The first week of the TSL 2021 season is in the books, and Saturday afternoon marked a first for The Spring League, as the first game in their history to air on broadcast network television with FOX. The game itself between two South division teams in The Jousters and the 2020 TSL Champion Generals at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas, featured some of the more recognizable players and coaches in the entire league. With Luis Perez leading the charge at QB for the Jousters against seven-year NFL veteran Ryan Mallett at the helm of the Generals offense.
For Luis Perez, he is continuing his way back to the NFL by reuniting with his former XFL Head Coach Kevin Gilbride. At the same time, Ryan Mallett is pressing pause on his coaching career and his retirement to return to playing football.
Jousters-Generals Game Recap
The game’s opening series saw Luis Perez back at the controls of a Kevin Gilbride offense once again, as the two reunited for the first time since they were together in the XFL with the New York Guardians. Perez’s knowledge of the system is a luxury that most of the TSL players do not have. Having to learn an NFL playbook in a week for the players on the Jousters’ offense is a challenging task, and some of the expected kinks in that armor showed on the teams opening drive as the Jousters went three and out quickly.
A nearly perfect punt by NFL veteran Colton Schmidt pinned the Generals back on their first drive inside their own ten-yard line. Still, Ryan Mallett and the Generals offense dug themselves out of that hole by executing five plays of ten yards or more to get deep inside the Jousters red zone. However, a 92-yard drive by the Generals would come up empty when receiver Spencer Tears would fumble the football, and defensive back Will Likely would scoop up the football and return it 67 yards to set up the Jousters first scoring drive as Luis Perez would capitalize on the short field capping off a 4 play 31-yard drive with a scoring strike to TE/FB Donnie Ernsberger to give the Jousters and early 7-0 lead.
The Generals would respond on their next drive immediately with an exciting kick return by Darnell Holland that would take them across midfield; two players later, RB Chris James would scamper for 19 yards to get the Generals into the Jousters red zone for a second time. However, the drive would stall, and the team would have to settle for a 37-yard field goal.
As the game moved quickly into the second quarter, the Jousters had their momentum slowed on their third drive, after a near-diving interception by Generals’ defensive back CJ Jones, was followed by a sack by former Atlanta Falcons practice squad player Carroll Phillips. The Jousters were forced to punt at mid-field, and the Generals, using a three-headed backfield all game led mostly by Paul Terry, traveled deep into Jousters territory once again. But the drive would stall, and the Generals would be forced to settle for another Lirim Hajrullahu field goal to cut the Jousters lead to 7-6.
Both teams’ quarterbacks, Luis Perez and Ryan Mallett, struggled early on with some timing issues with their teammates and some errant throws. One of the pitfalls of TSL’s shortened prep time for the season. As expected, some communication issues led to missed opportunities for both signal-callers and their respective offenses.
Late in the first half, another Jousters offensive drive would stall near midfield. The Generals would take over on offense with less than two minutes lefts in the half. The momentum of the game would shift dramatically during a unique sequence of events. The Generals would go on to score 15 unanswered points, including 9 in the last 1:07 of the first half, to lead the Jousters 15-7 at halftime—all behind a huge td strike and a 59-yard field goal. But the real story is how they got there.
Ryan Mallett would connect with one of TSL’s very best playmakers Darnell Holland on a 65-yard catch and score down the sidelines to give the Generals their first lead of the game, or did they? The Kennesaw State standout, Holland, appeared to get caught up in the moment and release the football before crossing the goal line. The replay booth ruled that the football had crossed the goal line’s plane before it was released.
What followed the controversial call was a botched snap on the extra point by the Generals and then a Jousters turnover by Luis Perez, who was intercepted by DB CJ Jones again, but this time, it counted on an acrobatic diving play by Jones off of a deflection. The diving interception set the Generals up for one last scoring opportunity before the half, and kicker Lirim Hajrullahu would connect on a career-long 59-yard field goal to close the first half.
The Generals first possession on offense to start the second half would stall due to penalties. And the Jousters would kick off the second half with a new quarterback in Drew Anderson. The former Murray State and Arizona Cardinals signal-caller would take the reins of the offense. A surprising move by Kevin Gilbride, but one that is very common in the developmental league style of TSL, where players are rotated into games to get reps. Not every coach adheres to it, like the Generals Bart Andrus last season, who rode Bryan Scott all the way through the fall season. But it is a common practice in the Spring League.
The move to the 6’4 220 Drew Anderson would provide a spark to the Jousters offense, as he would connect on his first four passes and scramble for a first down well. Anderson would cap off a 13 play 68-yard drive with a touchdown pass to Donnie Ernserber, his second of the game. The Jousters drive up took over eight minutes of the third quarter and would close the Generals lead to 15-13. Despite two opportunities to tie the game with a two-point conversion, the Jousters could not do so.
Both teams would trade punts to close out the third quarter. On their third possession of the second half, Ryan Mallett and the Generals offense would finally get cooking and drive into Jousters territory, but once again, they were forced to settle for a field goal; this time, Lirim Hajrullahu would make a 47-yard field goal to extend the Generals lead to 18-13.
With Drew Anderson in for his third series on offense. Facing a key third down and 6, Anderson would scramble out of pressure, break free and connect with newly added receiver Darren Woods Jr. for a first down catch and run deep into Generals territory. Woods Jr., the former UNLV receiver, was brought on to replace Johnathon Johnson, who left TSL to work out as an invite for the Indianapolis Colts and their rookie minicamp. The announcers referred to Woods as KJ Stepherson, another receiver that the Jousters recently added during the game.
With under four minutes left to play in the game, after two holding penalties, with the Jousters down five, facing a 4th and 3 on the Generals 22-yard line. The Jousters appeared to be stopped on downs, but an offsides penalty gave the Jousters the first down. The mistake gave the Jousters new life as they drove inside the five-yard line with a chance to take the lead in the closing minutes, and that’s exactly what would happen as RB Lavon Coleman would score a touchdown on an inside handoff from four yards out to give the Jousters a 19-18 lead. The two-point attempt to extend the lead to 3 would fail.
After a solid kick return by the do everything Darrell Holland. (who amassed over a hundred all-purpose yards on the day) The Generals would quickly drive to the Jousters 40 yard-line. A big defensive stop by former NY Guardians standout Bunmi Rotimi would push the Generals back to the 45. Facing 3rd and 15, Ryan Mallett would complete an underneath pass to Devin Gray for 14 yards. Gray would step out of bounds, stopping the clock at 1:39 but setting up the Generals for the go-ahead field goal by Lirim Hajrullahu, who ended up making his fifth kick of the day.
On their final drive of the game, Drew Anderson would lead the Jousters to midfield and just outside of field goal range. Drew Anderson would throw a costly interception over the middle of the field to DB Evan Worthington to seal the victory for The Generals.
Final Score- Generals 21 Jousters 19
Players of The Game- QB-Ryan Mallet: 20/31 252 yards passing, 1 touchdown, Kicker- Lirim Hajrullahu 5-5 on FG’s with a long of 59 yards
The Generals (1-0) will take on the (0-1) Sea Lions next Friday at 7 pm ET on FS1. The Jousters will try to rebound next Friday when they face the (1-0) Blues at 10 pm ET on FS1.
In a short six-week season where there are only two playoff teams playing for a championship on June 19th. Must-win scenarios come very early. Both the Jousters and Generals will be playing important divisional games next week.
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