The Pittsburgh Maulers returned to a USFL field for the first time since 1984. They will need another week before securing a win, or maybe more.
Pittsburgh faced the Tampa Bay Bandits – coached by former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley – in the final game of the reborn league’s opening week.
Originally scheduled for Sunday night, the game was postponed to Monday due to weather conditions. The Maulers must not have received the message.
Pittsburgh never found a groove offensively, dropping the season opener 17-3, only staying competitive throughout the game due to a strong defensive effort.
BJ Emmons put the first points on the board with a three-yard rushing touchdown on the game’s opening drive. Tampa Bay quarterback Jordan Ta’amu looked comfortable in Haley’s offense and had no problem picking apart the Maulers’ defense.
Lead by former Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson, the Maulers were held off the scoreboard in the first half and punted on their first two possessions.
Tampa Bay extended its lead to double digits with a 23-yard field goal by Tyler Rausa nearing the conclusion of the first quarter.
The Maulers turned the ball back over to the Bandits on downs after eight plays, the longest drive of the half, and would punt three more times before the half’s end.
A three-yard strike from Ta’amu to Jordan Lasley gave Tampa a 17-0 advantage with just over a minute to go in the second.
Running the ball was a focal point for the former RB coach. Garrett Groshek and Madre London split carries before Groshek separated himself as the lead tailback.
First-round pick Kyle Lauletta – taken in the opening quarterback section of the USFL draft – surprisingly did not play much at all for the struggling offense.
Former San Jose QB Josh Love took most of the snaps, giving way to Lauletta during the game’s final six minutes and change. The second-half kickoff did mark the first touchback in the league’s new era, but one positive for the Maulers was their second-half defense.
Pittsburgh forced an interception to end the first half and into the fourth quarter. The team was not able to capitalize. Ramiz Ahmed scored the first points for the revamped Maulers, kicking a 28-yard field goal with 4:29 remaining in the third quarter.
Following the second interception, the Maulers looked poised to score their first touchdown. Jeff Thomas made a great catch on 4th and 11 inside Bandits territory for the biggest play of the night to set up a red-zone opportunity.
The drive stalled when Thomas caught a short pass on 4th and 5 but ran backward and ended short of the sticks inside the 10-yard line.
The Maulers only played three wide receivers and were ill-prepared to play from behind. Nine plays went for negative yardage and Pittsburgh only managed 186 total yards as the South division finished 4-0 to begin the year.
Kyahva Tezino had 12 total tackles, an interception, and a forced fumble to lead a Mauler’s defense that shut out Tampa Bay in the final 30 minutes.
Love threw for 121 yards on 9-of-16 attempts. Groshek ran for 55 total yards on 16 carries in the loss.
The Maulers play the Philadelphia Stars Saturday at 12 p.m. on FOX.