Despite their 3-6 record, the Pittsburgh Maulers punched their ticket to the USFL playoffs on Saturday against the New Jersey Generals. Another dominant defensive performance mixed with an offensive surge in the second half, saw Pittsburgh cruise to a 26-6 win in Canton, Ohio.
The Generals had the honor to orchestrate the game’s first drive, and it started off well. After a big run by running back Darius Victor, quarterback De’Andre Johnson found wide receiver Warren Newman for a chunk gain down the seam. The play put New Jersey in field goal range, but the Pittsburgh defense would stiffen forcing former Steeler Nick Sciba onto the field to chip in the game’s first points.
The Maulers opening drive would prove to be even more fruitful than the Generals. A Josh Simmons bobbling 22-yard catch on third-and-long, helped the team find its rhythm, which translated into an Isiah Hennie 12-yard touchdown catch courtesy of quarterback Troy Williams. Chris Blewitt would slip on the extra-point attempt, missing the kick and putting the score at six to three.
Pittsburgh showed why they are considered one of the premiere defenses on New Jersey’s next drive, forcing a quick three-and-out.
The Generals defense would hold the Maulers to a three-and-out of their own, but on fourth down a roughing the punter call on Brendan White kept the drive alive. Pittsburgh would push the ball out to around the 50-yard line, but their drive would stall only to punt it back to New Jersey.
Once again, the Maulers defense would refuse to give an inch, forcing another three-and-out.
Despite being set up with a good field position, Pittsburgh would be forced into a three-and-out as well.
The Generals looked to finally be finding their momentum in the following drive after picking up a pair of first downs. That momentum would come to a screeching halt with Maulers safety Arnold Tarpley III intercepting Johnson at midfield.
Pittsburgh would attempt a 59-yard field goal, but a high snap would sail over the head of the holder, forcing Blewitt to fall on the ball at the Maulers 26-yard line. The field position would finally get the Generals back on the board with Sciba’s second field goal of the day.
Pittsburgh got the ball back with around one minute and 30 seconds remaining in the half. A squib-kick had the Maulers set up with good field position and this time, they were able to capitalize with a 52-yard field goal.
Pittsburgh would carry a 9-6 lead into halftime.
The first drive of the second half looked promising for the Maulers early but quickly turned into a disaster. After the team was able to string together a few first downs, they found themselves behind the sticks with a second-and-13. Williams connected with Bailey Gaither to seemingly get a chunk of that yardage, but the wide receiver fumbled the ball, ending any scoring hopes.
The bad time just kept coming for the Generals after the fumble. Facing a third-and-12, Johnson dropped for a pass but instead was met by Pittsburgh defensive end Nasir Player who forced a strip sack that was returned for a touchdown by safety Eli Walker. A converted extra point made the score 16-6 in favor of the Maulers.
Another fumble, this time from a high snap, made New Jersey’s next possession a quick one, giving the Pittsburgh offense the ball on their own 40-yard line. A Hennie jet sweep for 18 yards got the drive started off on the right foot as they would rattle off three consecutive first downs to put them in the red zone as the third quarter came to an end.
The drive would stall when play resumed, leading to another Blewitt field goal.
Facing a 19 to six deficit, the Generals desperately needed something from their offense. Pittsburgh’s defense would not let that happen, frustrating Johnson and forcing another three-play series. A poor punt would give the Maulers the ball back inside the New Jersey 40-yard line.
A defensive pass interference penalty kept Pittsburgh rolling in their offensive possession, seamlessly driving down the field to set up a Madre London rushing touchdown.
Johnson looked to be having his best drive of the game following the London touchdown, rushing and passing for a pair of first downs, but that would change. The quarterback took a deep shot to the endzone, but only found former Steelers defensive back Mark Gilbert. Gilbert now leads all USFL players in interceptions with four this season.
The Mauler would run the clock down to the two-minute warning, leaving New Jersey with little to no hope of retaking possession.
Some window-dressing followed for the Generals, but it didn’t matter. The Maulers picked up their fourth win of the year putting them at 4-6 on the season and making them USFL playoff bound.