Panthers keep winning, beat Showboats 24-18 in final game at Ford Field

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Going into their Week 5 matchup against the Memphis Showboats, the Michigan Panthers sat at 2-2, unsure of their playoff chances. On top of that, they would be without starting quarterback EJ Perry.

Going into the Week 8 game against the Showboats, the Panthers sat at 5-2 and had already clinched a playoff spot, though they were still without a set starting quarterback. Amazing what a difference a month can make.

Michigan rode into Ford Field on a three-game winning streak and pushed it to four after defeating Memphis 24-18 on Saturday. They now sit at 6-2 with two games to go in the regular season.

“From a team standpoint, I thought that our team showed a lot of resiliency today because it was a back-and-forth game, as we all know. They were in it all the way, and I feel fortunate that we did win it, to be honest with you,” head coach Mike Nolan said in the post-game press conference.

The game was a back-and-forth affair, and it started right away. The Panthers were still without Perry and backup quarterback Danny Etling, so former Michigan State Spartan Brian Lewerke got his second start of the UFL season.

He found tight end Samson Nacua for a 31-yard pass and catch that would set up a 21-yard touchdown to Cole Hikutini. But the injury bug struck the Panthers again as on the extra point attempt, running back Wes Hills stumbled before crossing the goal line and then grabbed his knee in pain. He was helped off the field and did not return to the game.

The bad luck continued as Memphis scored a 65-yard touchdown on the very next play. Quarterback Case Cookus found wide receiver Daewood Davis for the score to make things 6-6.

Michigan quarterback Bryce Perkins took over for Lewerke and led the Panthers on a drive that was capped off by a Matthew Colburn touchdown run, pushing the lead back up to 6 after a missed extra point.

The defense for the Panthers continued to shine once again, even without safety Kai Nacua who was out with a concussion. Cornerback Nate Brooks intercepted Cookus on Memphis’ next drive. Perkins was back in at quarterback and found wide receiver Devin Gray for a 50-yard touchdown to make it 18-6 with less than a minute left before halftime.

But they gave the Showboats just enough time to march down the field and kick a field goal right as time expired. Michigan led 18-9 at the break.

Cookus was able to make some big plays but was injured on the drive to open up the second half, and backup quarterback Josh Love found Davis for another touchdown to make it 18-15. Love had previously played for the Panthers in the USFL last season.

The teams traded possessions before the Showboats kicked another field goal to knot things up once again at 18-18. The Panthers got the ball back with just under 12 minutes remaining and were able to knock off about five minutes of game clock before Colburn rumbled his way over the goal line for his second score of the game. Another missed extra point left things at 24-18.

The Michigan defense forced a punt which almost turned into a disaster as Terry Wright muffed the return but thankfully fell back on it. Colburn and Perkins teamed up to drain the rest of the clock and close out the game.

Both Lewerke and Perkins played another turnover-less game as both threw for scores, passed for more than 80 yards and were deadly on the ground as well. Colburn stood out again with two scores and 93 yards rushing on 24 carries.

The defense gave up only 40 yards on the ground and sacked Cookus and Love a combined four times.

The Panthers have already clinched a playoff spot with two games to go. They could still challenge the Birmingham Stallions for the top seed in the USFL Conference but would need the Stallions to lose their last two games, including the regular season finale against the Panthers. The Stallions have not lost a game since last season before the UFL was even created.

Michigan heads back on the road this Sunday against the Houston Roughnecks. That game is slated for 2:30 p.m. ET.

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