UFL 2024 Week 1 roundup: San Antonio Brahmas pull out bag of tricks

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by Eric Williams | FOXSports.com

UFL 2024 Week 1 roundup: San Antonio Brahmas pull out bag of tricks

Predicted to finish last in the UFL this season by Vegas oddsmakers, the San Antonio Brahmas instead showed they could very well be one of the teams to beat this year.


Head coach Wade Phillips dipped into his bag of tricks Sunday, with punter Brad Wing executing a

fake punt to center Alex Mollette, who lined up at tight end for the play, for a 40-yard touchdown pass down the middle just before halftime.


"We practiced it probably 10 to 15 times and never completed it in practice," Wing said about the trick play. "I wasn’t even supposed to throw the ball to him. He [has] been telling me all week he was going to be open, and if I throw it to him, he’ll catch it. So, not exactly how we drew it up, but it worked."


Mollette checked in with officials as an eligible receiver before the play. Mollette was the third read on the progression — both the tight end and the kicker were covered. Phillips joked afterward that he never had a punter get to his third progression on a trick play.


The deceptive play was the highlight of San Antonio’s 27-12 home victory over the DC Defenders. The Defenders finished 9-1 last season and advanced to the XFL title game, but they struggled mightily against the Brahmas.


Making his first start for San Antonio, QB Chase Garbers was impressive, completing 19 of 25 passes (76% completion percentage) for two touchdowns and no interceptions. Garber also ran for a score, finishing with a 118.4 passer rating.


A Cal product who spent time with the Las Vegas Raiders last year, Garbers earned the starting job over Quinten Dormady. Speedy receiver Jontre Kirklin (eight receptions for 61 yards and one score) was Garbers’ favorite target. Running back Anthony McFarland Jr. finished with 75 scrimmage yards and a touchdown.


"We expected to win," Garbers said after the game. "We expected to put points up. … We’ve been preaching that since we got here about a month ago in training camp. I think overall we did pretty well. There [are] some things to clean up, but we’re moving in the right direction."


San Antonio’s win was part of an entertaining weekend in Week 1 that saw former USFL conference teams finish 3-1 overall and 2-0 against the former XFL conference.


USFL flexes muscles vs. XFL

Don’t tell the two-time defending USFL champion Birmingham Stallions that there’s no rivalry with the former XFL teams; Stallions defensive team captain and linebacker Scooby Wright took the field during the team’s introduction holding the USFL championship trophy.


The Stallions continued their winning ways, defeating the reigning XFL champion Arlington Renegades, 27-14, behind a solid performance by Birmingham’s defense.


Making his first start, quarterback Matt Corral — one of my early UFL MVP candidates — completed 12 of 21 passes for 201 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown to Deon Cain. Corral also had an interception.


The Stallions leaned on the running game, finishing with 183 yards on the ground. Running back CJ Marable, who headlines my top offensive players to watch this season, finished with 103 scrimmage yards and a score. Backup quarterback Adrian Martinez had three rushes for 52 yards before sustaining a foot injury at the end of the first half.


In the second game on Saturday, the Michigan Panthers used a stunning 64-yard field goal with three seconds left to defeat the visiting St. Louis Battlehawks, 18-16. The Memphis Showboats earned the USFL’s third victory of the weekend by defeating the Houston Roughnecks, 18-12.


Jake Bates hits 64-yarder to seal the win

Bates, Michigan’s new kicker this year, served as the kickoff specialist at Arkansas in college, where he earned All-SEC honors. However, he did not attempt a field goal for the Razorbacks, so Saturday’s 64-yard game-winner was his first field goal attempt in a game since kicking at Tomball High School in Texas.

Bates actually made it from 64 yards twice, but the first one did not count because St. Louis head coach Anthony Becht called a timeout to ice him.

"It didn’t even cross my mind that they could ice me," Bates said with a laugh.

Bates went on to say that he's using this opportunity to show that he belongs.

"I’m thankful that this organization gave me a chance," he added. "They took a shot in the dark on somebody with my history. A lot of teams didn’t want to, so … I just want to show that I’m thankful to them that they gave me this opportunity to chase a dream."

Bates also served as the kickoff specialist for Texas State for two seasons. Before that, he played two seasons of men’s soccer for Central Arkansas. Bates spent time in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Houston Texans last season. He made two of three extra points in a preseason game for the Texans but never appeared in a regular-season game.

The only kicker to make a longer field goal in a pro football game is Justin Tucker of the Baltimore Ravens. That occurred in 2021 at Ford Field, where Tucker made a 66-yarder that hit the crossbar and bounced over to defeat the Detroit Lions.

The longest field goal in USFL history is a 61-yarder by Ramiz Ahmed of the Pittsburgh Maulers in 2022. The longest field goal in XFL history occurred last season, a 59-yarder by Donny Hageman of the Battlehawks.


Case Cookus delivers in Showboats’ season-opening win

Playing with a new team, the "Chef" QB showed he can still cook.

The Northern Arizona product, another early MVP favorite of mine, finished 23-for-40 for 204 yards and a touchdown, leading the Showboats to an 18-12 victory over the Roughnecks.

One of the few mistakes Cookus made was an interception by Houston linebacker Reuben Foster, who leads my list of UFL Defensive Player of the Year candidates. Foster finished with six combined tackles and a fumble recovery before limping off the field late in the game with a leg injury.

Defensively, the Showboats held Houston to 174 total yards, returned an Isiah Hennie fumble for a score by Memphis safety Christian McFarland and blocked a punt. Memphis forced three turnovers on the day.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him at @eric_d_williams.

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