Stars’ defense comes up big in low-scoring win over Breakers

The Philadelphia Stars outlasted the New Orleans Breakers on Sunday in a back-and-forth game that ended in a 16-10 win in the Stars second-straight victory.

Philadelphia’s defense earned a ‘gold star’ for the day. It forced two punts to start the game before then taking matters into its own hands when cornerback Amani Dennis jumped a route to nab an interception off New Orleans quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Dennis then proceeded to run the ball all the way back into the Stars’ end zone for Philadelphia’s first touchdown of the game. It put the Stars up 13-0 in the second quarter.

The defense also got a total of two sacks on Bethel-Thompson, including one in the third quarter on third-and-16 that forced the Breakers into a field goal after getting as close as the Philadelphia 11.

The offense showed flashes of its potential, as both quarterback Case Cookus and running back Matthew Colburn contributed multiple explosive plays throughout the afternoon. Colburn finished as the team’s leading rusher with 62 yards on 13 carries, including a 25-yard run that got his team into New Orleans territory in the fourth quarter.

The Stars’ biggest blemish came after a largely clean game. Quarterback Case Cookus hit an unsuspecting New Orleans defender with the ball as Cookus was being tackled out of bounds. The shovel pass happened before Cookus stepped out and was therefore an interception by cornerback Nevelle Clarke, as he stood watching the tackle happen.

Things went from bad to worse as wide receiver Terry Wright was ejected for fighting on the New Orleans sideline immediately following the play. Wright had a huge 30-yard catch earlier in the game and was one of eight receivers to catch a ball from Cookus throughout the afternoon.

Cookus finished 17-of-27 for 238 passing yards and two interceptions.

But because of the Philadelphia defense, the Breakers weren’t able to convert the play into points, after the Stars’ defense stepped up and forced a field goal try. Kicker Matt Coghlin missed the 42-yard attempt and the Stars clung to their 13-10 lead with 1:39 left in the third quarter.

New Orleans had first gotten on the board with 2:35 left in the first half on a strike from Bethel-Thompson to wide receiver Johnnie Dixon. After the good point after, the Stars led 13-7 just before halftime.

Penalties would be a consistent problem for the Stars throughout the afternoon. Right before the end of the first half, the Stars failed to convert a third-and-6 after yet another penalty and sent the punt team out with 31 seconds left before halftime. Another promising drive stalled, and instead of answering New Orleans’ first score, they were unable to add to their 13-7 halftime lead.

Just as they were gaining some momentum at the start of the fourth quarter, penalties again did the Stars in where instead of a completed pass to Devin Gray to set Philadelphia up at the Breakers’ 11-yard line, wide receiver Pro Wells was called for offensive pass interference and Cookus threw an interception at the goal line on second-and-17, giving the ball back to the Breakers.

Another OPI call negated a score in the fourth quarter with the Stars clinging to a three-point lead. It made it third-and-goal from the 11 before Cookus ran the ball in for a score. Except that touchdown was negated by a holding call and the Stars faced third-and-goal from the 21-yard line. Even after a great catch-and-run by running back Colburn, Philadelphia was forced to settle for a field goal, going up 16-10 with 3:15 left.

The Stars moved down the field easily on their first possession, getting to first-and-goal from the 8-yard line. The offense lined up with two receivers stacked on either side of the formation, sending New Orleans into man coverage to account for each of them, and it was Cookus who ended up tucking the ball and running it in.

But a holding call on wide receiver Diondre Overton negated the score, backing the Stars up to the 13-yard line. Philadelphia wouldn’t be able to punch it in and settled for a field goal as the first points of the game, taking a 3-0 lead over the South-leading Breakers with 6:12 left in the first quarter. It was kicker Luis Aguilar’s ninth field goal in a row after coming off a USFL-record eight-field-goal game in Week 5 for the Stars.

In fact, Aguilar was again a major source of points for the Stars, booting through a total of three field goals, pushing his total to 11-straight.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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