Michigan Panthers Hold Off The Memphis Showboats 24-18

As the Michigan Panthers and the Memphis Showboats began Saturday’s game, the teams approached it with two very different agendas. The Michigan Panthers have already punched their ticket to the playoffs and will take on the Birmingham Stallions for the USFL Division Conference Championship on June 8th. Saturday’s game provided an opportunity to fine-tune any elements that could spell the difference between a conference title or ending the season just short of advancing to the UFL League Championship.

For the 1-6 Memphis Showboats who are out of playoff contention, they were looking to salvage a disappointing season and break a dismal six-game losing streak. In a sign of hope for the team, if this week’s rumors are to be believed, the team can look forward to at least one more season in Memphis despite poor attendance figures at Liberty Bank Stadium. 

Michigan Panthers Hold Off The Memphis Showboats 24-18

Stick With What Works 

With both E.J. Perry and Danny Etling still recovering from injuries, Head Coach Mike Nolan used the same two-quarterback strategy he employed last week against the D.C. Defenders. Rotating quarterbacks Brian Lewerke and Bryce Perkins every series worked well against the Defenders and it proved successful again this week against the Showboats.

The two quarterbacks had virtually identical statistics throughout the first half with Lewerke passing 5/8 for 77 yards and a touchdown and Perkins 5/7 for 79 yards and one touchdown. The Lewerke-Perkins tandem kept the offense moving throughout the half and the Panthers had to punt once with 35 seconds left before halftime.

Lewerke finished the game 6/11 for 82 yards and one touchdown while Perkins was 7/9 for 106 yards and one touchdown. Of the two, Perkins is the more mobile quarterback and added 3 carries for 55 yards. Lewerke had three carries for 13 yards.

The Offensive Heroes 

With wide receiver, Siaosi Mariner out this week after suffering a concussion last week, the Panthers needed someone to step up and fill the gap. Wide receiver Devin Gray took on the challenge and delivered a terrific performance. All afternoon, he was the preferred target for Lewerke and Perkins and finished with six receptions for 84 yards and one touchdown.

Running back Matthew Colburn was the team’s primary offensive weapon after fellow running back Wes Hills exited early in the game with an apparent leg injury. Colburn delivered a terrific ground game with 93 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns. He also had one reception for seven yards. In a surprising turn of events, the Panthers’ outstanding kicker, Jake Bates, had a quiet afternoon, missing his only field goal attempt, a 51-yarder.

The Showboats Show Improvement

For the Showboats it had to be a frustrating loss. After getting blown out by the Renegades 47-23, this was their best offensive performance in weeks. The Showboats kept pace with the Panthers throughout much of the afternoon and a field goal late in the game tied the score at 18-18. Case Cookus looked strong and had a solid game passing 10/16 for 179 yards with one touchdown. He also launched a bomb downfield intended for Vinny Papale that was grabbed in a stunning interception by Nate Brooks. Under heavy pressure from the Michigan defense, Cookus took a ten-yard sack and left the game on the next play to be replaced by Josh Love who was 9/12 for 56 yards with one touchdown. 

The Showboat Offensive Weapons

Wide receiver Daewood Davis was the star of the Showboats’ offense with two touchdowns on 86 receiving yards. Tight end Sage Surrat had five catches for 55 yards. Titus Swen had an impressive game as a return man and had five returns for 119 yards. 

Matt Coghlin continues to be one of the best kickers in the league and was perfect on the day providing two field goals, a 55-yarder, and a 37-yard kick.

Once again, the Showboats’ ground game with Darius Victor failed to ignite. Victor finished the day with 11 carries for 33 yards. He was a bit more effective as a receiver with 3 catches for 14 more yards. 

Areas of Improvement

Neither team was able to convert on the point after touchdowns. Michigan even had two opportunities to convert for three points from the two-yard line due to Showboats’ penalties and in both instances, they failed to reach the end zone. Both teams need to do better to capitalize on one of the UFL rules that make this game even more exciting.

Panthers Defense

One of the key elements that led to the Panthers’ success this season has been their outstanding defense with Frank Ginda leading the league in tackles. But Ginda was injured two weeks ago and is out for the season. Safety Kai Nacua who has had an outstanding season, suffered a concussion last week and was also out for Saturday’s game. But despite the absence of Ginda and Nacua, the Panthers’ defense looked terrific, delivering punishing tackles, batting down passes, and thwarting a late-game surge from the Showboats. Breeland Speaks has been a huge part of the defense’s success this season and on Saturday he had help from Nate Brooks with the interception and Sean Mahone who had six tackles and a sack. Defensive tackle Garrett Marino had an outstanding day with tackles, a costly sack, and a broken pass. 

For the Panthers who will face the Houston Roughnecks next week on the road and the Birmingham Stallions to close out their regular season, the goal is to keep playing well and stay healthy. For the Memphis Showboats, who will face the D.C. Defenders next, it’s a chance to build on what worked Saturday and continue to reevaluate and retool for next season. 

Main Image:  David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

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