Birmingham Stallions Outlast Pittsburgh Maulers On The Road

Birmingham Stallions Outlast Pittsburgh Maulers On The Road

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The age-old question seemed appropriate Sunday night for the USFL matchup between the Birmingham Stallions and Pittsburgh Maulers.

The Maulers entered the game with one of the best defenses in the league—one that had not given up more than 22 points in a single game. The Stallions on the other hand entered the game with one of the best offenses in the USFL, scoring at least 27 points in each of their first three games and averaging over 33 points per game.

We all expected a tough slog of a game, and we were not disappointed.

FIRST QUARTER

The Maulers offense struggled the first three weeks of the season but looked poised to turn things around against the Stallions. On their opening drive, they zipped down the field, setting up a first and goal after just four plays. However, their red zone woes continued as the Stallions were able to force a field goal after three plays inside the ten. Maulers kicker Chris Blewitt picked up where he left off last week, putting the Maulers up 0-3.

After trading punts, the Stallions had their first big mistake of the game. Quarterback Alex McGough tried to force a pass while under pressure, and it was picked off by Maulers defensive back Mark Gilbert. This set the Maulers up with great field position at the Stallions 37-yard line.

SECOND QUARTER

On the first play of the ensuing drive, Williams found a wide-open Bailey Gaither inside the 10 to set up a first and goal at the three. Yet again, the Stallions defense held strong, forcing another field goal to make it 0-6.

It only took one offensive play for the Maulers to get the ball back. On first down, McGough dropped back and saw a wide-open Deon Cain streaking down the field on a post route. McGough hesitated, though, and ended up underthrowing Cain. Keith Gipson Jr. stepped in front of the underthrow for Alex McGough’s second pick in two offensive plays.

The Maulers put together an impressive 12-play drive, once again getting down inside the Stallions 10-yard line. However, for the third time in a row, the Birmingham Stallions defense was able to force a field goal, putting the score at 0-9 when it easily could have been 0-21.

The Stallions offense was finally able to get something going on the next drive, marching down the field in ten plays. Running back ZaQuandre White led the charge, rushing for 26 yards on four consecutive carries. However, the drive stalled out when they stopped giving him the ball, and the Stallions had to settle for a field goal to make it 3-9.

After forcing a three-and-out, the Birmingham Stallions got their final chance on offense before half. With 1:12 remaining on the clock, the Stallions went with their hurry-up, two-minute offense, with which they have consistently had success thus far this year. That success continued on this drive.

McGough threw the ball and ran down the field, setting up a second-and-three from the five with 0:08 on the clock. The Stallions decided to run one more play, but McGough couldn’t find anyone open. He scrambled to the right, pointing at receivers before committing to the run. One defender stood between him and the end zone, but he was able to shake off the would-be tackler and tiptoe down the sideline while extending the ball across the plain just inside the pylon. His incredible acrobatics put the Stallions up 10-9 going into half—a huge relief for the Stallions and a huge blow to the Maulers, who otherwise dominated the first half.

THIRD QUARTER

The third quarter went by quickly as there were multiple long drives. The Stallions got the ball to open the half and put together what appeared to be a promising start. However, facing a third-and-four, McGough hit Deon Cain in stride on a slant with loads of green grass in front of him. The ball bounced off Cain’s chest, though, and the Stallions were forced to punt, pinning the Maulers at their own 10.

The Maulers put together an impressive drive of their own in response, marching down the field over 11 plays. A sack by Stallions defensive tackle Willie Henry, though, put them in a second-and-long situation in Stallions territory. They could not convert and had to kick another field goal, making it 10-12.

FOURTH QUARTER

The Stallions next drive spanned the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth quarters, taking an impressive 8:55 over 14 plays. McGough and White dinked and dunked their way down to the Maulers four-yard line. However, a block in the back on an impressive White run as he reversed field led to a second-and-goal from the 14.

McGough got some of that back on a scramble. Facing a third-and-goal from the nine, it was time for some more McGough magic. McGough dropped back to pass as the Maulers rushed four. Tired after a long drive, the Maulers defensive line could get little pressure. McGough held onto the ball longer and longer until things broke down and he had to improvise. Dancing around and slinking between would-be tacklers, McGough finally found a wide-open Davion Davis in the back of the end zone, putting the Stallions up 17-12.

It didn’t take long for the Pittsburgh Maulers to answer back as they scored just five offensive plays later. Finding success with a jet sweep-quarterback read play, Troy Williams darted down the left sideline for 34 yards for a touchdown. The Maulers ran the same play for a two-point conversion, and it worked again—except this time it was wide receiver Isiah Hennie taking it in on the jet sweep. That put the Maulers up 17-20 with only 6:52 remaining in the game.

