Birmingham Stallions Edge Out DC Defenders to Stay Undefeated

Birmingham Stallions Edge Out DC Defenders to Stay Undefeated

BIRMINGHAM, AL – The Birmingham Stallions had their eyes on an eleventh straight win on Saturday night, as they hosted the DC Defenders at Protective Stadium. 

The Stallions crowd was prepared to show out under the lights in Birmingham, in what turned out to be an early game of the season nominee between these two cross-conference teams.

Stallions HC Skip Holtz made the decision earlier in the week to name QB Matt Corral the starter over Adrian Martinez, a head-scratching move in the eyes of many in the spring football world.

If you missed our game preview for this matchup, be sure to check it out before reading.

First Quarter

The Defenders offense started the game with possession, but things quickly changed as RB Cam’Ron Harris fumbled the football on a high-speed collision with Stallions safety Kenny Robinson Jr..

Birmingham’s offense wasted zero time getting to work, creating a methodical drive that brought them inside the five yard line. Unfortunately for Birmingham, they would lose possession just outside of the end-zone on a mistimed reverse play, causing Corral to lose the ball and it be recovered by Defenders safety DJ Swearinger. 

DC followed up the turnover with possibly their best rushing drive of the year, led by newest signing, RB ZyQuandre White. White played for Birmingham last season in the USFL. The Defenders finished off their drive in the red zone, striking first blood with Jordan Ta’amu finding WR Chris Rowland in the back of the end-zone for six points. 

The Defenders led the Stallions, 6-0 after the first quarter.

Second Quarter

Deja-vu for Birmingham to start the second quarter. After an inspiring drive that brought them inside DC’s five-yard line, another mishandled handoff between Corral and the ball carrier results in a turnover in DC’s favor. This time, it appeared the Defenders had a touchdown after Gareon Conley recovered the fumble and ran it back to the end-zone, but it was quickly reviewed and brought back to the recovery spot.

The Defenders were unable to capitalize off the second turnover, but continued to make plays in other phases as WR Kelvin Harmon showed up on special teams in a major way by blocking Birmingham’s punt midway through the second quarter. 

DC’s offense was again unable to turn the pivotal play into points on the ensuing drive, after a failed 4th and 1 attempt inside Birmingham’s 30-yard line. A potential spot for missed points after not attempting a surely makeable kick for Matthew McCrane. 

With possession back in hand, Corral wasted no time finding Amari Rodgers across the middle in tight coverage, allowing Rodgers to do the rest and burn DC’s secondary for six points on the 50-yard touchdown connection. The game was tied 6-6 following the Rodgers touchdown and failed one point attempt. 

The Alabama weather did not permit for the second quarter of this matchup. With 1:56 remaining in the second, lightning struck in Birmingham causing an hour and 26-minute  weather delay. 

The first weather delay in UFL history. 

Following an untraditional halftime break, the Defenders immediately struggled. With the game resuming where it left off, DC was in a must-punt situation on 4th and 9. With the sloppy conditions, Defenders LS Trae Berry botched the snap to Paxton Brooks, forcing a brutal safety on the opening play back from delay.

The Stallions continued their streak of putting points on the board just before the second quarter ends, receiving the ball back from DC following the safety and setting up brand new signing, Ramiz Ahmed, for his first UFL field goal. Ahmed converted the 46-yard FG with ease in rough circumstances. Birmingham led DC, 11-6 after two full quarters of play. 

Third Quarter

Following Ahmed’s first field goal, the game resumed action following a brief media timeout, with Birmingham receiving the ball to start the second half. DC’s string of poor play post-delay continued, with Paxton Brooks being flagged for booting the ball out of bounds on the opening kickoff. 

With exceptional starting field position, the Stallions finished off a five minute drive with another Ramiz Ahmed field goal, this time converting from 32 yards out. Extending Birmingham’s lead over DC to 14-6.

After both teams traded stalling possessions that resulted in punts, DC received the ball back with just under a minute remaining in the third quarter. 

In my game preview earlier this week, we discussed at length Defenders OC Fred Kaiss’ RPO (run-pass option) usage, and non-usage so far this season. This 45-yard touchdown connection from Ta’amu to Kelvin Harmon was eerily reminiscent of former Defenders wide receiver Lucky Jackson, and how much he benefited off of that exact play last season. 

The Defenders’ much-needed touchdown brought them to within two points of Birmingham, making the game 14-12 after the failed two point conversion.  

Fourth Quarter

Birmingham and DC continued to throw blows with one quarter of play left, with neither team looking to budge in a close affair. 

After holding Birmingham to another punt, DC reclaimed possession and churned out a near seven-minute possession that resulted in a 23-yard Matthew McCrane FG conversion. Giving DC their first lead since the first quarter, 15-14.

Matt Corral and the Stallions offense quickly drove down the field and answered DC’s field goal with one of their own, courtesy of a 27-yard FG by Ahmed with just under four minutes left in the game. Birmingham back in charge, 17-15. 

At this point in the game, it felt like a boxing match with both teams going back and forth and leaving everything on the field. The Defenders were set up in extraordinary field position as a result of Chris Rowland’s kickoff return that brought them just inside Birmingham’s half of the field. 

The Defenders picked up another 25 yards after the long return, setting up McCrane for a 39-yard FG, which he converted with just over a minute remaining in the game. Bringing DC back to the lead, 18-17. McCrane’s perfect start to the 2024 season continues through week four, he is now 10/10 on field goals. 

With 1:04 on the clock, Corral strolled onto the field cool as a cucumber. This was a situation he was in plenty of times, just one state over at Ole Miss. Corral connected with Amari Rodgers on a 15-yard catch and pass, putting Birmingham in range for an Ahmed field goal attempt. Rodgers led the way in receiving for Birmingham, finishing with four receptions for 82 yards, and a touchdown. 

The Stallions ran a few more plays following Rodgers’ reception, finally setting up Ahmed for a 46-yard field goal attempt with just nine seconds remaining. 

With ice in his veins, in front of a faithful group of Stallions fans that remained, Ramiz Ahmed absolutely drilled the 46-yard attempt. Hammering the nail in the coffin on DC’s dreary night in Birmingham. 

The Birmingham Stallions defeat the DC Defenders, 20-18 at Protective Stadium. 

Final Thoughts

Stallions HC Skip Holtz spoke with media postgame, and highlighted many facets of the game in his opening statement, including QB play and holding himself accountable for Birmingham’s first turnover of the game. 

Regardless of the result, one bright spot for DC against Birmingham was their defensive line, specifically the pass-rush. The Defenders finished the game with four total sacks, more than they had through the first three weeks of the season (3 sacks). Frankly, DC could have had at least three or four more sacks, but Corral was extremely elusive in the pocket and escaped on quite a few occasions. Keep in mind, Birmingham entered the game with a few injuries along the offensive line, but an encouraging sign for Defenders DC Gregg Williams’ group moving forward. 

The Stallions move to 4-0 this season, and will travel to Rice Stadium in week five to take on the Houston Roughnecks. 

Meanwhile, the Defenders return home next weekend to host XFL rivals, the St. Louis Battlehawks. St. Louis is riding a three-game win streak after handling Michigan this week. An important week of practice incoming for HC Reggie Barlow’s unit. 

What are your thoughts on this game between the Birmingham Stallions and DC Defenders? Which UFL players impressed you? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!