Birmingham Stallions Get Revenge On New Orleans Breakers

Birmingham Stallions Get Revenge On New Orleans Breakers

The reconstituted USFL has only been around for two seasons now, so there is a lot about the league that is still a work in progress. One of those things is rivalries. The league tried to manufacture them last year, but they did not stick. Instead, organic enmities began to emerge in their place. And no two teams seem to hate each other more than the Birmingham Stallions and New Orleans Breakers.

Five games into this budding rivalry, one thing has become certain in the USFL: this is never a matchup you want to miss. Saturday’s showdown between these two teams was no exception.

FIRST QUARTER

This go-around, the New Orleans Breakers got the ball to start. At first, it looked like they were going to pick up where they left off the last time these two teams met and they scored 45 points. Behind quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s arm and running back Wes Hills’ legs, the Breakers marched down the field to the Stallions two-yard line. But after a huge tackle for loss by Jonathan Newsome and two incomplete passes, the Breakers had to settle for a field goal to go up 0-3.

The Birmingham Stallions could not have asked for a much better first offensive drive. Stallions quarterback Alex McGough—the current USFL MVP front runner—continued his stellar level of play, going 4-5 on the drive for 53 yards. His only incompletion was a drop. McGough’s arm got the Stallions to the Breakers five-yard line, but his legs finished off the drive, putting the Stallions up 7-3.

SECOND QUARTER

The Breakers put together a nice drive in response, converting two third-and-longs to get into Stallions territory. However, the drive ended when T. J. Carter punched the ball out of Wes Hills’ arms and into Quentin Poling’s.

Meanwhile, the Birmingham Stallions went three-and-out but got the ball right back. Colby Wadman’s punt bounced into the Breakers’ Jarey Elder and Bryan Mills hopped on it for a Stallions recovery.

The Stallions were able to get down to the Breakers four, but on third down, Stallions wide receiver Adrian Hardy dropped what would have been a touchdown pass in the end zone. Birmingham had to settle for a field goal to go up 10-3.

John DeFilippo’s Breakers again put together a nice drive, highlighted by a 41-yard catch and run by Breakers wide receiver Jonathan Adams.

After getting to the Stallions three-yard line, it looked like the Breakers might be able to tie the game up going into half. However, the Breakers could not get in the end zone after three plays and had to settle for a field goal, making it 10-6.

After a couple of punts, both teams headed to the locker room for half.

THIRD QUARTER

The opening drive of the second half belonged to C. J. Marable. Marable ran the ball four times for 45 yards, getting the Stallions down to the Breakers two-yard line.

At the two, Coach Skip Holtz went with the Stallions’ famous T-Bone formation. Just like ZaQuandre White in his first game action a few weeks ago, Stallions running back Ricky Person Jr. got his first carry as a Stallion from this formation and took it into the end zone to put the Stallions up 17-6.

The Breakers next drive only lasted five plays before they had to punt. It looked like the Stallions might have a chance to run away with the game, but the Breakers finally caught a break. On first down, Adrian Hardy fumbled the ball after making a catch, and the Breakers recovered at the Stallions 19.

However, the Stallions’ defense held strong yet again. They did not give up a first down and forced the Breakers to settle for another field goal. Coghlin remained perfect on the day, cutting the Stallions’ lead to 17-9.

The Stallions’ offense bounced back from the fumble quickly. Behind McGough’s arm and Marable’s legs, the Stallions marched down the field and into the red zone. Facing a third-and-three at the 20, Stallions tight end Jace Sternberger got behind the defense on a go route. McGough threw a beautiful pass and Sternberger made a great catch to put the Stallions up 24-9 late.

The Breakers weren’t going to lay down and quit, though.

FOURTH QUARTER

On what turned out to be the first drive of the fourth quarter, the Breakers’ offense executed with perfection. Bethel-Thompson looked like his best self as he carved up the Stallions’ defense and led the Breakers down the field. Once in the red zone, it only took the Breakers one play to score. A two-point conversion cut the Stallions’ lead to a touchdown, 24-17, with just over 12 minutes remaining in the game.

A Stallions three-and-out made things even more interesting. The Breakers got the ball back with 8:45 to go, down seven. However, the Stallions defense again bowed up, forcing a fourth-and-seven from the Stallions 37. Coghlin hit another field goal, though—his fourth of the day—to cut the lead to 4: 24-20.

After another Stallions three-and-out, it looked like the Breakers might be able to take the lead late. However, the Stallions’ defense was again the hero, forcing a three-and-out of their own. The Stallions got the ball back with 3:19 to go and were able to run off some of the clock. However, facing a fourth-and-inches from their own 47, Coach Skip Holtz was faced with a difficult decision. Given the way his defense played all day, he chose to punt the ball away and forced the Breakers to go the length of the field.

Wadman had a great punt, and JoJo Tillery appeared to pin the ball at the Breakers one-yard line. That would have meant the Breakers had to go 99 yards in less than a minute with no timeouts to win. However, Mike Pereira overruled the call on the field, and they changed it to a touchback.

However, things only got weirder from there.

The Breakers appeared to complete a 32-yard pass into Stallions territory. Bethel-Thompson thought his receiver got out of bounds, but he did not. The clock began to tick, so he rushed to the line to spike the ball. However, once he did, the previous play went under review. They moved the ball back, making it appear the call was going to be overturned. Then, they moved back to the spot of the catch. Finally, after much turmoil, they moved the ball back again and ruled it an incomplete pass.

