Late TD lifts Stallions over Stars

Published 1:00 pm Monday, June 5, 2023

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In a rematch of the 2022 USFL Championship, The Birmingham Stallions (6-2, 2-2) won a thriller 27-24 over the Philadelphia Stars (4-4, 2-2) at home on June 3.

It was Birmingham’s final home game of the 2023 season and Birmingham went out in style. With Birmingham leading 20-17 with five minutes remaining, the Stars needed just three plays to take the lead. Philadelphia quarterback Case Cookus threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Dexter Williams with 3:05 left in the opening period to give the Stars a 24-20 lead.

With under a minute remaining, the Stallions faced a fourth-and-eight from the Philadelphia 35-yard line. Quarterback Alex McGough scrambled away from pressure and found tight end Jace Sternberger for a 23-yard gain inside the Stars 15-yard line with just 46 seconds left.

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Birmingham drove inside the 10-yard line and then, with 28 seconds remaining, McGough threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end La’Michael Pettway in the corner of the end-zone to put the Stallions ahead 27-24.

“The joy and excitement that was on (McGough’s) face when he ran over to me (after the touchdown),” Birmingham coach Skip Holtz continued. “That’s why I do this. That’s wonderful. That’s why I hope that kid gets a shot in the NFL, makes it and plays for a long, long time.

“So, then I can go sit on the sideline and go, ‘I remember when that son of a gun nearly ran me over after making the last play to win the game.”

As time expired, the Stars heaved a Hail Mary but Birmingham’s Nate Brooks came down with the interception to seal the Stallion win.

Birmingham and Philadelphia started the game off hot, trading touchdowns to open the game. The Stars capped off a 9-play drive in the first quarter with a 1-yard scoring pass to Ryan Izzo to put Philly up 7-0 early. The Stallions answered with an 11-play scoring drive that McGough finished off with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Davion Davis to tie the score 7-7 with 4:05 left in the opening period.

The defenses settled in as the second quarter began and the two sides traded punts back-and-forth. Birmingham then lost a fumble with under four minutes left in the half and the Stars cashed in on an 8-yard scoring strike from Cookus to Corey Coleman with 52 seconds left. The Stars would take the 14-7 lead into halftime.

Birmingham opened the second half with a Brandon Aubrey 30-yard field goal to cut the lead to 14-10. After forcing a Philadelphia three-and-out, the Stallions coughed up their second fumble of the game.

After the Stallion defense forced a punt, Birmingham capped off a 7-play drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass from McGough to Sternberger to give the Stallions a 17-14 lead as the fourth quarter began. Birmingham and Philadelphia then exchanged field goals leading to the exciting finish.

Birmingham put up a season-high 429 yards of offense, while Philadelphia totaled 349 yards. McGough had a career day as he completed 24-of-35 passes for 333 yards and three touchdowns, while Davis caught four passes for a career-high 120 yards and one touchdown. Sternberger also caught three passes for 62 yards and a touchdown, while Deon Cain caught six passes for 51 yards. CJ Marable rushed for 56 yards on 11 carries and also caught five passes for 46 yards.

On the defensive end, Tyree Robinson tallied seven tackles for the Stallions, while Brooks earned six tackles and an interception. Willie Yarbary also recorded six tackles and a sack.

Cookus led the Stars with 265 yards, three touchdowns and one interception on 20-of-32 passing along with 19 yards on the ground. Coleman caught four passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.

The Stallions are back on the road on June 11 against the Houston Gamblers in Memphis, Tenn., at 1 p.m. in a game that will air live on NBC and will also stream on Peacock.