CANTON — The new version of the United States Football League is set to begin its playoffs. And the league will play all three of its postseason games, including the title game, at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium over the next two weekends.
The New Jersey Generals, Philadelphia Stars, Birmingham Stallions and New Orleans Breakers will be coming to Canton for the semifinals Saturday. The winners remain in town for the championship game July 3.
The league has benefited from network TV coverage throughout its 10-game regular season.
As the semifinals get set to begin with Saturday's semifinal doubleheader, here's six things to know about the USFL postseason in Canton.
Why Canton for the USFL playoffs?
The USFL has good reasons why it chose to hold its playoffs in Canton after playing every regular-season game in Birmingham, Alabama. For one, the league considers Benson Stadium a state-of-the-art facility and is honored to be part of a historic area for football. Most importantly, the USFL wants to attract the football audience across Northeast Ohio and the Western Pennsylvania region.
“We knew we needed another venue in the playoffs, so we were thrilled to make that deal with the Hall of Fame Village,” Darryn James, vice president of communication and USFL spokesman, said during a conference call earlier this month.
Daryl Johnston, USFL’s executive vice president, considers this season a success and is pleased with the result of the competitiveness and quality teams have shown on the field.
“I think what we found in the course of this season is we had really close games almost every weekend," Johnston said. "There is probably a handful, maybe three, that got away from one team a little bit, but other than that, we’ve had tight fits right down to the wire almost every game and every week.”
Johnston, a three-time Super Bowl champion with the Cowboys, has his own personal experience visiting the Hall of Fame starting back when he was 10 years old in 1976. He considers the Hall to be iconic. For the current USFL players who have aspirations to either return to the NFL or get signed to the NFL, playing the postseason at Benson Stadium is a plus, according to Johnston.
“At the end of the year, with the opportunity to come to Canton, Ohio, and be part of the Hall of Fame Village and have our playoff games there, to be able to crown our first champion at Tom Benson Field, that is something unique and very special,” Johnston said. “I think everybody has that same passion for the game of football, trying to create an opportunity for these young men to continue the game they love, and that’s just one of the fun things. “
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What to expect from the USFL Playoffs
The USFL semifinals are set for Saturday doubleheader. The first semifinal is at 3 p.m. and the second at 8 p.m. The winners advance to the championship game at 7:30 p.m., July 3.
The Generals (9-1) and Stars (6-4) play in the first semifinal, while the Stallions (9-1) and Breakers (6-4) play in the second game.
The Generals just beat the Stars 26-23 a week ago in the final week of the regular season, as New Jersey QB Luis Perez threw for 138 yards and three touchdowns.
The Stallions, guided by longtime college football coach Skip Holtz, opened the season 8-0.
Breakers, Generals, Stallions, Stars dominate the All-USFL team
Ahead of the playoffs, the USFL announced its all-league team and the four semifinalists dominated it, as would be expected. The Generals and Breakers each have six honorees.
The six Generals are RB Darius Victor, WR KaVontae Turpin (he also made it as a punt returner), OT Terry Poole, OG Garrett McGhin, DT Toby Johnson, and S Shalom Luani,
The six Breakers are QB Kyle Sloter, TE Sal Cannella, C Jared Thomas, DE Davin Bellamy, DT Reggie Howard Jr., and LB Jerod Fernandez
The Stallions are represented by four players — WR Victor Bolden Jr. (also all-league as a special teamer), OG Cameron Hunt, LB DeMarquis Gates, and K Brandon Aubrey
Two Stars made the all-league team, CB Channing Stribling and KR Maurice Alexander.
USFL rushing leaders Jordan Ellis, Trey Williams, Darius Victor each in semifinals
The league's top three leading rushers each reached the playoffs — USFL leader Jordan Ellis of the Breakers with 596 yards, followed by the Generals duo of Trey Williams (579 yards) and Darius Victor (577 yards).
Others from the semifinalists who finished among the top three in a USFL statistical category include:
Passing yards—2, Kyle Sloter (Breakers), 1,798; 3, J’Mar Smith (Stallions), 1,573
Passing touchdowns—2, Case Cookus (Stars), 12; 3, Smith, 10
Rushing touchdowns—1, Victor, 9; 2, Matt Colburn II (Stars), 8; 3, C.J. Marable (Stallions), 5
Receptions—2, KaVontae Turpin (Generals), 44; 3, Victor Bolden Jr (Stallions), 42
Receiving yards—1, Turpin, 540; 3, Marlon Williams (Stallions), 474
Receiving TDs—2, Bug Howard (Stars), 4; 3, Johnnie Dixon (Breakers), 4
Sacks—2, Adam Rodriguez (Stars), 9; 3, DeMarquis Gates (Stallions), 6.5
Interceptions—1, Channing Stribling (Stars), 7; 2, Shalom Luani (Generals), 5
Trace Adkins performs concert during the semifinals
The USFL announced that multi-platinum country music star Trace Adkins will be performing after the conclusion of the first semifinal. Adkins has high praise for the USFL and is also no stranger to performing in Canton. Adkins, a former Louisiana Tech walk-on, gave Holtz a brief shoutout. They have a mutual connection to Louisiana Tech. Holtz coached the Bulldogs for eight seasons before joining the Stallions.
“I am really honored to be a part of this. I’ve been watching the games this year, and I’ve been thrilled with what I’ve seen,” Adkins said. “Being along from Louisiana Tech, I got to say… way to go Skip. But I’m very proud to be associated with this inaugural season of the USFL.”
Attendance expectations, tickets for USFL playoff games
Between the football and Adkins, the Hall of Fame Village expects strong attendance at Benson Stadium. For the price of one ticket, fans will get the chance to stay for both semifinals and see the performance by Adkins.
"It’s our first USFL game. Our expectation is as many people as possible,“ Mike Levy, president of operations for the Village said. “We’re not going to put any numbers on it. We think we’re going to have a nice reach. Fox is going to market in a number of cities. The marketing team has some tricks up their sleeve to make it really a fun time at the stadium, but the other thing is we want to make it affordable. That’s what we are looking to do, to host as many families to come out here in Canton.”
Ticket prices — available at www.hofvillage.com/p/events/united-states-football-league — are $5 or $15 for youth (under 15) and $15 or $30 for adults for the semifinals. The title game tickets are $10 or $20 for youth and $20 or $40 for adults.
This article originally appeared on The Repository: Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium set to host USFL playoffs