Scooby Wright, Stallions' defense take center stage in Week 4 win
Scooby Wright and the Stallions put on a defensive clinic in an impressive victory over the Bandits. Eric D. Williams has the story.
By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The comeback kings did it again on Saturday.
For a fourth straight game, the Birmingham Stallions trailed in the second half. And once again, the Stallions figured out a way to earn a victory, this one a 16-10 defensive battle over the Tampa Bay Bandits.
The Stallions held Tampa Bay to just 158 yards, one offensive touchdown and not a single point in the second half. Energetic linebacker Scooby Wright led Birmingham with six tackles and a sack.
After his sack, which came with just under six minutes remaining in the game and Birmingham holding onto a 13-10 lead, the University of Arizona product performed a sack dance that he described as a "shark-dog" — half shark, half dog. Wright says that’s his spirit animal.
"There is nobody that has more fun on that field than Scooby Wright," Birmingham head coach Skip Holtz said. "He is fun to coach, but it is even more fun to watch him play, with the passion and energy he brings every day. I love him."
The Stallions started Alex McGough under center for the first time since he suffered an ankle injury in the season opener. J’Mar Smith had taken over at quarterback during the team’s win streak.
McGough said he re-injured the ankle on the second play of the game, but gutted his way through the contest. The former FIU QB finished 14-of-26 for 126 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked four times and had a couple of dropped passes by his receivers.
"It felt good getting back out there," McGough said. "I felt more comfortable as the game wore on. That last drive I started to feel pretty good. Obviously, my ankle was killing me, but mentally I was starting to see it, feel it and kind of get back into it."
The Bandits jumped on the scoreboard first, matriculating down the field on an eight-play, 39-yard scoring drive. Tyler Rausa made a 37-yard field goal to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead.
The Stallions took a 7-3 lead with 1:21 left before halftime on a 17-play, 77-yard drive. McGough capped the drive with a 1-yard quarterback sneak for the score.
The Bandits took just 44 seconds to retake the lead. Tampa Bay drove the length of the field on a drive that included Jordan Ta’amu finding tight end Cheyenne O’Grady on a 26-yard flea flicker, and then throwing a 9-yard laser to Rashard Davis in the back of the end zone for a score.
The Bandits went into the locker room up 10-7 at halftime.
The Stallions opened up the second half with a Brandon Aubrey 39-yard field goal, tying the game at 10-10.
Later in the third quarter, Birmingham benefited from prime field position with Tampa Bay backed up. Victor Bolden returned a punt to Tampa Bay’s 27-yard line. Aubrey’s 49-yard field goal with 3:40 left in the third quarter put Birmingham up 13-10.
Aubrey made another field goal, this one from 26-yards, with 59 seconds left, giving the Stallions a six-point lead.
The Bandits got the ball back but didn’t cross midfield.
Kicker Brandon Aubrey shines for Stallions
While most kickers have struggled so far during the USFL season, Aubrey has been Mr. Consistent.
A former soccer player at Notre Dame and in the MLS, Aubrey’s only miss this season came from 40 yards against Tampa Bay on Saturday. Aubrey is tops in the USFL, making 7-of-8 field goals and all of his extra points.
Pretty impressive for a player who did not kick in college and last kicked in a football game in middle school.
Holtz said he had the last selection at the kicker position during the draft, so he reached out to former NFL kicker and current kicking coach John Carney for some advice on who to select.
"If you pick eighth, he said he may not have experience, but he may be the best one in the league before it’s all said and done," Holtz said. "And those words alone, I said ‘Done, my pick’s in. … He has really made a commitment to it. If he can handle pressure, which he has shown that he can, he can be really good. He’s been impressive all year."
The return of Angry Todd
Tampa Bay head coach Todd Haley was visibly frustrated with a handful of calls by the officials early in the game, including the 1-yard touchdown run by McGough in which he thought the quarterback did not break the goal line with the ball.
Haley explained his animated conversations with officials as going back to "Kansas City Todd," the time Haley served as the Kansas City Chiefs' head coach from 2009 to 2011.
"I lost my mind a couple times," he said. "I was like old Todd, Kansas City Todd (laughs). I can’t do that."
Several players suffered injuries in this hard-hitting game, but miraculously, most returned the field.
Tampa Bay offensive lineman Matt Burrell Jr. had to be carted off the field in the third quarter with a knee injury. However, Burrell impressively returned with a brace on the affected knee and played.
Tony Brook-James and Tampa Bay linebacker Antonio Reed had a big collision at the line of scrimmage on a run by Brooks-James midway through the second half. Trainers looked at both players and made their way off the field and into their respective injury tents. Both returned to the sidelines and played.
Tampa Bay linebacker Travis Feeney suffered a back injury but returned to play.
"I’m standing on the sidelines seeing guys laying flat on their back in Greg Reaves," Haley said. "We’re worrying that it’s a catastrophic injury and he gets up, comes off the sideline, goes back in and plays.
"Matt Burrell gets carted off, and then I see him go by me with a brace on. How can you not love these guys? They gave everything they had to try and win that game."