BIRMINGHAM – The subject of penalties came up quickly in the postgame press conference following the Houston Gamblers 27-20 victory over the Birmingham Stallions in a key USFL South Division game on Saturday at Protective Stadium.
Not surprisingly, the approach was different from Birmingham coach Skip Holtz and Houston coach Curtis Johnson.
“The biggest difference for us is we didn’t have any penalties or turnovers,” Johnson said after his team won for the third consecutive game and forced a tie with the Stallions for second place in the division.
On the other side, the Stallions were penalized 10 times for 106 yards with many of those coming at critical moments in the fourth quarter.
“Penalties were 10-0,” Holtz said. “I think the crowd was frustrated. It was frustrating. It was hard. We couldn’t get anything going. It seemed like every time we did, we got a penalty. I haven’t seen the film, I can’t sit down and say, ‘This was, this wasn’t.’ The worst seat in the house is sitting on the sideline, so it’s very hard for me to sit here and comment about any play or penalty.”
The frustration over the officials certainly started before the final few minutes. It started to overflow on a fourth quarter drive by the Gamblers that began with Houston leading 14-13 and 10:13 on the clock. An illegal contact penalty was called on a badly overthrown pass on 3rd-and-5 from the Birmingham 35-yard line. Two plays later, the Stallions were called for a defensive pass interference on 2nd-and-15. The drive ultimately ended with Mark Thompson’s 2-yard touchdown run that gave the Gamblers a 20-14 lead with 3:21 remaining.
On the ensuing kickoff, CJ Marable returned the ball near midfield but a penalty was called behind the play. Instead, the Stallions started at the 20-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Alex McGough tried to hit Jace Sternberger on 3rd-and-4 but the pass fell incomplete. It appeared to the Stallions that Sternberger was held on his play but it was not called. McGough then hit Sternberger on what would have been a 16-yard gain but the play was nullified on an offensive pass interference penalty. On the next play, McGough found Davion Davis for what looked like a 22-yard gain but the play was overturned when an official review determined the ball hit the ground.
McGough was asked afterward if that sequence was a microcosm of the afternoon.
“It’s what it seems like, but I think it didn’t have to be like that,” McGough said. “I think we shot ourselves in the foot way earlier than that. I think we put ourselves in that situation. I did that a couple of times on third down when I could have made a better play, made a better read, done something to help and I didn’t do that. It didn’t have to get to that point.”
McGough finished 24 of 38 for 209 yards with touchdown passes of 1-yard to CJ Marable and 10 yards to La’Michael Pettway. McGough was also the team’s leading rusher with 71 yards on five carries.
Houston quarterback Terry Wilson, who played in the place of injured starter Kenji Bahar, was 9 of 14 passing for 117 yards with a 50-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Ratliff-Williams. Thompson had 80 yards on 16 carries with three touchdowns.
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