Birmingham Stallions headed to second straight USFL Championship

Published 10:45 am Monday, June 26, 2023

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The Birmingham Stallions (9-2) clinched their second straight USFL Championship appearance with a resounding 47-22 win over the New Orleans Breakers in the South Division Championship on Sunday.

Birmingham is the only team in the modern USFL to make back-to-back USFL Championship appearances and in the history of the league – dating back to the original USFL in the 1980s – only the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars have made multiple title game appearances. The Stars made the USFL Championship in all three years of the original league’s existence – winning back-to-back titles in 1984 and 1985 – and also made the inaugural USFL Championship in the rebirth of the league last season before losing to Birmingham.

After Birmingham and New Orleans traded wins during the regular season, the playoff contest was all Stallions. Stallion cornerback Brian Allen intercepted New Orleans quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson on the first drive of the game and then Birmingham took a 3-0 lead with a field goal on the ensuing possession.

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Bethel-Thompson responded by giving New Orleans its only lead of the game on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Adams with 5:08 left in the opening period to put the Breakers up 7-3. That lead lasted less than three minutes, however, as USFL MVP Alex McGough heaved a 14-yard touchdown pass to All-USFL tight end Jace Sternberger with 1:56 left in the first quarter to put the Stallions up 10-7. Birmingham would never trail or be tied in the contest again.

New Orleans had the ball three more times in the first half, totaling nine plays and just 18 yards and zero points. Birmingham, meanwhile, scored 17 points in the final quarter of game action. After Brandon Aubrey booted his second field goal of the game, McGough threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Davion Davis with 5:32 left in the half to put Birmingham up 19-7. With just 11 seconds left in the half, McGough threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Davis to give the Stallions a 27-7 lead at halftime.

The second half was more of the same for Birmingham as CJ Marable scored on a 17-yard run to open the half, and extend the Birmingham lead to 32-7 with 11:55 left in the third quarter. Allen intercepted his second pass of the game on New Orleans’ ensuing possession and the route was on as McGough scrambled for a 5-yard touchdown run with 6:20 left in the third quarter, stretching the lead to 40-7 for the defending USFL Champs.

New Orleans finally got back on the scoreboard as the fourth quarter began – with the game well out of hand – as Cyrus Habibi-Likio scored on a 27-yard run to cut Birmingham’s lead to 40-13. The Stallions responded right back on a 33-yard touchdown pass from McGough to Josh Johnson with 10:29 left in the game to give the Stallions a 47-13 lead.

New Orleans attempted to rally as Bethel-Thompson tossed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Sage Surratt with 5:15 left in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 47-22 after a two-point try.

In the USFL, teams have the option to attempt a fourth-and-12 at their own 33-yard line instead of trying an onside kick. The Breakers managed to convert the fourth down try and drove inside the Birmingham 5-yard line before the Stallions forced a turnover on downs to punch their ticket back to the USFL Championship.

Birmingham not only dominated the scoreboard but also dominated the stat sheet. The Stallions controlled the ball for 32:16 of game time to New Orleans’ 27:44 possession time and rolled up a season-high 553 yards of offense to the Breakers’ 352 yards. The Stallion defense also forced two turnovers.

McGough completed 21-of-31 passes for 310 yards and a season-high four touchdowns along with 84 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. Ricky Person Jr. rushed for a career-high 84 yards on 10 carries and Marable tallied 72 yards and a score on 11 carries. Davis caught five passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns, while Deion Cain caught eight passes for 74 yards and Sternberger caught three passes for 62 yards and a score.

Christian McFarland led the Birmingham defense with seven tackles and a pass breakup, while Allen recorded three tackles, three pass breakups and a career-high two interceptions. Linebacker Scooby Wright III made his first appearance since suffering a calf injury in week two and recorded three tackles and one tackle-for-loss for the Stallions.

The Stallions will play the Pittsburgh Maulers in the USFL Championship at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, this Saturday, July 1, at 7 p.m. in a game that will air nationally on NBC.