It took the Stallions even less time to respond, though. On the ensuing kickoff, wide receiver Deon Cain caught the ball at the nine. Running straight ahead, Cain got to the 25 before bouncing the return to the left. The bounce return was executed to perfection, and Cain streaked down the left sideline behind a wall of Stallions blockers. For the second week in a row, Deon Cain returned a kick for a touchdown, this time putting the Stallions on top 24-20.

The Stallions defense was able to force a three-and-out on the Maulers next possession. The Maulers had to give the ball back to the Stallions with just under five minutes remaining. After a few key first downs including a fourth-and-one conversion, the Stallions were able to take a knee to finish the game with a win.

PLAYER OF THE GAME

For the second week in a row, fans voted for kick returner Deon Cain. Cain had five returns for 166 yards, including a 91-yard touchdown.

However, my player of the game was Stallions middle linebacker Scooby Wright. Wright missed the last two games with calf injuries. In the last one, the Stallions defense looked inept, giving up 45 points in a loss to the Breakers. They could not stop the run, giving up 200 yards on the ground to New Orleans. This week was a marked improvement as the Stallions kept the Pittsburgh Maulers to under 100 rushing yards. Scooby led the team with six tackles, including one tackle for loss.

With Wright back, the Birmingham Stallions defense looked like themselves again, particularly in the red zone. Three times in the first half the Maulers got inside the Stallions 10-yard line, but Pittsburgh did not score a single touchdown. With Scooby in weeks one and four, the Stallions have only given up one touchdown in seven red zone attempts (14% of attempts). In the two games without him, they gave up four touchdowns in six attempts (67% of attempts).

After the game, Coach Skip Holtz said having Wright back was “invaluable.” It’s a word he continued to use as he described Wright’s importance to the defense:

It’s not just the physical plays that he can make; it’s the presence that he has. I think he’s kind of a calming presence for the entire defense. When it starts reeling and they make a couple first downs, I think he’s just got great knowledge, he understands the game so much. I think he’s invaluable, having him in there.

There’s no doubt having Wright back on the field this week was a key factor in the Stallions’ win.

KEY MOMENTS

There were three tide-turning plays for the Stallions.

The first was the final play of the first half. With 0:00 on the clock, Alex McGough somehow acrobatically got the ball across the goal line to score the only touchdown of the first half. It put the Stallions up 10-9 going into the locker room—a great place to be after a rough first half.

The second was another instance of McGough’s acrobatics. Down 10-12 with 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Stallions faced a third and goal from the nine. McGough danced around the backfield for what seemed like an eternity (12 seconds to be exact) before finding Davion Davis wide-open in the back of the end zone, putting the Stallions up 17-12.

The third was after the Maulers quickly took back the lead. Quarterback Troy Williams dashed into the end zone from 34 yards out, and after a two-point conversion, the Maulers went up 20-17. But it only took one play for the Stallions to get back on top. Kick return Deon Cain took the ensuing kickoff back to the house, putting the Stallions up 24-20. The Stallions defense was able to force a three-and-out on the next possession, and the offense put together a string of first downs to run out the clock.

BIRMINGHAM STALLIONS STAT LEADERS

– Alex McGough finished 17/29 for 157 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He was also the Stallions leading rusher with 48 yards on 10 carries.
– Davion Davis led all receivers with eight catches for 71 yards and a touchdown.
– Brandon Aubrey was 1/1 on field goals and 3/3 on extra points to stay perfect on the season.

PITTSBURGH MAULERS STAT LEADERS

– Troy Williams was 21 of 33 for 217 yards. He also was the Maulers leading rusher, running seven times for 63 yards and a touchdown.
– Bailey Gaither had six catches for 69 yards.
– Kyahva Tezino had 11 tackles and one tackle for loss.
– Keith Gipson Jr. had four tackles, two pass deflections, and one interception.
– Chris Blewitt was 4/4 on field goals.

INJURY REPORT

The Birmingham Stallions did not appear to sustain any significant injuries.

UP NEXT

Next week, the Stallions are back at Protective Stadium to take on the Houston Gamblers. The Stallions will be looking for revenge as the Gamblers were the only team to beat them last year in what was their most recent matchup. The Gamblers started off this season slowly with two losses but have gotten hot recently and are coming off a huge 41-16 win over the Stars where they put up 463 total yards on offense. Both teams are 1-1 in the South Division, so it will be a critical game with playoff implications.

The Pittsburgh Maulers will take on the Michigan Panthers at Ford Field in Detroit. Like the Stallions-Gamblers matchup, both teams are 1-1 in the division, so the winner will take sole control of the number two spot in the North.

Both games will take place on Saturday: Maulers-Panthers at 12:30 PM EST and Gamblers-Stallions at 4 PM EST.

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

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