Last year’s USFL Championship was one for the ages. Everyone expected the Birmingham Stallions and Philadelphia Stars to put on a show again in their first meeting since that game. And these teams did not disappoint.
The game opened with a stellar Stars drive piloted by quarterback Case Cookus. After a solid kick return, it only took the Philadelphia Stars six plays to get to the Stallions five-yard line. Running back Dexter Williams could not punch it in on first or second down, and it looked like the Stallions might have another clutch goal line stand after multiple last week. However, Cookus scrambled out of the pocket on third down and found tight end Ryan Izzo in the end zone for a touchdown, putting the Stars up seven.
The Birmingham Stallions responded impressively with an 11-play, 72-yard drive of their own. Quarterback Alex McGough came out firing, going 6/9 for 66 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown was the most impressive play of the drive. Facing third-and-10 at the 17, McGough dropped back but struggled to find an open receiver. Like he has done so many other times this year, McGough scrambled out of the pocket and danced around behind the line of scrimmage until he found his man. This time it was Davion Davis running across the end zone away from McGough. McGough threw a perfect pass, knotting up the game at seven.
Alex McGough scrambles and finds @14DDavis for six!
The early fireworks were followed by several punts. The Stallions appeared to be getting something going on their third drive of the game, but the drive ended right as they crossed into Stars territory. McGough tried to fake a handoff to Marable but ended up losing control of the ball as he tried to scramble outside of the pocket. Adam Rodriguez fell on the loose ball, giving the Stars the ball back right around midfield.
The Stars made the Stallions pay for their mistake. Facing a third-and-10 at the Stallions 24, Stars wide receiver Corey Coleman smoked a Stallions defensive back on a post route. Cookus hit Coleman in stride for an easy touchdown, putting the Stars up 7-14.
Birmingham went three-and-out on their ensuing possession, sending us to halftime.
The Stallions got the ball to open the second half. The kickoff went out of bounds, starting the drive at midfield. It only took four plays for the Stallions to get in the red zone. Facing a third-and-five at the 12, McGough’s pass fell incomplete. A Brandon Aubrey field goal made it 10-14 Stars.
The Birmingham Stallions got the ball back quickly after forcing a three-and-out. A huge CJ Marable run and a nice completion to tight end Thaddeus Moss got the Stallions down to the Stars 10 in two plays.
It looked like the Stallions were poised to take the lead for the first time in the game, but it was not meant to be. On first-and-goal, Marable lost the ball around the left end, and it bounced right into Joel Dublanko’s arms.
The Stars were not able to make the Stallions pay this time, however, and had to punt the ball back after just five plays. A 55-yard catch and run by Coleman, though, allowed the Stars to pin the Stallions deep in their own territory.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Stallions were facing a third-and-goal at the 10. McGough hit an open Jace Sternberger in the middle of the end zone to give the Stallions the lead for the first time in the game, 17-14.
That was plenty of time for the Stars, though. In just three plays, the Stars scored on a seven-yard completion from Cookus to Williams. That gave the Stars the lead for the first time in the fourth quarter, 20-24.
While the quick score was nice, as Head Coach Bart Andrus pointed out after the game, the Stars left too much time on the clock for McGough and company. The Stallions got the ball back with three minutes to go and started their drive at their own 35. McGough completed a few passes to get into Stars territory by the two-minute warning. However, an incomplete pass and a sack put the Stallions in a third-and-long situation with the clock ticking. McGough found Marable on third down to gain some of the yardage back, but it still brought up a fourth-and-eight play. Luckily for the Stallions, McGough found a wide-open Sternberger inside the Philadelphia 15, keeping the Stallions’ drive alive.
After that, the Stallions only needed two plays to find the end zone. With around 30 seconds to go, McGough hit La’Michael Pettway in the front corner of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.
After defeating the Philadelphia Stars by three points in thrilling fashion yet again, the Stallions stay on top of the USFL and the South Division. The good news for the Stars is they are also still in first in a weak North Division. Both these teams control their own destinies heading into the home stretch and only need to win one more game to secure a playoff spot.
Assuming that happens, this may not have been the last time we see these teams play each other this year. Coach Andrus acknowledged as much after the game: “These are two good football teams. They’ve got good players and they play together. If we can win a couple more, we may see them again.”
Birmingham Stallions: Player Of The Game
For the fifth time this season, fans voted for quarterback Alex McGough.
Vote for the Stallions Week 8 Player of the Game ✅
No qualms from me on this one. While other players such as Davion Davis, Jace Sternberger, and Nate Brooks had huge performances, everyone knew who the player of the game was. McGough had another MVP-level performance and might have secured the award for himself after orchestrating the game-winning drive. After the season is over, we will likely look back and point to that series as McGough’s MVP moment.
Speaking of the game-winning drive, that was really the key moment of this back-and-forth affair. Especially pivotal was the fourth-and-eight conversion at the Stars 35-yard line. Rather than use their timeouts, the Stallions chose to hurry up and run a play. If they had not converted, the Philadelphia Stars would have gotten the ball back up by four with less than a minute to go. That likely would have put the game out of reach for the Stallions. But the 23-yard McGough to Sternberger connection kept the drive alive, and two plays later the Stallions went ahead with the game-sealing touchdown.
– Alex McGough finished 24/35 for 333 yards with three touchdowns (127.4 passer rating). He also added 19 yards on five carries.
– C. J. Marable had 56 rushing yards on 11 carries. He also had five catches for 46 yards.
– Davion Davis had four catches for 120 yards and a touchdown.
– Jace Sternberger had three catches for 62 yards and a touchdown.
– Nate Brooks had six tackles (two solo), an interception, and two passes deflected.
– Brandon Aubrey was 2/2 on field goals and 3/3 on extra points.
– Colby Wadman punted two times with an average of 57. His long was 64, and he pinned the Breakers inside the 20 both times.
PHILADELPHIA STARS STAT LEADERS
– Case Cookus was excellent, going 20/32 for 265 yards with three touchdowns. He did have one interception, but it was on a Hail Mary to end the game. His passer rating was 106.9.
– Dexter Williams ran for 52 yards on 15 carries.
– Corey Coleman had four catches for 107 yards and a touchdown.
– Devin Gray had four catches for 74 yards.
– Joey Alfieri finished with 10 tackles (seven solo) and a tackle for loss.
– Cody Brown had eight tackles (seven solo) and a forced fumble.
The injury bug bit the Stallions once again, and unfortunately for Birmingham, it was another big loss. Linebacker Quentin Poling, last week’s USFL Defensive Player of the Week and a budding star on the Stallions’ defense, came up limping after a play in the first half. He re-entered the game but ended up coming out of the locker room without a uniform on after halftime. There’s been no word yet on Poling’s status, but hopefully he can return next week for a big game against the Gamblers.
Next week, the USFL returns to divisional matchups with quite a bit at stake. The Stallions will take on the only team they have not beaten yet this year, the Houston Gamblers. If the Stallions can get avenge their earlier loss to the Gamblers, they will be the first team in the USFL to secure a spot in the playoffs. The game will take place in Memphis at 2:00 pm EST and will be broadcast on NBC and streamed on Peacock.
The Stars will take on the New Jersey Generals in primetime. Like the Stallions, the Philadelphia Stars can lock up a playoff spot with a win. The last time these two played, the Stars beat the Generals on Luis Aguilar’s record-breaking kicking performance. The game will take place in Canton, Ohio at 7:00 pm EST and will be broadcast on FOX.
What are your thoughts on this USFL game between the Birmingham Stallions and Philadelphia Stars? Which USFL players impressed? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!