A heartbreaking loss for the Pittsburgh Maulers at the hands of the Houston Gamblers on Saturday afternoon. Despite leading the game for most of the game, a missed kick proved to be the difference as the team lost 20-19.
The Maulers got the first crack at scoring and had success early in the drive. The team converted on an efficient six first downs, including a converted fourth down in the red zone. The team’s best opening drive of the year resulted in a Troy Williams leap into the endzone to give his team a 7-0 lead.
The Gamblers had their shot next to open the game up on the right foot. A long third-down shot saw quarterback Kenji Bahar hit tight end, Josh Pederson, for a big 37-yard gain. Disaster would strike Houston just two plays later with an errant snap making the following down-and-distance at third and 51. Needless to say, the drive ended in a punt.
Troy Williams continued to look confident early in the Maulers’ next drive, converting a pair of chunk plays that gained a total of 45 yards to close out the first quarter. The second quarter would open just like the first – with a Pittsburgh score. This time, the team wasn’t able to get into the endzone, but they were able to convert on a Chris Blewitt field goal. The Maulers extended their lead to 10-0.
Houston couldn’t get into a rhythm again with Pittsburgh’s defense forcing a three-and-out.
Williams remained locked in during Pittsburgh’s drive. Starting at their five-yard line, the quarterback was able to manufacture a 12-play, 7:58 drive that resulted in a long 55-yard field goal from Chris Blewitt. The kick was the longest of the season for the kicker.
At the tail end of the first half, the Gamblers finally got some momentum on offense. Bahar moved the ball down the field to the Pittsburgh 27-yard line using his arm and legs. The team would then cap off their possession with a 4th-and-one conversion attempt that turned in a 27-yard Mark Thompson dash to the endzone. Nick Vogel would miss the following extra point attempt, which made the score 13-6 at halftime.
Opening up the second half and both offenses struggled to move the ball. A total of -2 yards was gained in the three drives before the Maulers finally got things back on track.
A Williams pass to Bailey Gaither for 31 yards moved the ball into Houston territory. A pair of physical runs from Madre London pushed the ball into the Gamblers’ 10-yard line, but the team couldn’t capitalize. Instead, they settled for another field goal, which extended their lead to 16-6.
Blewitt slipped on the ensuing kickoff and Houston returner Isaiah Zuber took advantage, getting the ball right around midfield. The Gamblers set the tone on the drive with some strong runs by Thompson and running back Aaron Shampklin, which helped the team get into the red zone. Bahar capped off the drive with his best throw of the day, finding Keke Chism for a touchdown in the back of the endzone.
Pittsburgh’s first drive of the fourth quarter fell apart despite a promising start. After a few first-down conversions, the drive sputtered with the team giving up three consecutive tackles for loss. Luckily, Blewitt was there for the save, nailing a 53-yard field goal. The Maulers then held a 19-13 lead.
The Gamblers were desperate for a score in their next drive and they got it. The team went back to Chism who caught a 22-yard pass from Bahar to push the ball around midfield. Houston would face a third-and-six on the Pittsburgh 33-yard line and elected to run the play with Thompson. That decision would prove correct as the running back took off, scoring his second touchdown of the game.
With only 4:44 left and facing a 20-19 deficit, the Maulers would go back to work. Pittsburgh would march down the field until they lost momentum at the Houston 23-yard line. The team then called on Blewitt again, who had been perfect up until that point. To the dismay of Maulers’ fans, he missed the kick giving the ball back to the Gamblers with under two minutes to play.
Two first downs from Houston ended the game with Pittsburgh falling in a heartbreaker, 20-19. The team now falls to 2-6 on the season and will face the Michigan Panthers next Saturday.