Houston Gamblers Beat Michigan Panthers

Reggie Northrup #5 and Will Likely #4 of Houston Gamblers walk off the field before the game against the Michigan Panthers at Protective Stadium on April 17, 2022 in Birmingham, Alabama.

By Terrance Turner

April 16, 2022

Today, the first weekend of USFL action continued as the Houston Gamblers played the Michigan Panthers in Birmingham, Alabama. The Gamblers are coached by Kevin Sumlin, who famously served as head coach of Texas A&M’s football team (coaching such stars as quarterback Johnny Manziel, Buccaneers tight end Mike Evans, and Browns defensive end Myles Garrett.) The Panthers are coached by Jeff Fisher, who was head coach of the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans from 1994 to 2010 and the Los Angeles Rams from 2012 to 2016.

The game was scheduled for 11 am CST, but got off to a late start due to a weather delay. It had rained in Birmingham earlier that morning, and the field conditions required a lengthy pause. (Somehow pro football teams are still playing in stadiums without a retractable roof in 2022.) Eventually, the teams took the field for warmups, and shortly before noon the action began.

Houston took an early lead with a field goal by Vogel, but the real fireworks didn’t start until later. Just when the USFL announcers were shining a spotlight on Gamblers linebacker Reggie Northrup (who went undefeated in the MMA), he scored with the biggest play of the game. The Panthers were approaching the end zone on 2nd and goal, but quarterback Shea Patterson fell down before he could throw. Patterson quickly got back up but was tackled by Houston linebacker/defensive end Ahmad Gooden. After Gooden forced a fumble by Patterson, Northrup picked up the ball and ran with it, going 87 yards to the house.

Houston decided to go for two. (In the USFL, a team that has just scored a touchdown may elect to go for 1, 2, or 3 points. According to ESPN, each team has three options after a touchdown: a one-point kick from the 15-yard line, a 2-point try from scrimmage at the 2-yard line and a 3-point try from scrimmage at the 10-yard line.) The two-point try was successful, giving Houston an 11-0 lead.

The Panthers were unable to generate any points on their drive, but the Gamblers did on theirs. Quarterback Clayton Thorson hurled the ball towards the end zone; two Gamblers jumped up to catch it, but it was wide receiver Isaiah Zuber who did. Zuber leapt into mid-air to make the grab, scoring the first offensive touchdown in Houston Gamblers history.

Frustration began to mount on the Michigan sideline as they faced a double-digit deficit. Panthers defensive end Chase DeMoor got into it with fellow DE Cavon Walker. “You gotta listen to me when I tell you!” DeMoor yelled at him. Walker didn’t like that, shoving DeMoor in the back. DeMoor whipped around just as Walker mushed him in the face. “Why you mad, bro?”

Chase DeMoor and Cavon Walker got into it before halftime.

Houston had taken a commanding 17-0 lead after the touchdown by Zuber. The Gamblers weren’t as lucky on their next drive. On a drive that took up the remainder of the second half, Houston managed to get within field goal range. But kicker Chase Vogel missed a 27-yard field goal attempt. The score remained 17-0 at halftime.

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Michigan started to claw its way back in the second half. The Panthers finally caught fire offensively in the third quarter, as they picked up big chunks of yardage thanks to a powerful run game. On their first drive of the third quarter, Michigan QB Paxton Lynch located WR Lance Lenoir for the touchdown.

Unfortunately, the offensive struggles continued for Michigan on a subsequent drive. Headset malfunctions and miscommunications stymied their progress, and on one play led to a penalty. “How’d we get a delay of game?” Lynch asked. (Because you ran out of time.) They were forced to punt. A subsequent drive also stalled, as a 43-yard field goal went wide right.

The Panthers wouldn’t give up. They fought their way to another red-zone trip. On second and goal, Stevie Scott III pummeled his way through a maze of defenders, reaching toward the goal line. Initially, he was ruled a half-yard short. But a replay showed the ball crossing the line. After further review, the referees announced that the play was a touchdown. Houston stopped the Panthers from scoring a two-point conversion, but the score was now 17-12.

The Gamblers’ drive went haywire when Thorson was intercepted by the Panthers cornerback Jameson Houston. But Michigan’s drive also went left, as Patterson lost the football and had to fall on it. On the next play, Patterson managed to hurl the ball to a receiver, but he was hit immediately (and hard) by Northrup. Now on 3rd and 20, Patterson successfully converted a pass to Lenoir.

On 4th down, the team elected to go for a quarterback sneak, but was ruled just short. “What do you mean he’s down?” one player asked. “Replay that.” The ref called timeout for a field measurement. “He was not short by 34 inches,” one Panthers player insisted. But that’s exactly what the camera measurement revealed: 34 inches short. That led to a turnover on downs.

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 Kenji Bahar came into the game for the Gamblers at quarterback. (Clayton Thorson threw an interception on his last pass attempt.) The Gamblers picked up one first down but they were stopped a couple of yards short on the ensuing series of downs. Houston had to punt it, leading by five with less than five-and-a-half minutes left in the contest.

The game concluded with another disastrous drive. Patterson lost the football again, and lost some substantial yardage as a result. On the next play, he was sacked by Gamblers defensive end Chris Odom. Now on 3rd and 26, Patterson heaved the ball towards the end zone, where it sailed out of reach.

In desperation mode, the Panthers went for broke. With just eight seconds left, Patterson hurled the bal towards the end zone again, where it was caught by La’Michael Pettway. But he could only get one foot down. The refs ruled it an incomplete pass, but the situation worsened when they threw a flag. Confusion reigned: what was the penalty?

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“Mike, I’ve got a chop block on the left guard and left tackle,” one referee said. “The ruling on the field is an incomplete pass. Personal foul, chop block. that penalty’s declined. It was fourth down; it’ll be 1st and 10, Houston.”

The Houston Gamblers held on to win, 17-12. Despite not scoring any points in the second half, they endured to get their first win of the season. Northrup was interviewed after the game.

“We came out hot, on fire,” he said. “We executed that first half. Second half, got a little rocky. We had to get back, get our minds back right, you know what I’m sayin’?”

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