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Express Loses Before Smallest Home Crowd, 17-6, Falls to 1-6

April 08, 1985|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

Add Baltimore Stars quarterback Chuck Fusina to the growing list of opposing players who make it a point to drool over the collective talent of the Los Angeles Express.

"I'm not going to be surprised come playoff time if they're right there," Fusina said Sunday.

He said this after his team had won, 17-6, in front of the smallest Express home crowd in the team's three-year history at the Coliseum--5,637.

As the words were leaving Fusina's mouth, league statisticians were busy typing the Express' 1-6 record at the bottom of the United States Football League Western Conference standings.

Fusina was talking about the team with a $7-million payroll and the same one that has not scored a touchdown in two games and has scored only one in its last 12 quarters.

Fusina was impressed with the team his Stars had held to 184 yards in offense, only seven yards more than the Express' all-time low of 177 yards last week against Oakland.

Sunday's loss was the team's third straight. The Express has lost 8 of 10 dating back to last season.

But how about all that talent?

The Express will tell you it lost this game because of a bum call late in the fourth quarter.

It was leading, 6-3, when Fusina, on third down, was pushed out of bounds by defensive end Ray Cattage 12 yards short of a first down at the Express 40.

But Cattage was called for a personal foul on Fusina, and the Stars received a first down at the 25. With 3:15 left, they quickly turned that into the game-winning touchdown on a two-yard run by Allen Harvin.

After an interception on the next Express possession, Harvin scored again on a 21-yard run to clinch the win for the defending USFL champions.

Afterward, Express Coach John Hadl compared the official's call on Cattage to something a young Hadl might have once shoveled on a Kansas farm.

"As far as I'm concerned, we got tattooed on that play," Hadl said. Cattage said he barely touched Fusina out of bounds. Fusina said he touched him plenty. So did the official. Game to the Stars.

The call may have been debatable, but what about all those other opportunities the Express missed?

And how long can they rely on talented kicker Tony (Mr. Offense) Zendejas for all their points?

Zendejas kicked field goals of 48 and 35 yards Sunday and is now 12 of 13 for the season inside of 50 yards.

"My play-calling got kind of conservative," Hadl said. "We played like that late in the first half."

The Express has become allergic to the end zone.

At the end of the half, with the game tied at 3-3, Hadl decided to run out the clock rather than risk the chance of scoring a touchdown.

The crowd booed.

With 11:54 left and the game still tied, Express linebacker David Howard recovered a fumble at the Baltimore 30-yard line.

The ever-explosive Express slowly marched into Zendejas' field-goal range.

The crowd hissed.

"We've got to get something out of that situation," Hadl said. "We've got the best kicker in the business. I don't regret that decision."

The Stars, on their next possession, drove 67 yards in 12 plays for the winning touchdown.

The crowd left.

In defense of the Express, its offense has been riddled by injuries. The team reported 18 injuries to the league office this week. It played without starting offensive linemen Jeff Hart, Derek Kennard and Gary Zimmerman. Starting center Mike Ruether left the game early with an elbow injury.

Quarterback Steve Young missed his second straight game because of a knee injury. Reserve Frank Seurer (13 for 29, 129 yards and 3 interceptions) was sacked four times and knocked on his tailbone pad after releasing nearly every pass.

The Express defense, for the most part, was superb, keeping one of the league's best offenses in check most of the afternoon.

This team is keeping its chin up, even through the gloomy days of spring.

"You'd think that (attitude) would be a problem," linebacker Howard Carson said. "But it's not. The injuries are one thing, and some guys have to be bothered about not having an owner. That's natural. But we're the same team that was beating people last year."

There was some good news. The Express crowd was not the smallest in USFL history. That honor belongs to the defunct Chicago Blitz, which drew a league-low 4,307 last season against New Jersey.

But there still are 11 games remaining this season. With all that talent, who knows what the Express will do?

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