Stallions clinch playoff berth, defeat the Maulers
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The Birmingham Stallions have booked their ticket to the Canton, Ohio for the USFL Inaugural Playoff.
They beat the Pittsburgh Maulers 26 to 16, keeping them undefeated.
“Step one is done with clinching a spot in Canton, and that’s a testament to this team,” said Birmingham Stallions’ head coach Skip Holtz. “We’re where we are because of the leaders on this football team.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the circus, and these guys have stayed humble and hungry.”
Faced with a 13-6 deficit early in the third quarter, Birmingham fullback Bobby Holly burst through the line on a fake punt before plunging into the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown to tie the game at 13-13. Holly’s 52-yard scamper jumpstarted a 20-3 run for the Stallions as Birmingham closed the game with 20 of the game’s final 23 points.
Both teams established the ground game in Sunday’s matchup as Birmingham running back Bo Scarbrough reached 100 yards on 27 carries, while Pittsburgh running back Madre London averaged 5.5 yards per carry with 99 yards on 18 carries. Holly and Birmingham running back CJ Marable each recorded rushing touchdowns, while London registered a rushing score of his own in Pittsburgh’s 10-point defeat.
After Pittsburgh (1-6) started with the ball and opened the game with a three-and-out, Birmingham (7-0) marched from its own 22-yard line into Maulers’ territory on just six offensive plays, entering the red zone for the first time when J’Mar Smith dropped in a pass down the seam to Victor Bolden, Jr. for a 52-yard gain. The Stallions, however, advanced only five more yards on the drive, settling for a 27-yard field goal from kicker Brandon Aubrey to take a 3-0 lead.
Pittsburgh answered Birmingham’s scoring drive with the first touchdown of the game, using 10 plays to drive 71 yards to enter the end zone for the first time. London served as the bell cow on the drive, carrying the ball nine times for 54 yards and a touchdown on the Maulers’ second offensive possession. London capped off the scoring drive with a 4-yard rushing touchdown on third-and-goal, cutting to the left side of the offensive line before reaching the ball across the goal line for the score.
Pittsburgh defensive lineman Terry Beckner, Jr. then ended Birmingham’s drive following his team’s go-ahead score, sacking Smith for a 9-yard loss on third down. A short punt from punter Colby Wadman then set up the Maulers in Birmingham territory at the Stallions’ 37-yard line.
The Maulers went three-and-out following the short punt, but they pinned the Stallions deep in their own territory at the 4-yard line when Max Duffy’s 34-yard punt was downed by Malcolm Elmore. Birmingham had to punt the ball back from inside its own 10-yard line, setting up the Maulers at the Stallions’ 26-yard line when punt returner Isiah Hennie returned Wadman’s punt 33 yards.
After advancing to the Stallions’ 6-yard line, Birmingham defensive tackle Willie Henry forced a sack fumble. Fellow defensive lineman Doug Costin fell on the fumble to end Pittsburgh’s scoring threat with 11:57 remaining in the second quarter.
Birmingham was forced to punt the ball back again after the Maulers kept the Stallions pinned inside their own 10-yard line. After starting the drive at their own 49-yard line, Pittsburgh finally capitalized on plus field position when Ramiz Ahmed converted a 43-yard field goal to take a 10-3 lead with 8:25 remaining in the second quarter.
The Stallions trimmed their deficit to 10-6 on the ensuing drive, burning 6:12 off the clock before Aubrey connected on his second field goal of the game, splitting the uprights from 36 yards out with 2:03 remaining in the half. Pittsburgh ran out the final few minutes of the half with six running plays.
Despite having its opening drive of the second half stall at its own 42-yard line, Birmingham flipped the momentum of the game with a successful fake punt on fourth-and-5 from its own 48-yard line. Holly took the direct snap off the fake punt and rumbled his way 52 yards into the end zone to put the Stallions ahead 13-10 with 12:27 remaining in the third quarter.
Birmingham’s defense forced a stop following the special teams’ trickery. The Stallions opened their next drive at the 20-yard line, picking up one first down before Bryce Torneden picked off Smith’s pass on third-and-10 to give the Maulers a short field on offense.
Torneden returned Smith’s interception 36 yards to the Birmingham 21-yard line before the Maulers’ drive stalled after just three plays. Ahmed then converted his second 43-yard goal of the game to tie the game at 13-13 with 4:10 remaining in the third quarter.
Birmingham kick returner Tony Brooks-James provided the Stallions with strong starting field position on the following drive, returning the ensuing kickoff 33 yards to the Stallions’ 46-yard line. The Stallions drove seven plays behind four running plays to drive to the Pittsburgh 25-yard line. Aubrey then vaulted the Stallions in front with a 43-yard field goal to make it 16-13 with 44 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Stallions forced a Pittsburgh three-and-out right after Aubrey’s field goal, handing the ball back to the offense with 14:03 remaining. Birmingham then extended its lead to a game-high 10 points when Marable capped off a 11-play, 79-yard drive with a 5-yard rushing touchdown to make it 23-13 with 8:33 remaining. The Stallions ran the ball eight times on the 11-play drive, going 3-for-3 on third down.
Pittsburgh needed just 1:44 to cut its deficit to one possession on the ensuing drive, driving to the Stallions’ 40-yard line before Ahmed drilled his third field goal of more than 40 yards with a 58-yarder. Ahmed’s lengthy effort trimmed the Maulers’ deficit to 23-16 with 6:44 remaining.
Birmingham picked up just one first down on the next drive, punting the ball back to Pittsburgh with 4:37 remaining. The Maulers turned the ball over on downs just four plays into their drive when Lee’s pass intended for Hennie fell incomplete.
The Stallions then iced the game when Aubrey drilled a 45-yard field goal right after the two-minute warning, pushing Birmingham’s lead to the game’s final score at 26-16. Ahmed missed his only kick of the game with 49 seconds remaining as the Maulers tried to cut their deficit to one possession in the final minute.
Birmingham (7-0) plays again on Saturday at 2 p.m. against New Orleans (5-2), while Pittsburgh (1-6) takes on New Jersey (6-1) on Friday at 7 p.m.
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