Stallions stay unbeaten thanks to close-call field goal
Great defense — and perhaps a fortunate call on a late field goal — helped the Stallions stay unbeaten, Eric D. Williams writes.
By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Was it good?
When asked if his kicker Brandon Aubrey’s 29-yard field goal that gave his team a 10-9 victory actually went inside the left upright, Birmingham Stallions head coach Skip Holtz looked to the officials on the field.
"They didn’t come over and ask me," Holtz said. "All we can do is go with what the officials signaled on the field. He’s got a lot better view of it than I do."
Asked the same question, a measured New Orleans Breakers head coach Larry Fedora had this to say: "I just won’t answer that, how about that?"
Regardless of what the coaches believe, the field goal was called good on the field. And after defensive back Josh Shaw picked off New Orleans quarterback Kyle Sloter — Sloter's third interception of the game — the Stallions sealed yet another close victory Saturday afternoon at Legion Field.
With the win, Birmingham improved to 8-0 on the season, clinching the Southern Division title and a No. 1 seed, while the Breakers dropped to 5-3.
The game was far from a work of art, featuring five missed kicks and six turnovers. The most crucial of the misses was perhaps Taylor Bertolet's PAT try after New Orleans' only touchdown of the game — an Anthony Jones’ 3-yard run — allowing for Birmingham’s winning margin.
However, both defenses played well, bottling up two of the top-scoring offenses in the USFL.
"They’ve got a great football team," Holtz said about the Breakers. "Larry Fedora does a good job with his team. They’re hard-hitting. They’re well-coached. They’re physical. … That is a very talented football team. But as somebody said to me coming off the field, you just got to keep believing."
The Breakers had one last opportunity to take the lead with 15 second left and the ball on the New Orleans’ 45-yard line. Sloter threw one up for grabs, a toss down the middle of the field intended for receiver Johnnie Dixon, and Shaw managed to reel it in to seal the game.
Stallions defense stifles Breakers in 10-9 victory
"Initially when it left his hands I thought it was too high," Shaw said. "So, I couldn’t go up with two hands. So, I went up with one, and someway I was able to come down with it."
With Victor Bolden Jr. unavailable due to injury, Marlon Williams stepped up and made plays as Birmingham’s slot receiver. Williams finished with seven catches for 109 yards on 12 targets.
Bo Scarbrough led the Stallions with 54 rushing yards, but most of those came in the first half.
Turnover bug strikes Breakers again
Sloter has been perhaps the most dynamic passer in the USFL this season, but he’s also had issues with decision-making and taking care of the football. Those issues hurt the Breakers on Saturday.
Sloter finished 23-of-40 for 251 passing yards, with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Breakers have turned it over a league-high 15 times through eight games, and Sloter has 10 interceptions on the year.
"You can’t turn the ball over in games like that and expect to win," Fedora said. "Every single one of those was critical. If you do that, you’re fighting an uphill battle all the way. We have to do a better job of taking care of the football."
Injury issues at QB for Birmingham
Meanwhile, Birmingham starting quarterback J’Mar Smith also had an uneven performance, finishing 15-for-29 for 183 yards, with a 27-yard touchdown to Adrian Hardy. Smith also had an interception and lost a fumble.
After his second turnover with just over five minutes to go in the third quarter, Holtz replaced Smith with Alex McGough on the next series. However, after a 22-yard run by McGough, he re-injured his left ankle and had to leave the field.
Smith returned, but hit his throwing hand on a helmet, wincing in pain as he left the field. With third quarterback Montell Cozart inactive, Holtz said he would have turned to Marlon Williams as his emergency quarterback.
And once McGough is healthy, expect him and Smith to continue to share snaps.
"I’ve said all along I’m going to play two quarterbacks," Holtz said. "They both deserve to play. They’re both talented quarterbacks and they’ve both won in professional football. We’re very fortunate to have two. And if anything ever happens to a player, I don’t want to put a guy out there that hasn’t played in four weeks."
Also, linebacker DeMarquis Gates suffered a left leg injury midway through the third quarter, but later returned.
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.