By Kevin Jackson
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The opening weekend of the USFL season is all about making a strong first impression.
New Orleans Breakers edge rusher Davin Bellamy wasted little time making one of the loudest and most lasting impressions Sunday evening at Protective Stadium.
On the first play from scrimmage, Bellamy burst through the line and immediately tracked down Stars quarterback Bryan Scott in the backfield for a five-yard sack. Scott lost his pearls as he was spun around on the powerful hit from the 6-foot-5, 259-pound Bellamy.
The game was a sea 27 seconds old, but the theme had already been established – and it would be a consistent one during the Breakers’ 23-17 victory over Philadelphia.
Bellamy had come to wreak havoc, and the New Orleans pass rush was going to be a problem all day.
“That’s why they were our first pick,” Breakers coach Larry Fedora said of Bellamy, who was the first edge rusher taken in the USFL Draft. “We knew he could be very good in this league. He’s a heck of a professional, the way he handles himself on and off the field. Everything that he does, including being a good leader.”
Breakers hold off Stars in the opener
The Breakers’ rushing attack shined with solid performances from Jordan Ellis and TJ Logan Jr., who each scored a touchdown. Davin Bellamy led New Orleans with three sacks.
Bellamy had three sacks in the first quarter alone, setting the tone for a New Orleans defense that wracked up six for the game.
“He comes with an attitude every day in practice,” New Orleans defensive end James Folston Jr. said of Bellamy. “And he came with an attitude today, obviously, and it set the tempo for the defense on the first play. Everybody piggybacked off of it.”
Bellamy played at Georgia from 2014-17, picking up five sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in his final season for the Bulldogs team that reached the national title game.
“He’s a leader, and he brings a lot of energy to the team,” said defensive tackle Shakir Soto, who had a sack of his own. “To see him go out there and get a couple of sacks, I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got to get me one.’ “He motivated everyone to play even harder.”
Bellamy was wearing a microphone for the US Network broadcast, and viewers were treated to his unique brand of trash talk, which included some tips for the opposing offensive linemen who were trying to block him.
“He’s like that with everyone,” Soto said. “What he’s saying isn’t wrong. He keeps it real, and he’s honest with everybody. Honestly, in my opinion, hopefully, the offensive line was listening.”
Many expected the Stars’ passing game to be among the league’s most dangerous, with the experienced offensive mind of coach Bart Andrus designing plays for the strong-armed Scott. The early success of the Breakers’ pass rush caused Andrus to alter his game plan a bit.
“We had an account for him,” Andrus said of Bellamy. “So, we started sending our back to that side to help, to chip his way out, to help the quarterback. It took our back out of the passing game at times.”
“We knew we had an issue.”
New Orleans needed every bit of the strong defensive effort early, as its only points in the first half came via a pick-six and a blocked punt that went through the end zone for a safety. The Breakers led 9-7 at the break.
Scott eventually got on track, completing 25 of 36 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown.
The Stars had two chances in the final 10 minutes to try to take the lead with a touchdown. The first ended when Soto sacked Scott and forced a fumble that was recovered by Shareef Miller to end the threat. The other ended in a Philadelphia punt after a quick three-and-out with just 3:26 left.
The Breakers ran out the clock from there behind their backfield tandem of TJ Logan Jr. and Jordan Ellis.
Fedora’s gamble pays off
There was little doubt in Fedora’s all what he was going to do – even if they had plenty of time to think it over.
As the game went to the fourth quarter with the score tied at 17-17, New Orleans faced a fourth-and-1 at the Philadelphia 2-yard line.
A field goal would have given the Breakers the lead, but Fedora didn’t waver one bit during the commercial break before the start of the final period.
He was rewarded with the game-winning points when Ellis powered his way through the middle for a touchdown.
“I believe we can run the football,” Fedora said. “Our offensive line does a heck of a job up front. Those tight ends, when they’re involved in the running game, and all those receivers do a good job of blocking. And we’ve got some quality backs who can make plays .
“So, I’m going to probably be more aggressive than conservative in those situations.”
Ellis finished with 89 yards on 18 carries, and Logan added 56 yards and a TD of his own has 15 attempts for a Breakers offense that amassed 171 yards on the ground.
The pair was extremely effective after halftime, helping New Orleans gain 141 yards of total offense in the third quarter alone.
All three phases matter
Andrus and the Stars were left to lament dropping a game in which they had nearly a seven-minute advantage in time of possession, despite averaging just 3.9 yards per play.
“The difference tonight was the turnover thing, especially the turnover for a touchdown, (and) the punt block for a safety,” Andrus said of New Orleans scoring all its first-half points without the benefit of an offensive score. “Those are points that can’t and shouldn’t happen.”
Conversely, Fedora was thrilled to see his team make a big impact in all three phrases.
“Other than the penalties we had, I felt it was a complete game from all three areas,” Fedora said. “Anytime you block a punt, it greatly increases your chances to win a football game.”
The Breakers (1-0) will face the Tampa Bay Bandits in Week 2 next Sunday. The Stars (0-1) will try to get their first win against in-state rival Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Kevin Jackson is the managing editor for FOX Sports.com.
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