By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports Writer
Well, Holtz got his wish.
As they have done all season long, the Stallions earned a comeback victory in Sunday night's title game, 33-30 over the Philadelphia Stars at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Seven of Birmingham’s nine victories during the regular season were comeback wins.
With Birmingham's starting quarterback J’Mar Smith leaving the game with a little over two minutes left in the third quarter due to a leg cramp, backup Alex McGough led the Stallions on the game-deciding drive.
However, McGough first had to overcome throwing the first interception of the game, a pass that was bobbled by CJ Marable before ending up in the arms of Stars linebacker Jordan Moore. Following the turnover, McGough returned to the sideline for an animated back-and-forth with Holtz.
"Things got a little dicey," McGough said afterward. "He just kind of brought me over, took me through the play and what he was thinking. I was telling him what I was thinking. And then he just said we’re going to win this game. And that kind of put it into perspective of, ‘Hey, next play.’"
Holtz said he told his quarterback to focus on the present and to not worry about what had happened in the past.
"I told him to just calm down and play within the system, and you’re going to be great," Holtz said. "And that’s what he did."
With his team trailing by three points, McGough led the Stallions on a 64-yard scoring drive, capped by an 8-yard touchdown to Victor Bolden Jr. on a back-shoulder fade for a 26-23 lead that the Stallions would never relinquish.
Bolden finished with six receptions for 64 yards. He also had a 43-yard kick return, earning MVP honors for the game.
"This is probably the biggest award that I’ve gotten, and it means the world to me," Bolden said.
The Stars double-covered Bolden most of the game, allowing fellow receiver Marlon Williams to also have a big game, finishing with seven catches for 105 yards and a score.
McGough, who was the opening day starter for the Stallions, finished 7-for-10 for 77 yards, with a touchdown pass and an interception. Smith completed 10 of 18 passes for 131 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.
Case Cookus played well for the Stars, completing 17 of 29 passes for 222 yards and three scores. However, Cookus suffered a broken fibula midway through the fourth quarter, giving way to backup K.J. Costello.
Costello promptly threw an interception that Philadelphia linebacker Scooby Wright took back 46 yards for a score, giving Birmingham a 10-point lead.
On the ensuing drive, Costello found Chris Rowland for a 12-yard touchdown, cutting Birmingham’s lead back to three points. However, Birmingham safety Christian McFarland sealed the game with an interception with 16 seconds left.
Receiver Jordan Suell led Philadelphia with five catches for 66 yards and two scores.
Birmingham’s Bo Scarbrough rolls
University of Alabama product Bo Scarbrough brought the pain early on for the Stallions.
Scarbrough finished with 135 yards on 13 carries, including a long, 69-yard run that set up a Brandon Aubrey 28-yard field goal, giving Birmingham a 20-9 advantage at halftime.
The midseason addition of Scarbrough solidified Birmingham’s running game, helping the Stallions control the clock and lean on their defense to close out games.
"Bo brings a heavy presence," Holtz said. "And this was the type of game, with safeties coming downhill and the way they were trying to take away Victor over the top, and they started to try and take away Marlon. And that left a huge hole in the middle of the field. All he had to do is make one man miss, and there was green grass in front of him. And Bo did that tonight."
Dexter Williams effective as late add at RB
With top running back Matt Colburn II not available for the game due to injury, Stars' late addition Dexter Williams played big offensively for Philadelphia.
The Notre Dame product just joined the team this week but picked up the offense quickly and accounted for a team-high 102 scrimmage yards in a loss.
"I thought he played really well for not having much time to learn the offense," Stars coach Bart Andrus said "We had to find stuff that he could learn quickly, but he played well. I would have liked to have seen him for a few more weeks."
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 at @eric_d_williams.