June 30, 2014

1985: Last-Second FG Propels Invaders to Playoff Win Over Bandits

The United States Football League Quarterfinal playoff game in Oakland on June 30, 1985 featured the Oakland Invaders, who had topped the Western Conference with a league-best 13-4-1 record, against the Tampa Bay Bandits, fifth place finishers in the Eastern Conference at 10-8.

The Invaders, coached by Charlie Sumner, benefited greatly from the merger with the Michigan Panthers that brought several key players to the roster, most notably QB Bobby Hebert (pictured above) and wide receivers Anthony Carter and Derek Holloway. In combination with holdover WR Gordon Banks, Oakland had the league’s most dynamic trio of receivers and the running game, paced by ex-Panthers John Williams and Albert Bentley, was also productive. Oakland was a ten-point favorite entering the contest against the Bandits.

Tampa Bay was coached by the offensive-minded Steve Spurrier and had overcome many injuries to reach the playoffs. 35-year-old QB John Reaves passed for 4193 yards and 25 touchdowns while RB Gary Anderson was outstanding both as a runner (1207 yards) and pass receiver out of the backfield (72 catches, 678 yards) as he compiled 20 TDs.

There were 19,344 fans in attendance on a sunny afternoon at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. In their first series of the game, the Bandits were penalized for illegal motion, nullifying what would have been a successful fourth down conversion, and then Zenon Andrusyshyn suffered only the second blocked punt of his career to give Oakland the ball at the Tampa Bay 25. However, on the next play, LB James Harrell intercepted a Hebert pass to give the Bandits the ball again at their two yard line. After reaching the 12, Gary Anderson fumbled and CB Vito McKeever recovered for Oakland. Although an unnecessary roughness penalty at the end of the play backed the Invaders up, the result of the turnover was a 37-yard Novo Bojovic field goal for the first points of the game.

Tampa Bay drove to the Oakland 21 on the next series, but Reaves was then intercepted by safety Oliver Davis and the first quarter ended with the score still 3-0.

The Invaders, who were experiencing difficulty moving the ball, punted early in the second quarter and the Bandits, helped by the running of Anderson, drove down the field to a touchdown on a five-yard pass from Reaves to WR Spencer Jackson.  Tampa Bay struck quickly for another TD, this time on a fake reverse in which Reaves threw to a streaking Anderson on a play that covered 73 yards. Andrusyshyn successfully converted following both touchdowns.

Down by 14-3, the Invaders went 80 yards in eight plays and scored on a 25-yard pass completion from Hebert to Derek Holloway. In response, the Bandits again moved into scoring territory. Anderson caught a pass and tightroped to the end zone, but was called out of bounds at the Oakland 14. Coach Spurrier’s request for a review was for naught due to the television network having pulled away to cover a news event, making a replay unavailable. The Bandits came up empty when Andrusyshyn missed a 28-yard field goal attempt and the score remained 14-10 at the half, although Tampa Bay had dominated statistically.

Less than three minutes into the third quarter, and following a 40-yard third-and-13 completion to Gordon Banks, Oakland scored again, this time on a throw from Hebert to Anthony Carter that covered 40 yards. Bojovic added the extra point and, in stunning fashion, the Invaders were in front by 17-14.

It seemed as though Oakland might take control of the game on the next series when Vito McKeever intercepted a Reaves pass in Tampa Bay territory, but the Invaders came up empty when Hebert threw into the end zone and was in turn picked off by CB Mike Thurman. However, the reprieve was short-lived when another interception again gave the Invaders the ball in Tampa Bay territory, and this time they came away with a 52-yard field goal by Bojovic.

Trailing by six points, the visitors put together a seven-play, 58-yard series that was capped when Reaves ran for a six-yard touchdown (his first rushing TD in ten years). Andrusyshyn added the PAT and the Bandits were back in front by 21-20.

Early in the fourth quarter, Oakland was on the move and, after Hebert connected with Holloway for a 41-yard gain to the Tampa Bay one, FB Tom Newton bulled in for a TD. A pass for two points was nullified by a penalty, but Bojovic then kicked the extra point that made the tally 27-21.

Tampa Bay came back to tie the score when Reaves threw to WR Willie Gillespie for a 15-yard touchdown and appeared ready to move back in front once more in what had now turned into a back-and-forth contest. However, following two penalties on successive extra point attempts, Andrusyshyn failed to convert from 35 yards and the game remained knotted at 27-27.

The Invaders responded by driving into Tampa Bay territory, but failed to regain the lead when Bojovic missed a 31-yard field goal with 5:14 left on the clock. However, Oakland’s defense rose up and twice sacked Reaves on Tampa Bay’s next three-and-out possession and, with Andrusyshyn punting out of his end zone, the Invaders had good field position at the Bandits’ 40.

Oakland made the most of the opportunity, methodically moving down the field. On the last play of the game, Bojovic kicked a 23-yard field goal and the Invaders won by a final score of 30-27.

The Bandits led in total yards (418 to 344) and first downs (19 to 17). However, Tampa Bay also turned the ball over four times, to two suffered by the Invaders. Oakland, in turn, was penalized 11 times at a cost of 105 yards, to six flags for 45 yards on the visitors. Each team recorded two sacks apiece.

Bobby Hebert completed 15 of 27 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns while giving up two interceptions. Albert Bentley led the team in rushing with 38 yards on seven carries and also in pass receiving with four catches, for 37 yards. Derek Holloway gained 75 yards on his three receptions that included a TD and Gordon Banks was right behind with 73 yards on two catches.

For the Bandits, John Reaves was successful on 18 of 30 throws for 315 yards and three TDs, but also tossed three interceptions. Gary Anderson ran for 90 yards on 13 attempts and also topped the club with 111 yards on his five pass receptions that included the long touchdown, although most of his production came in the first half. Spencer Jackson contributed five catches as well, gaining 87 yards.

"The defense played great and so did the offense, which gave me the chance to make the kick,” said Novo Bojovic, who had missed three field goals in a losing playoff game while with Michigan the previous year. “It was a great game for everybody and I didn’t want to let them down.”

“We played our hearts out,” said a disappointed John Reaves in defeat. “But we just came up a little short.”

The Invaders went on to defeat the Memphis Southmen in the Semifinal round the following week to advance to the USFL Championship game, where they lost a close contest to the Baltimore Stars. It would prove to be the league’s last game, but several of the Invaders, including Bobby Hebert, Anthony Carter, and Albert Bentley, went on to play in the NFL, as did Tampa Bay’s Gary Anderson.