BIRMINGHAM – Wes Hills apologized for scoring the winning touchdown in the New Orleans Breakers' 38-31 win over the Houston Gamblers on Saturday at Protective Stadium.
Truthfully, though, the apology wasn’t necessary. Kudos to the 6-foot-2, 218-pound running back was certainly more appropriate.
The game-winning play came on first down from the Gamblers 14-yard line with the clock inside the final minute of play. Hills took the handoff, burst through a big hole on the left side, hesitated for a moment after breaking in the clear and then finished off the tiebreaking touchdown with 42 seconds left.
It appeared the Gamblers conceded the touchdown so they could get the ball back with hopes of scoring. Houston coach Curtis Johnson said that was discussed but he chose not to take that option. Hills didn’t know that as he sat in the interview room afterward.
“I wanted to go down,” Hills said. “I was thought in the thought process of going down. (A teammate) yelled go score, so I just ran it in. We talked about it, it’s a (call we have). I have to do better.”
Quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who was sitting nearby, corrected him.
“It’s not on you, we didn’t call (it),” Bethel-Thompson said. “You’re good.”
So, the plan all along was for Hills to score and he perfected the plan.
It was just the final part of an afternoon that Hills introduced himself to the USFL. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound Hills, who started his college career at Delaware and finished at Slippery Rock, carried the ball 18 times for 110 yards with a pair of touchdowns. He also had three catches for 17 yards.
“It means the world to me, to go out there and have the staff trust me enough to run the ball,” Hills said. “Just to have this opportunity, I’m very grateful.”
In some ways, players like Hills are exactly what the USFL is all about. He had some success at Delaware but his time on the field was cut short by injuries and a year of academic eligibility. He spent his final college season at DII Slippery Rock, where he flourished. Hills rushed for 1,714 yards and was an All-America selection.
He was undrafted in the 2019 NFL Draft, signed with the Arizona Cardinals. An injury ended his chance to make the roster, beginning an up-and-down trip through professional football. He signed with the Detroit Lions and was put on the practice squad after training camp. In October, he was cut from the practice squad, picked back four days later and added to the active roster in December. He scored two touchdowns while active but was waived the following August.
Hills spent two years in the Canadian Football League but spent time on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats practice squad. New Orleans head coach John DeFilipo brought Hills to the USFL.
“It’s been a long road to get here,” Hills said. “I’m very thankful for Flip to give me an opportunity to show what I can do.”
New Orleans needed all the offense it could muster on Saturday, particularly in a second half that included 49 points. Bethel-Thompson threw for 251 yards and two scores. Tight end Sage Suratt caught all 11 passes thrown his way. He gained 121 yards and had a touchdown reception.
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