remained in uniform, he did not return to the game.
“I put it on him,” Andrus said. “The X-ray was negative on the knee. He tested after halftime and wasn’t comfortable with how he felt. It’s a real team guy and he didn’t want to be a detriment to anything possible in the second half. So he opted for stay out because he wasn’t 100 percent.
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @eric_d_williams.
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