They could come no closer. Federals quarterback Mike Hohensee's fourth-down run with 1:22 left in the game ended six inches short of the goal line and, possibly, victory tonight.
Despite three touchdown catches for Mike Holmes, two field goals for Sandro Vitiello, who won his job just two days ago, and 18 penalties called against the Invaders, the Federals lost their 10th game of the year in heartbreaking fashion, 34-27.
Oakland quarterback Fred Besana completed 22 of 31 passes for 270 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Invaders to a 5-6 record and a tie with Los Angeles for the Pacific Division lead.
The Federals' final drive saw Hohensee throw a 24-yard pass to Holmes, which brought the Federals to the two-yard line. Two incompletions and a delay of game penalty gave the Federals a third and goal at the seven. Hohensee's five-yard sideline pass to Craig James took the ball to the two, but on fourth down Hohensee scrambled for only a yard and a half.
Invaders officials announced that 26,009 tickets were sold for the game, but they refused to say how many people actually attended. One estimate was a crowd of 16,000 to 17,000.
The first half was an offensive onslaught, a defensive debacle.
After two good gains by James and Billy Taylor on the opening drive, Hohensee fumbled the ball over to the Invaders on the Washington 48. Besana's 35-yard pass to Gordon Banks past befuddled defensive back Jeff Brown brought the ball to the seven. On the next play, Besana rolled out to his left and passed, with little difficulty, to Wyatt Henderson and it was 7-0 with 10:37 left in the first quarter.
Minutes later, Doug Greene intercepted Besana's pass intended for Henderson at the Oakland 45. After two runs by Taylor, Hohensee threw James a well-executed screen pass for a 35-yard gain. On the next play, Hohensee lofted a seven-yard touchdown pass to Holmes and the extra point tied the score with 4:53 left in the period.
Soon Besana began to show why he is the second-ranked passer in the USFL behind Chicago's Greg Landry. He led a nine-play, 53-yard drive with passes to Arthur Whittington, the league's third-ranked runner, and tight end Raymond Chester, a former Oakland Raider. The drive ended with Jerry Aldridge's one-yard touchdown run with 14:21 left in the half, but Kevin Shea's conversion attempt failed.
With the score 13-7, Eric Robinson broke loose on the ensuing kickoff return. He ran the ball to the Oakland 10, where Fred Williams caught him from behind, but the Federals could not take full advantage of the 78-yard return. A delay of game penalty and a sack forced them to Vitiello for 37-yard field goal. Vitiello's kick with 12:03 left in the half made it 13-10.
Besana answered with another display of control and consistency, and the Invaders' 85-yard, 11-play drive ended with his five-yard scoring pass to Aldridge with 5:57 left in the half.
Again, the Federals got a big play, this time an 80-yard touchdown pass from Hohensee to Holmes. That, with 4:57 still to play in the second quarter, closed the Federals to 20-17.
But, as with so many games this season, they needlessly allowed the opponents to score before the half. With 28 seconds left, Besana passed 20 yards to Banks. A roughing the passer penalty in addition brought the ball to the Federals' 16. On the next play, the defensive line appeared to have dropped Besana for a seven-yard-loss, but a holding call against Greene advanced the ball to the 11.
From there, with just 13 seconds remaining in the half and with the Federals' chances once again dwindling, Besana threw to Henderson for a 27-17 lead.
Banks' 61-yard punt return set up the Invaders for their first score of the third period. After he ran the ball to the Federals' 15, Banks was rewarded by Besana throwing to him for a 16-yard touchdown that widened the Invaders' lead to 34-17.
The Federals, however, appeared much more determined than they had in recent weeks. Four penalties and several good running plays helped put them within field goal range and Vitiello kicked a 32-yarder with 6:23 left in the third quarter, narrowing the Invaders' lead to two touchdowns.
After Willie Holley recoverd as fumble by Banks, Hohensee's poise and performance began to resemble that of Besena. A 27-yard pass to Joey Walters and a 14-yarder to Mike Harris carried the Federals to the Oakland 21, and from there Hohensee threw to Holmes, his third touchdown catch of the game making the score 34-27 with 1:35 left in the third quarter.