Last week, the Birmingham Stallions clinched a USFL playoff berth. With New Orleans winning as well, the game was guaranteed to be played in Birmingham. So coming into Saturday’s game, some were saying the Stallions did not have much to play for against the Memphis Showboats.
Nobody told Skip Holtz or the Stallions players that.
Holtz left his starters in the entire game, and the Birmingham Stallions pulled out a win despite a large deficit to start the game. Here is how it went down.
Memphis could not have asked for a better start to the game. Electric return man Derrick Dillon took the opening kickoff back 90 yards for a touchdown to put the Showboats up 0-7.
The Stallions put together a nice drive in response, but it sputtered out in the red zone. Facing a second-and-goal at the seven, quarterback Alex McGough had two passes fall incomplete. The Stallions had to settle for a field goal, making it 3-7.
The Showboats’ hot start continued as quarterback Cole Kelley engineered a nice drive deep into Stallions territory. The Showboats had a first-and-goal at the Stallions two-yard line but could not punch it in on first or second down. It looked like they might have to settle for a field goal, but on third down Kelley dropped back and found wide receiver Vince Papale in the end zone to put the Showboats up 3-14 less than 10 minutes into the game.
The Stallions were unphased though. McGough led Birmingham down the field on an 11-play drive, covering 73 yards in just under six minutes. A Ricky Person third-down conversion set the Stallions up with a first-and-goal to end the quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, McGough found Deon Cain in the end zone for a touchdown to cut into the Showboats lead and make it 10-14.
The Showboats finally slowed down, going three-and-out on their next drive. The Stallions looked poised to take the lead for the first time in the game, but their drive lost steam in Showboats territory. They had to settle for another field goal, cutting the gap to one point: 13-14.
It looked like the Memphis Showboats were going to have another three-and-out, but Coach Todd Haley decided to go for it on fourth down in Memphis territory. The gutsy call paid off as Kelley found wide receiver Ryan McDaniel for a first down. That led to another Showboats field goal, making it 13-17.
The Showboats left 1:11 on the clock for the Stallions. The Stallions offense has been at its best in two-minute drills before half, scoring in those situations in seven out of nine games. The Stallions looked like they were going to make it eight out of 10 until a McGough pass bounced off the hands of wide receiver Austin Watkins and into the arms of Showboats defensive back Jermaine Kelly.
The Memphis Showboats ran a few plays but ended up taking a knee to send it to half.
The Showboats decided to try an onside kick to open the second half, but it did not work. The Stallions got the ball deep in Memphis territory and aimed to take the lead for the first time in the game. However, only three plays into their drive, running back CJ Marable fumbled the ball. The Showboats recovered and took over at their own 17.
The Showboats put together a great drive in response, going 71 yards over 12 plays. Kelley completed every attempt on the drive…until it really mattered. On first-and-ten at the Stallions 12, Kelley tried to find Derrick Dillon in the end zone. But with a defender’s hand in his face, Kelley sailed the ball just enough for Nate Brooks to make a play on the ball and intercept the pass, giving the ball back to the Stallions.
The game slowed down after that as there were two three-and-outs. On the final possession of the third quarter, the Stallions were able to take the lead for the first time in the game. Marable broke lose for an 18-yard touchdown run, putting the Stallions up 20-17.
The Showboats got off to a great start on the next drive with another huge return by Derrick Dillon. Setting up in Birmingham territory, the Showboats got one first down before being backed up on a huge tackle for loss by Jordan Thompson. They were not able to overcome the negative play and had to settle for a field goal, tying the game at 20.
The Stallions had another huge mistake on their ensuing possession. Tight end Jace Sternberger made a great catch at the Memphis 30-yard line but fumbled the football, giving possession right back to Memphis with 11 minutes to go in the fourth.
A huge Ezra Gray run quickly put the Showboats in Birmingham territory. Facing a third-and-four at the Stallions 22, it looked like Kelley connected with former Birmingham Stallion Osirus Mitchell at the four-yard line. However, the call was overturned, and the Showboats had to attempt a field goal. Alex Kessman’s 40-yard attempt was no good, giving the ball back to the Stallions with 7:16 remaining in a tie ball game.
It did not take long for the Stallions to make the Showboats pay. Five plays into the drive, McGough found the USFL league leader in receiving touchdowns for another one. Sternberger got open on a deep corner route, catching the ball and getting into the end zone to make up for his earlier fumble. That put the Stallions up 27-20.
The Showboats could not score on their next possession, failing to convert a fourth-and-nine. The Stallions were able to run out the clock, sealing the top seed in the South and dashing the Showboats’ postseason hopes in the process.
The Stallions’ win means they will be the home team in Birmingham next weekend. In a rematch of last year’s South Division Championship, they will take on their rival New Orleans Breakers. This will be the two teams’ third meeting this season and sixth meeting in two years. The teams split their two games so far this season with the Stallions winning the most recent one. The Birmingham Stallions lead the series 4-1 overall.
The MVP award should be the next accolade heading McGough’s way.
Yet again, red zone defense was the key to the Stallions’ success. The Stallions held the Showboats to one touchdown on three red zone attempts in a close game.
During the regular season, the Stallions allowed fewer red zone touchdowns in their eight wins than they did in their two losses. In their losses, they allowed seven touchdowns in nine attempts (78%). In their wins, they only allowed six touchdowns in 26 attempts (23%).
If their defense can continue to be this stingy, Stallions’ opponents are going to have a hard time keeping up with them.
The Stallions allowed fewer red zone TDs in their eight wins than they did in their two losses 🤯
Stallions RZ defense in their 2 losses: 7 TDs in 9 attempts (78%)
– Alex McGough finished 22/33 for 282 yards with two touchdowns and one interception (100.8 passer rating). He also had 32 yards on seven carries.
– C. J. Marable had 56 rushing yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
– Davion Davis led all receivers with nine catches for 114 yards.
– Jace Sternberger had four catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.
– Brody Buck led the team in tackles, finishing with 9.
– Nate Brooks had four tackles (all solo), an interception, and two pass deflections.
– Brandon Aubrey was perfect yet again, going 2/2 on field goals and 3/3 on extra points.
MEMPHIS SHOWBOATS STAT LEADERS
– Cole Kelley was 20/30 for 154 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
– Ezra Gray had 82 yards on 16 carries.
– Derrick Dillion finished with 274 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.
– Anthony Butler led the defense with eight tackles (three solo).
Next week, the Stallions will take on the Breakers in Birmingham. The game will be Sunday, June 25th at 7 pm EST. It will be televised on FOX. Mark your calendars because this showdown is not one you want to miss.
A rematch of the 2022 South Division Championship 🔥