Stallions resilient again, rallying to beat Breakers, move to 3-0

Stallions resilient again, rallying to beat Breakers, move to 3-0

May 1

By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports Writer

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Birmingham Stallions have been the most resilient team in the USFL so far this season.

And appropriately, they remain the only unbeaten team.

For a third straight week, the Stallions dug themselves out of a hole to earn a victory.

This time, Birmingham outdueled the New Orleans Breakers, earning a 22-13 win in the nightcap of a Saturday doubleheader at Protective Stadium.

The Stallions forced two turnovers, a safety, sacked Breakers’ quarterback Kyle Sloter four times and held New Orleans to 316 total yards. 

With the win, Birmingham improved to 3-0 on the year, while the Breakers dropped to 2-1. 

Just like previous wins over the New Jersey Generals and Houston Gamblers, the Stallions battled back from a second-half deficit. In Week 1, the Stallions trailed 24-21 with four minutes left. Against Houston, they fell behind 18-13 at halftime. 

On Saturday against New Orleans, the Stallions overcame a 13-10 fourth-quarter deficit. 

"We have a lot of leadership on this team," said Birmingham receiver Victor Bolden Jr., who finished with six receptions for 70 yards and a score. "A lot of older guys who’ve experienced tough games and close games before. So, we just continue to play the next play, and these guys keep stepping up." 

After a back-and-forth first half dominated by defense, the Breakers drove 75 yards on 17 plays to open the second half. 

Sloter finished the drive by hitting Johnnie Dixon on an in-route for a 10-yard touchdown that went through the hands of linebacker Scooby Wright. The drive took 8:50 off the clock in the third quarter and put New Orleans up 13-10.

However, the Stallions roared back, taking a 17-13 lead with 7:56 left when J’Mar Smith connected with Bolden on a 19-yard corner route.

Bolden thought he got in on the previous play, but the official called him out of bounds. Stallions head coach Skip Holtz said after a timeout he just flipped the play to the other side of the field.

"We talked about it during the week that they were going to play us in a lot of man, a lot of single-high coverage," Bolden said. "It was something where we made sure we got the timing down during the week. I just give credit to J’Mar for giving me an opportunity to make a play."

The Stallions appeared to put the game away when Dondrea Tillman strip-sacked Sloter in the end zone. New Orleans lineman Kai Absheer recovered for a safety, putting Birmingham ahead 19-13. 

But on Birmingham’s next possession, Nigel Chavis blocked Brandon Wright’s punt and the Breakers took over at the Stallions’ 25-yard line. 

DeMarquis Gates sacked Sloter on the next play, and the Breakers had to settle for a 43-yard field goal attempt by Austin MacGinnis, which he missed.

The Breakers would get the ball back, but Gates then picked off a Sloter offering over the middle, returning it to the New Orleans’ 18-yard line to put the game away. Brandon Aubrey drilled a 33-yard field goal to give the Stallions a 22-13 lead with 1:16 left to play. 

Hometown cooking for Stallions 

Holtz said his team is benefiting from a loud home crowd on their side each week they take the field.

And that was evident on Saturday, with fans in the stadium cheering when the Stallions made good plays and booing when calls did not go their way. 

"The crowd is making a huge difference," Holtz said. "So, thank you, thank you to the city of Birmingham for the way you’ve supported this team because I think they play with that passion, but the fans cheer with the passion.

"I don’t know how many three-and-outs we started the game with, but they just started cheering harder for the defense. It just got noticeable. I could hear it, and I was wearing a headset. I thought the crowd was great." 

New Orleans head coach Larry Fedora said he likes the atmosphere, regardless of whether the crowd is behind his team or not. 

"That was a great atmosphere out there tonight," Fedora said. "For Birmingham and the fans and everything, I thought it was a cool experience for all the team. It was good to see the fans out there supporting the local team. They made some noise in the game, and that was fun."

Birmingham's tackling machine

Let’s talk about the good first. University of Arizona product Scooby Wright III finished with 17 combined tackles and a forced fumble.

But he also dropped an interception and was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty for pretending to ride a horse down the New Orleans’ sideline after his team secured a safety.

"That was a stupid play on my part," Wright said. "That shouldn’t happen. I put our team in a bad situation." 

Competitive balance evident in USFL 

With two games left in Week 3, so far, every game except but two have been decided by one score.

According to Holtz, that speaks to the competitive balance of the league. 

"This league is like NASCAR," Holtz said. "Everybody has the same size engine. It’s just who does the best job of driving it that week. And this week, these guys did an incredible job of driving it.

"Everybody’s got talent. Everybody’s equal." 

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @eric_d_williams.