The Spring League has reached the midway point of their six-week regular season.
Saturday afternoon on FOX, Two Southern Division teams in The Spring League, the Generals and Blues squared off in Houston at Rice Stadium. Each game moving forward in TSL carries more significance in a shorter season as teams try to qualify for the Spring League championship game on Saturday, June 19th, on FOX.
Both the Generals and Blues are coming off of week two losses. The Blues fell to the Jousters 28-7 in a game rescheduled to Tuesday because of a weather delay due to lightning. They are playing this game on 3 days’ rest. The Generals lost a close contest last Monday to the Sea Lions 17-13.
Generals-Blues Game Recap
Former Hampton University Quarterback Deondre Francois was at the controls to start the game on offense for the Blues. A week after only mustering 87 total yards, the Blues offense started their day off on the wrong note with a quick three and out.
Ryan Mallett and the Generals’ offense would find their way almost immediately into plus territory using a quick-release passing attack on their first possession. A red hot Ryan Mallett would connect on six of his first seven passes, three of which to receiver Siaosi Mariner, driving the Generals down to the Blues one-yard line. One play later, Paul Terry would score on the ground to give the Generals an early 7-0 lead.
The Blues struggles on offense would continue on their second possession after a facemask penalty by offensive linemen Abdul Beacham pushed them back inside their 20-yard line. Facing a 1st and 24, the Blues offense could not get themselves out of that predicament and were once again forced to punt.
A 23-yard punt return by defensive back Tareke Lewis would set the Generals up at the Blues’ 45-yard line on their next offensive series. The explosive Darnell Holland would scamper for 14 yards on a great cut-back run on the Generals’ first play from scrimmage. However, two consecutive penalties would push the Generals’ offense back, but it didn’t deter them. Ryan Mallett would make two big completions to erase the deficit. The biggest play coming on a connection with Tight End Sal Cannella for 23 yards down to the Blues’ one-yard line.
The first quarter would come to a close with the Generals knocking on the door of the end zone again. Ryan Mallett’s hot streak would continue as he started the game 9/10 for 111 yards. Running Back Darnell Holland would score on the ground to extend the Generals lead to 14-0 over the Blues.
The Blues offense would finally get things going on their third drive. Deondre Francois, nursing a thumb injury, would complete two first-down passes to get the Blues into plus side territory at the 36-yard line. One play later, Francois would take off from the pocket and pick up 30 yards down inside the Generals’ 10-yard line.
Facing a 4th and goal at the two-yard line, Head Coach Ted Cotrell would opt for the short field goal rather than go for it. A running theme for the day for the veteran coach, who did not have one of his finer days at the office. The Blues settled for three as Jonathan Barnes would split the uprights to narrow the gap to 14-3.
After the score, FOX announcer Joel Klatt would tip his hat to the XFL, a league that he called games for in 2020. Klatt was particularly complimentary about the XFL’s kickoff. Calling it tremendous and the best way to handle the kickoff on the pro and college level moving forward. Brandon Gaudin concurred, calling it exciting to watch.
The Generals offense would waste no time on their next possession on offense, getting into enemy territory. Thanks in part to a great kick return by Darnell Holland. The drive would stall on third-down after a miscommunication by Ryan Mallett and Head Coach Bart Andrus.
The Generals would bring out the Kosovo-born kicker Lirim Hajrullahu, who would connect on a 50-yard field goal in the rain, despite a high snap, to extend his team’s lead to 17-3. On the short Spring League season, the former NFL and CFL kicker, Hajrullahu is 8/8 on field goals with a long of 59 yards.
Late in the second quarter, with the Blues trailing by two scores, Deondre Francois would help drive his offense across midfield, but a head injury would force him to leave the game before a crucial 3rd and 4. The 6’7 backup QB from Ottawa University, Connor Kaegi, would be forced into action to replace Francois. He would answer the call immediately with a first down completion, followed by a 30- yard touchdown pass to Davion Davis.
On the TD score, Davis would get loose behind the Generals coverage and make a sliding catch on the three-yard line, but defensive back Brandon Mayes was unable to touch Davis while he was down, who got right back up and raced into the end zone for the touchdown. The extra point, however, was missed. But the score helped the Blues cut the Generals lead to 17-9.