The Breakers still managed to get the ball into Stallions territory after a 42-yard completion with 0:04 left. That left time for one more play—a Hail Mary. Bethel-Thompson was flushed from the pocket and chucked it downfield, but it was intercepted in the end zone by JoJo Tillery.

Like many other games in the series, this one came down to the wire. With the win, the Stallions moved to 5-2 on the season and back into playoff contention in the South Division. The Breakers fall to 4-3, dropping to second or third in the South depending on the outcome of the Gamblers-Showboats game. There is a lot of football left to play, but this may not be the last time these two teams see each other.

Birmingham Stallions Player Of The Game

This week was a first in many respects. For the first time this season, the player of the game was not Alex McGough or Deon Cain. Also for the first time, the player of the game was a defensive player. And in what feels like a first, there was total unanimity between the league, fans, and me about who the player of the game was: Stallions linebacker Quentin Poling.

Last time the Stallions played the Breakers, McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Wes Hills terrorized the Stallions’ defense. Bethel-Thompson threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns while Hills ran for 191 yards and three touchdowns. The Breakers finished with 483 total yards (200 on the ground). Poling made sure that was not going to happen again.

After a big game last week where he led the team in tackles, Poling had an even bigger game this week. He finished leading the team in tackles again (11 – six solo). Three of his tackles were tackles for a loss. Plus, he added two sacks and a fumble recovery.

Poling was chasing Bethel-Thompson down in the backfield all day, even until the New Orleans Breakers’ Hail Mary on the final play of the game. One of his biggest plays was a huge sack midway through the second quarter for a nine-yard loss. Poling has been playing like a man possessed the past few weeks, which is exactly what the Stallions needed after all their injuries at the linebacker spot.

KEY STATS

The formula for a Stallions victory this season has been fairly simple: do not let opponents score in the red zone. In their two losses, the Stallions gave up seven touchdowns in nine red zone attempts (78%). That includes their first loss to the Breakers, where they gave up four touchdowns in five attempts (80%). In their four victories prior to this game, they only gave up two touchdowns in 11 red zone attempts (18%).

That formula held true on Saturday, as the Stallions only gave up one touchdown in four red zone trips (25%). The red zone defense was particularly stout in the first half as the Stallions held the Breakers to a field goal on drives that reached the Stallions two and three-yard lines.

The Birmingham Stallions also won the turnover battle in this game by a margin of three to one. In their previous matchup, both teams only turned the ball over once.

Compared to their last meeting, the Stallions did a much better job this time around making Bethel-Thompson uncomfortable. In the previous meeting, the Stallions had zero sacks while the Breakers had four. Bethel-Thompson was able to sit back in the pocket and surgically pick apart the Stallions’ defense.

This time around, the Birmingham Stallions had two sacks as well as several quarterback pressures. Bethel-Thompson was under duress much of the game, and it prevented him from getting into any sort of rhythm like he found in week three.

Coach Holtz talked about it all week coming into the game: the Stallions’ defense took the week three 45-point drubbing personally. They came out and played with a chip on their shoulder, knowing they had something to prove against a potent offense that shredded them in their last meeting. I think they can now say “mission accomplished” after a big win where they had to carry the team at times.

Birmingham Stallions Stat Leaders

– Alex McGough finished 16/23 for 176 yards with one touchdown (106.4 passer rating). He also added 22 yards and one touchdown on 7 rushes.
– C. J. Marable had 86 rushing yards on 17 carries. He also led all Stallions receivers with 52 receiving yards on six catches. His 45 return yards on two returns brought his all-purpose yardage to 183 yards.
– Quentin Poling led the defense with 11 tackles (six solo), three tackles for loss, two sacks, and one fumble recovery.
– T. J. Carter had five tackles (two solo) and one forced fumble.
– JoJo Tillery had four tackles (three solo), one interception, and one pass deflection.
– Brandon Aubrey was 1/1 on field goals and 3/3 on extra points.
– Colby Wadman punted five times with an average of 45.2. His long was 53, and he pinned the Breakers inside the 20 once.

New Orleans Breakers Stat Leaders

– McLeod Bethel-Thompson was 24/42 for 279 yards with one touchdown and one interception (75.4 passer rating).
– Wes Hills ran for 77 yards on 20 carries but fumbled once.
– Johnnie Dixon had six catches for 97 yards.
– Jonathan Adams had six catches for 88 yards.
– Vontae Diggs finished with 10 tackles (five solo) and 0.5 sack.
– Matt Coghlin continued to shine, finishing 4/4 on field goals with a long of 55.

INJURY REPORT

Birmingham did not leave this one entirely unscathed. Deon Cain, who missed the last two games with an undisclosed illness, left the game midway through and did not return to play. Quarterback Alex McGough also looked banged up, wincing and limping at times during the game. He was able to finish the game but did not look entirely like himself in the second half. It will be worth monitoring both those players’ status in the week ahead.

UP NEXT

Next week, the Birmingham Stallions will be at Protective Stadium again for their final home game of the season. They will face the red-hot Philadelphia Stars, who are on a three-game win streak, in a rematch of the 2022 championship game. The game will be at 3:00 EST Saturday on NBC and streaming on Peacock.

The New Orleans Breakers will look to rebound after their third-straight loss. Fortunately for them, they will take on the Michigan Panthers in Birmingham. The Panthers have struggled mightily as of late, so it will be a good opportunity for the Breakers to bounce back to their winning ways. The game will be at 4:00 EST Sunday on Fox.

What are your thoughts on this USFL matchup between the Birmingham Stallions and New Orleans Breakers? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!