Stallions thump Gamblers to secure playoffs spot
Published 1:44 pm Monday, June 12, 2023
The defending USFL Champion Birmingham Stallions secured their spot in year two of the playoffs with a 38-15 win over the Houston Gamblers on the road on Sunday.
Despite Houston dominating the time-of-possession, 38:21-21:39, the difference came with Birmingham’s dominant red-zone defense. On five different occasions Houston had the ball inside the Birmingham red-zone – including one drive that started in the red-zone – and the Gamblers were unable to find the end zone on a single of those attempts. Meanwhile, Birmingham was 3-of-4 inside the red-zone.
Neither team was able to get going in the first quarter to start the game as the two sides exchanged punts and turnovers for the majority of the period. Houston was able to take a 3-0 lead with a 47-yard field goal with 3:10 left in the first quarter, though.
Houston expanded the lead to 6-0 early in the second quarter and Birmingham cut the lead to 6-3 on a 24-yard Brandon Aubrey field goal with 6:30 left in the half. Houston extended its lead to 9-3 with yet another field goal, but the Stallion offense finally got going following that score. The first touchdown of the day came when Birmingham quarterback Alex McGough threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jace Sternberger to put the Stallions up 10-9 with 18 seconds left in the half.
McGough extended the Birmingham lead to 17-9 on a 38-yard touchdown pass to Deon Cain as the third quarter began. Houston booted a fourth field goal to cut the lead to 17-12 and then seemed poised to take control of the game when McGough was intercepted inside Stallion territory. The Birmingham defense stood tall yet again, however, and the Gamblers had to settle for a fifth field goal, which cut the Stallion lead to 17-15 at the end of the third quarter.
Birmingham opened the fourth quarter with a CJ Marable two-yard touchdown run with 14:22 left in the game to extend the lead to 24-15. Next, Houston quarterback Kenji Bahar fumbled at the Houston 32 and Birmingham’s Matt Hankins scooped it up and raced to the end-zone to extend the lead to 31-15 with 8:40 left.
After the Stallion defense forced a three-and-out, McGough scored on a 16-yard scramble to extend the lead for good to 38-15.
McGough – currently considered the frontrunner for the MVP – completed 13-of-21 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns along with 34 yards and a touchdown on the ground. McGough is currently third in the league with 1,822 passing yards but leads the USFL with 18 touchdowns and his touchdown (18) to interception (4) rate is by far the best among starting quarterbacks. McGough is also ranked in the Top 10 in rushing in the USFL with 371 yards and five touchdowns, by far leading all league quarterbacks.
Sternberger caught three passes for 58 yards and a score against Houston, while Marable rushed for 32 yards on 12 carries and caught three passes for 37 yards.
Quentin Poling led the Stallion defense with 11 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, one sack, one interception and one pass breakup.
The win secures Birmingham a spot in the 2023 Playoffs making the Stallions the first team in the league to clinch the playoffs this season. The win also avenges a 27-20 loss to the Gamblers earlier in the season. Birmingham has now followed up their only losses of the season – to Houston and New Orleans – with wins in the rematches.
The Stallions will close out the regular season on the road next week against the Memphis Showboats in a game that can see the Stallions clinch the South Division Championship with a win. The two sides will play at 3 p.m. on June 17 in a game that will air nationally on FOX.