BIRMINGHAM — It was more of a promise than an apology. Either way, though, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, the quarterback who threw the winning touchdown pass in the New Orleans Breakers 22-15 win over the Pittsburgh Maulers in Sunday's USFL season opener for both teams at Protective Stadium, let his defense know that the offense will do better the next time.
"You see the strength of our defense," Bethel-Thompson said. "I told them after the game they wouldn't have to carry as much weight going forward. I told them in the locker room afterward, they don't have to carry that much weight, hopefully, going forward. Hopefully, we'll be able to take a little bit of the poundage off them. To be honest, there was no doubt they were going to make the plays because they've been doing it all camp."
The numbers show what kind of night it was for the defense. The Maulers ran 47 plays and gained 156 yards. Three times the Maulers entered the red zone, and their offense never got into the end zone. The only Pittsburgh points came on a fumble recovery by Kyahva Tezino in the end zone and an 82-yard punt return by Isiah Hennie. Former Alabama All-American Reuben Foster, who had a game-high 12 tackles, forced the fumble that Tezino recovered.
The Breakers, who are calling Birmingham and Protective Stadium home during the USFL season, had 332 yards in offense, with Bethel-Thompson throwing for 302 yards. However, red zone performance was problematic for the Breakers. Each of the first four red zone trips ended with a field goal by Matt Coghlin, whose fifth field goal came from 51 yards.
It was the fifth trip into the red zone that won the game. The drive began following Hennie's punt return that tied the game at 15. The ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, giving the Breakers possession at the 50-yard line with 4:32 remaining. Two plays later, the Breakers converted on a 3rd-and-4 when Bethel-Thompson scrambled around the right end and leaped just past the first down marker while being by Foster. Bethel-Thompson then hit Sage Surratt with a short pass that the Breakers tight end turned into a 35-yard gain to the Pittsburgh 5-yard line.
The game-winner came on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line. The Breakers could have run the ball up the middle, let the clock run down and attempted the go-ahead field goal. Instead, New Orleans head coach John DeFilippo put the play in Bethel-Thompson's hands, calling a run-pass option to the right side. Bethel-Thompson rolled to the right and hit Aaron Jones just inside the end zone to give Breakers their first red zone touchdown of the night.
Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.