Darrius Shepherd’s heroism lifts generals over Panthers
By Eric D. Williams
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — The New Jersey Generals are the best running team in the USFL.
However, as the Michigan Panthers slowed them up front, the generals turned to Darrius Shepherd and the passing game.
Shepherd finished with eight catches for 99 receiving yards, including the game-winning 17-yard touchdown on a fade run that gave the Generals a 25-23 win over the Panthers on Saturday at Protective Stadium.
Generals’ Darrius Shepherd scores the winning TD
New Jersey wide receiver Darrius Shepherd led the Generals with eight receptions for 99 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Michigan wide receiver Joe Walker led the Panthers offense with seven catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’m just proud of our team for finding a way to win,” Generals head coach Mike Riley said. “It looked a bit dark for a while. I felt it on the sidelines. But when we had to stop them and we had to make a few plays offensively, we did it.”
The USFL’s first rusher entering Week 9, Darius Victor was slowed by a toe problem, rushing for just 18 yards on seven carries. Trey Williams led the Generals with 62 yards on 11 carries.
After leading most of the game, New Jersey trailed by four points with 6:37 left after a 25-yard field goal from Cole Murphy. But Luis Perez engineered the decisive drive after a big return from Cam Echols-Luper put New Jersey near midfield (he also had an 18-yard backhand for a score).
At second-and-fifth from the Michigan 17-yard line, Shepherd converted on a home run against press coverage, beating his man over for the score.
“When your number is called, you have to make plays,” Shepherd said. “Coach [Riley] involved us in the passing game today, gave us the opportunity to show what we can do.”
Along with Shepherd, KaVontae Turpin continues to look like the most explosive player in the league, taking a 71-yard punt return for a score with just over 10 minutes left in the first half – the first kick return brought down to home this season in the USFL.
KaVontae Turpin takes it home
The New Jersey Generals take a 10-0 lead over the Michigan Panthers after KaVontae Turpin punted 71 yards home.
“Coach (Riley) told me at the start of this game that this will probably be the day you get one,” Turpin said. “So I just told him I was going to be patient there. I hit the holeshot once and just came back outside, just trying to be the team’s playmaker, bulk.”
The Generals overcame two missed field goals and two missed extra points to improve to 8-1 on the year, winning their eighth straight game. The Panthers fell to 1-7 and lost six in a row.
Quarterback for the Pittsburgh Maulers in the first three games of the year, Josh Love started as quarterback for the Panthers. Michigan’s starting quarterbacks earlier this season — Paxton Lynch and Shea Patterson — were both unavailable. Lynch was inactive for the game and Patterson, the first draft pick, was waived a few weeks ago and is now a member of the New Orleans Breakers.
Love was 12 for 21 for 168 passing yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He was hit by Hercules Mata’afa and limped off the pitch with a right knee injury. Love was chosen by Trae Elston on the play.
Eastern Washington product Eric Barriere replaced Love in the lineup. Barriere played solid in his first action in the USFL, going 14 for 24 for 118 yards and a touchdown against Ishmael Hyman.
However, needing a late field placement, Barrière was intercepted by Paris Ford, sealing the victory for the Generals.
Joe Walker played well for Michigan, finishing with seven receptions for 129 yards and two scores.
The Panthers were pretty battered after this one, losing running back Cameron Scarlett (unspecified) and receiver Devin Ross (knee) to injury. Top running back Reggie Corbin did not play due to injury.
Michigan finished the game with only one healthy running back and quarterback available.
“That’s probably where I was most proud of our guys,” Michigan head coach Jeff Fisher said. “It was kind of one of those ‘last man standing’ things.”
Interception by Toby Johnson
New Jersey nose tackle Toby Johnson lived a big man’s dream against the Panthers — he got to show off his athleticism by putting his big mitts on the football.
In the first quarter, Destiny Vaeao deflected a pass from Love high in the air. A rushing Johnson tracked him down, making an impressive diving catch for the interception.
The Generals turned the error into points when Austin Jones converted a field goal from 36 yards.
Tre Williams Update
Fisher provided some good news on injured defensive lineman Tre Williams.
During Michigan’s loss to the Philadelphia Stars last week, Williams lay motionless on the field for several minutes before being carried off the field on a board and stretcher and transported to University of Washington Medical Center. Alabama-Birmingham.
However, Fisher said Williams was released from hospital and was on the sidelines watching his teammates play on Sunday. Fisher said there’s even a chance Williams will play in Michigan’s final game next week.
“Tre is doing remarkably well,” Fisher said. “We didn’t rule him out of the final game, I’m really happy to say that. The Good Lord was listening to our prayers because it was a big prayer-answered incident there. It was a scary affair.
“He’s fine. He was with his teammates this week. He has some mobility. It’s a matter of medical clearance. But for me to be able to say he has the chance to play two weeks after what we have endured last week is pretty good.”
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 at @eric_d_williams.
Get more from the USA Football League Follow your favorites for game insights, news and more.