The Generals offense would take over with just over a minute left. However, a quick three and out followed by a dynamic 50-yard punt return by Davion Davis would set the Blues almost immediately in scoring range at the Generals 25 with 31 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Generals defense would hold and force the Blues to a field goal attempt before the first half ended, but the kick by Jonathan Barnes would sail wide left. Keeping the score, 17-9 in favor of the Generals going into the third quarter.
Coming out of intermission, Darnell Holland would bring another kickoff out near mid-field to give the Generals great field position to start the third quarter. One play later, Holland would break tackles, running for a first down to get his team into enemy territory. Later in the drive, Ryan Mallett would connect with Siasosi Mariner for the fourth time on the day, on a pretty corner route down to the Blues 20-yard line for a first down.
Siasosi Mariner, out of Utah State, was Jordan Love’s top target with the Aggies back in 2019. Accumulating 10 touchdowns on 63 catches for 987 yards before signing with the Las Vegas Raiders back in 2020 as an undrafted free agent.
Inside the red zone, the Generals would lean on their three-headed running attack of Chris James, Paul Terry and Darnell Holland. Three straight runs would lead the Generals right into the end zone as Chris James would take his turn scoring for the first time on the day from three yards out. The score would give the Generals a commanding 24-9 lead over the Blues.
Quarterback Connor Kaegi, the former basketball player for the Ottawa University Braves, was back at quarterback for the Blues as Deondre Francois was ruled out for the rest of the game. Kaegi would pick up a first down on a QB sneak, but an ill-advised personal foul penalty by Tyler Roemer would set the Blues back. Roemer, despite his objections to the officials, was ejected from the game for fighting.
The fighting between both teams would continue on this drive as Generals defensive tackle Kamilo Tongamoa would be ejected from the game after punching Blues linemen Abul Meacham while he was on the ground. Both players were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play.
After a long delay in play, where the officials would warn both teams of further infractions, the Blues would get near midfield. Still, the drive would stall, and they decided to punt the ball away on 4th and 2 when Generals DB Brandon Mayes made a huge diving tackle in the open field to prevent a first down.
With the third quarter winding down, Longtime NFL defensive coordinator and head coach Wade Phillips was shown on camera watching The Spring League action from the press box up at Rice Stadium. Wade Phillips has a long history of coaching in Texas; his legendary father “Bum” Phillips coached the Houston Oilers back in the late ’70s.
With the Generals trying to nurse a 15 point lead late in the third quarter, the Blues defense would make a big play on defense when Joey Alfieri picked off a deflected pass by Ryan Mallett. The game’s first turnover would set the Blues up deep in Generals territory.
On the first play of the Blues possession, they almost took their gift and gave it right back when Generals linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee dropped an easy interception over the middle of the field. Luckily for the Generals defense and Ellerbee, they wouldn’t live to regret the missed opportunity as the Blues drive went backward after an intentional grounding penalty set the team back 20 yards. The Blues momentum stalled, and they were forced to punt.
The 4th quarter would begin with the Generals attempting to lean on their rushing attack, but the Blues defense would make a stand and force a punt. Down two scores, the Blues offense would take over at their 27. The drive would get going with some good runs, but Connor Kaegi would miss a wide-open Fabian Guerra for a much-needed potential score. The drive would sputter, and despite being down 15 with 9:53 remaining, Blues Head Coach Ted Cotrell would elect to punt the ball away on 4th down.
The Generals offense would start grinding the clock away on their next drive, using a combination of high percentage passes and their ground attack. The Generals drove to midfield with a chance to put the game away, but after a near interception by Ryan Mallett and a dropped pass on third down, the Blues would get the ball back on offense.
However, the Blues would take over inside their own 5-yard line after a long punt and a penalty. The Blues couldn’t get a big enough shovel to dig themselves out of their hole, and inexplicably, Ted Cotrell decided to punt the football on 4th down from his end zone, down two scores with 2:33 remaining.
Thanks to that poor decision and some big first down runs by Darnell Holland. The Generals were able to ice the game.
Final Score- Generals 24 Blues 9
On the shoulders of a three-headed rushing attack that rushed for 123 yards and three scores. The Generals improve to 2-1 with the victory while the sputtering Blues fall to 1-2.
In week 4 next Saturday, The Generals will face the Jousters in a rematch from their battle in week one, and the Blues will do the same with the Sea Lions. Both the Generals and Blues will be looking to sweep their season series with their division rivals.
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