Case Cookus, Stars roll past Panthers, clinch playoff spot


By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports Writer

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Case Cookus needed some air after galloping 79 yards for a touchdown.

“In college or professional football, that’s by far my farthest run,” he said. 

His meandering run through a tired Michigan Panthers defense with 5:19 left put a stamp on a dominant performance in the Philadelphia Stars’ 46-24 victory Sunday at Legion Field.

Case Cookus breaks out for 79-yard rushing TD

Case Cookus turned on the motors, as he couldn’t be stopped in his 79-yard rushing TD for the Philadelphia Stars. 

The win clinched a postseason berth and a trip to Canton, Ohio, for the Stars, who improved to 5-3 on the year. The loss dropped the Panthers to 1-7 and eliminated them from postseason consideration. 

“Those kinds of moments, it’s why these guys play this game,” Stars head coach Bart Andrus said of his team’s celebration in the locker room after the game. “You have to hold on to those type of memories.” 

Cookus finished 20-for-26 passing for 247 yards and four touchdowns. He also totaled 118 rushing yards and a score. Even better, he did not turn the ball over.

The 46 points by Philadelphia were the most scored in the USFL this season.

How hot was Cookus? Early in the fourth quarter, he shook off a Michigan would-be pass-rusher, stepped up in the pocket and hit tight end Pro Wells for a pretty, 51-yard strike between two Panthers for a touchdown. 

Case Cookus accounts for five TDs as Stars roll

Case Cookus passed for 247 passing yards and four touchdowns in the Philadelphia Stars’ 46-24 victory against the Michigan Panthers. Cookus also got it done with his legs, rushing for 118 yards and one touchdown.

In seven games this season, Cookus has completed 65.4% of his passes for 1,028 yards and 10 touchdowns. Cookus also has just three interceptions. The way he has played of late, Cookus could lay claim to being the top quarterback in the USFL at this point.

And he’ll get the chance to finish the season as Philadelphia’s starting quarterback, with the Stars placing former starter Bryan Scott on the season-ending injured reserve due to a knee issue. 

“He’s come in and in a professional manner learned what we are doing,” Andrus said of Cookus. “And if you play at this level, you’re going to be able to lead a team.” 

Running back Matt Colburn II also had a big day offensively for the Stars, totaling 97 scrimmage yards and two scores.

For the Panthers, a healthy Paxton Lynch returned to the starting lineup. The University of Memphis product finished 27-for-40 for 251 yards, with two touchdown passes and two interceptions. Lynch also lost a fumble at the goal line.

Stars’ Matt Colburn II shines in victory vs. Panthers

Matt Colburn II scored two touchdowns and accounted for 97 all-purpose yards in the Philadelphia Stars’ victory.

Another Channing Stribling INT

Stribling got another takeaway in the second half on an out route intended for Michigan receiver Lance Lenoir Jr.

Stribling said his league-leading sixth interception was set up by film study during the week, as he baited Lynch into thinking the route was open. 

“Watching film, I noticed they like to run a lot of out routes,” Stribling said. “I was telling our players that you’ve got to let them catch a couple and get comfortable. So I kind of let them catch a couple and get into a rhythm a little bit. And once I see a three-step and open up, I’m already up out of there.” 

Added Andrus: “He has one of the quickest first steps out of a back pedal that I’ve ever seen in football.” 

The Stars finished with two interceptions on the day, and Philadelphia’s offense turned both of those miscues into touchdowns.

Jeff Fisher encouraged by reports on condition of Tre Williams

Early in the third quarter, Michigan Panthers edge rusher Tre Williams lay motionless on the field for several minutes. He had to be taken off the field on a backboard and stretcher and was transported to the University of Alabama-Birmingham medical center.

Panthers head coach Jeff Fisher said that Williams has movement, and he’s encouraged by the reports he has heard about his condition.

“Regardless of who you are or where you’ve been — no matter how many years you’ve got or what level — the reality of that when that takes place before your eyes is hard to deal with,” Fisher said. “Nobody wants to see that. But our guys, and the defensive line especially, they were going to take the game in their hands on his behalf. So we’re praying for Tre, and hopefully we continue to hear good news.” 

In other injury news, Michigan safety Kieron Williams suffered a shoulder issue early in the second quarter and had to leave the game but later returned. Panthers center Sean Pollard suffered a right ankle injury and had to leave the game. He did not return. 

Michigan running back Reggie Corbin suffered an elbow injury in the first half and did not return. 

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 on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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