With the score 16-16 and 51 seconds left, kicker Obed Ariri measured off what he hoped would be a 42-yard field goal and the points the Washington Federals would need for their first victory.

Only seconds later, in a flurry of panic and confusion, Ariri was sprinting toward his goal line, chasing down his center's errant snap. Ariri recovered on his 35, but the ball went to Boston. And two plays later, Tim Mazzetti kicked a 29-yard field goal with 27 seconds remaining to give Boston a home-opening 19-16 victory before 18,430 at Nickerson Field.

"I feel like I let down the whole team," said Dave Pacella, whose second costly bad snap of the day had slithered through the hands of holder Mark Sanford. "We played our guts out and had to come down to a play like that."

For his part, Sanford said, "The ball was just way off. I couldn't even touch it. I looked for the ball and it just went back and back. It just kept going."

"I thought I had a good shot at hitting it," Ariri said of the missed opportunity that left the Federals 0-3 and Boston 2-1 in the United States Football League. "The wind was right and I felt set for it."

Pacella snapped for Ariri and punter Steve Hoffman this week because Bruce Byrom has a fractured thumb. "Still, it's something I'm used to," said Pacella. "I did it at Maryland. It shouldn't have been a problem."

Breakers Coach Dick Coury said, "When I saw that snap go by, I was hoping it would keep on going to the end zone."

The Federals played the game without running back Craig James, quarterback Mike Hohensee, wide receiver Reggie Smith and tight end Phil DuBois. All are injured.

Quarterback Kim McQuilken had his best day as a professional, completing 25 of 47 passes for 322 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions that were largely the fault of his receivers. Nonetheless, he looked every bit as defeated as his teammates: "We had a super game moving the ball. We executed better than ever before, and we came up short. It's disappointing."

Although the passing game and the defense usually looked sound for Washington, the running game was nearly nonexistent. Eric Robinson, playing for James, could manage only 32 yards on 20 carries and fullback James Mayberry gained only two yards on six carries. The Federals averaged one yard per carry for the day.

Washington was leading, 16-9, with 4:41 left when Hoffman set up to kick on the Federals' 16. Pacella's snap was off target and Hoffman fumbled. Billy Don Jackson recovered for Boston on the Federals' one. On the next play Richard Crump, who finished with 130 yards on 15 carries, ran over tackle for the tying score with 4:37 left.

Of his snap to Hoffman, Pacella said, "I think the guy in front of me got a hand on it." That guy was linebacker Jeff Gaylord. "Jeff did a fabulous job of upsetting the center on that play," said Coury.

With the score tied at 16, McQuilken led the Federals from their 28 to the Boston 18. But a third-down sack by safety Terry Love forced the Federals to turn to Ariri for the game-winning points. He never got the chance.

Ariri had no problems at the start. After Boston punter Mitch Hoopes was tackled on his 20, Ariri ended a four-play drive with a 38-yard field goal with 9:17 left in the first quarter.

Quarterback Johnnie Walton and running back Crump led an answering drive for the Breakers that ended in Mazzetti's 20-yard field goal with 3:41 left in the period. In the second quarter, Walton threw to wide receiver Charlie Smith for 22 yards and Crump for 21 to set up Mazzetti once more. This time he kicked a 47-yarder to put Boston ahead, 6-3, with 12:08 left in the half.

Although it was hampered by numerous holding penalties, the Washington offense fought back. McQuilken, passing to Mike Holmes, Joey Walters and Robinson, took the Federals from their 30 to the Breakers' 16 but when the drive faltered, Gaylord deflected Ariri's 32-yard field goal attempt and a 14-play drive came to nothing.

But Washington tried again. McQuilken's 36-yard completion to Walters and short-yardage runs by Robinson and Mayberry brought Washington to the Boston 18. From there, McQuilken lofted a timing-pattern pass to Walters in the end zone for a 10-6 lead with 1:56 left in the half.

Mazzetti ended Walton's well-executed two-minute drill with a 21-yard field goal to cut Washington's lead to 10-9 with four seconds left in the half.

In the third quarter, Boston drove to the Washington five, but Jeff Brown intercepted in the end zone. Later in the period, the Federals' Mike Guess returned a punt 43 yards to the Boston seven. And three plays later, Mayberry's one-yard touchdown run with 5:02 left in the third quarter gave Washington a 16-9 lead. Ariri, however, sent his extra-point attempt wobbling off to the left of the goal post.

"We had a lead and we played so hard," said Federals Coach Ray Jauch. "To lose a ball game like that--well, I just don't know."