By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Birmingham Stallions they have been the toughest team in the USFL so far this season.
And fittingly, they remain the only undefeated team.
For the third week in a row, the Stallions came out of a hole to earn a victory.
This time, Birmingham outmatched the New Orleans Breakers, winning 22-13 in the cup 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.
Like previous wins over the New Jersey Generals and Houston Gamblers, the Stallions rallied from a second-half deficit. In Week 1, the Stallions trailed 24-21 with four minutes remaining. 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 wide receiver Victor Bolden Jr., who had six receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown. “A lot of older guys who have experienced tough games and close games before. So we just continue to play the next play, and these guys keep moving forward.”
After a back-and-forth first half dominated by the defense, the Breakers ran for 75 yards in 17 plays to open the second half.
Sloter ended the drive by hitting Johnnie Dixon en route for a 10-yard touchdown that went through the hands of linebacker Scooby Wright. The series 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 drive.
Bolden thought he had walked in on the previous play, but the official called him out of bounds. Stallions head coach Skip Holtz said after a timeout that he just changed 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 guys, a lot of one-stop coverage,” Bolden said. “It was something we made sure to cut time on during the week. I just give J’Mar credit for giving me a chance to make a play.”
The Stallions appeared to end the game when Dondrea Tillman sacked Sloter in the end zone. New Orleans lineman Kai Absheer recovered 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 missed.
The Breakers would get the ball back, but Gates then intercepted a Sloter offer up the middle, returning it to the New Orleans 18-yard line to end the game. Brandon Aubrey drilled a 33-yard field goal to give the Stallions a 22-13 lead with 1:16 left.
Local Stallion Cuisine
Holtz said his team benefits from a raucous hometown crowd on his side every 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 didn’t go their way.
“The crowd is making a big difference,” Holtz said. “So thank you, thank you to the city of Birmingham for the way they have supported this team because I think they play with that passion, but the fans cheer with passion.
“I don’t know how many 3s and outs we started the game with, but they started cheering the defense harder. It just showed. I could hear it and I had my headphones on. 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.
“It was a great atmosphere tonight,” said Fedora. “For Birmingham and the fans and everything, I thought it was a cool experience for the whole team. It was good to see the fans rooting for the home team. They made some noise in the game, and that was fun.”
The Birmingham boarding 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 assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty for pretending to ride 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 spot.”
Competitive balance evident in the USFL
With two games remaining in Week 3, so far all but two games 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. “They all have the same size engine. It’s just who does the best job driving it that week. And this week, these guys did an amazing job driving it.”
“Everyone has talent. Everyone is the same.”
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.
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