Giddy Up: Stallions win inaugural USFL crown

The Birmingham Stallions (11-1) capped off the inaugural season of the rebirth of the United States Football League on Sunday with an exciting 33-30 win over the Philadelphia Stars (7-5) to win the 2022 USFL Championship.

Despite both teams suffering a rash of injuries throughout the game – including both starting quarterbacks leaving the game in the second half – the championship featured a number of momentum swings and big plays, none bigger than Birmingham linebacker Scooby Wright’s interception return for a touchdown that gave the Stallions a 33-23 lead with just over three minutes remaining.

Wright intercepted Philadelphia backup quarterback KJ Costello and raced 46 yards for the score. The Stars weren’t ready to pack it in just yet, however. Costello – a former Mississippi State quarterback – drove the Stars right down the field and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass with 1:47 left to cut the Stallion lead to 33-30.

In the USFL, teams can attempt to keep the ball after scoring by going for a 4th-and-12 at the spot where a kickoff would occur – the 33-yard line – and the Stars attempted the conversion only for Stallion defender Tae Hayes to bat the ball down.

Birmingham faced a fourth down with just under a minute remaining but All-USFL kicker Brandon Aubrey had missed two field goal attempts and a PAT during the game, so Birmingham coach Skip Holtz opted to punt instead.

Just two plays later, Birmingham defensive back Christian McFarland intercepted Costello’s desperation heave and the Stallion celebration was on.

“Unbelievable, just incredible and I can’t say enough positive things about these players,” Holtz said after the game. “The journey with these players, not just what they did tonight, has been incredible. What they did tonight is what they did all season long; they found a way to win. They compete and play together and I’m really proud of them.”

Birmingham got on the scoreboard first in the USFL Championship with a 42-yard field goal with 8:43 left in the first quarter but the Stars answered with a 32-yard field goal with 3:53 left in the opening period to tie the game 3-3.

The Stallions retook the lead on a 36-yard touchdown run from former Alabama star Bo Scarbrough with 1:32 left in the first quarter. Philadelphia quarterback Case Cookus threw a 25-yard touchdown pass with 8:14 left in the first half but the PAT was no good, leaving the Stallion lead at 10-9.

Birmingham’s J’Mar Smith heaved a 41-yard touchdown pass to wide-open Mobile native Marlon Williams with 7:22 left in the half to extend the Stallion lead to 17-9. Scarbrough then rattled off an eye-popping 70-yard run that led to a 28-yard field goal from Aubrey to give Birmingham a 20-9 lead at halftime.

Philadelphia began to heat up in the second half. The Stars cut the Birmingham lead to 20-15 on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Cookus. Philly attempted a two-point try but the Stallion defense held. Aubrey then missed a 38-yard field goal and a few plays later, Cookus threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to put the Stars up 21-20. Cookus converted a two-point try to extend the lead to three points with 11:24 left in the game.

Both Cookus and Smith suffered injuries in the second half that took them out of the remainder of the game. Birmingham retook the lead 26-23 on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Alex McGough to Victor Bolden Jr. with 3:16 left. The PAT was no good, however. Wright’s pick six occurred just 13 seconds later.

Bolden captured the game’s MVP award as he caught six passes for 64 yards and a touchdown along with returning four kickoffs for 92 yards. Scarbrough led all runners with 135 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, while Williams caught seven passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Smith completed 10-of-18 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown before being injured. McGough completed 7-of-10 passes for 77 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

McFarland led the Stallion defense with nine tackles, one tackle-for-loss, an interception and a pass breakup, while DeMarquis Gates recorded nine tackles, one tackle-for-loss, 0.5 sack and two pass breakups.

Birmingham’s championship brings a professional championship back to the State of Alabama for the first time since the Birmingham Americans won the 1974 World Bowl in the World Football League.