MEMPHIS – A 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kenji Bahar to wide receiver Justin Hall with 13 seconds remaining gave the Houston Gamblers a 30-26 win over the Memphis Showboats on Saturday night at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium.
Memphis (0-3) overcame a two-score deficit in the fourth quarter to take the lead in the final two minutes. Showboats quarterback Cole Kelley, making his first start of the season, threw for 307 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Both of his touchdown passes came in the final five minutes, allowing the Showboats to take a 26-23 lead after trailing 23-10.
Houston (1-2), who is also playing its home games at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium and was the home team on Saturday, was led by Hall’s six catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns and running back Mark Thompson’s 21 carries for 81 yards and two scores.
Both defenses controlled the first quarter, forcing punts on the first three possessions to keep the game scoreless after 15 minutes.
A 45-yard field goal by Houston kicker Nick Vogel gave the Gamblers a 3-0 lead earlier in the second quarter. Memphis kicker Brandon Wright tied the game on the following drive with his first field goal of the season from 35 yards.
The Gamblers regained the lead on a nine-play, 77-yard touchdown drive capped by a 41-yard pass from Bahar to Hall.
A penalty on the ensuing kickoff gave Memphis the ball at midfield. The Showboats took advantage of the field position, driving 50 yards in seven plays to tie the game at 10. Running back Alex Collins finished the drive after taking a direct snap and throwing a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jay Jay Wilson.
The first score of the second half, a 2-yard run by Thompson, came with 3:41 remaining in the third quarter to put the Gamblers in front again at 17-10. The 13-yard scoring drive was set up by a J.T. Tyler interception.
Memphis turned the ball over again with a fumble on the following kickoff, and Houston needed only four plays to drive 38 yards as Thompson scored his second rushing touchdown of the game to put the Gamblers in front 23-10.
Wright added another field goal, connecting from 26 yards, to make the score 23-13. The Showboats attempted a retention play, the USFL’s version of an onside kick, but failed to convert the 12 yards required to regain possession and turned the ball over at their own 33-yard line with 11:30 remaining.
Two stops by the Memphis defense and a 30-yard touchdown pass from Kelley to Kerrith Whyte brought the Showboats back to within 23-20 with under five minutes remaining. Memphis got the ball back following a missed 40-yard field goal by Vogel and took its first lead in any game this season after Kelley found Ryan McDaniel for a 28-yard touchdown pass just under two minutes remaining.
Bahar then led Houston on a 66-yard touchdown drive, throwing the game-winning score to Justin Hall on third down from the 10-yard line with 13 seconds left.
The Showboats will head to Detroit next Saturday to face the Michigan Panthers. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. on NBC from Ford Field.
Memphis returns to Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium on May 20 for a 11:30 a.m. game against the Pittsburgh Maulers. Visit theusfl.com/memphis-showboats-team-tickets for ticket information.