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The Birmingham Stallions moved to 5-0 this season with a 30-17 comeback victory over the Philadelphia Stars on Sunday at Protective Stadium.
After falling behind 17-7 in the second quarter, a balanced offensive attack and shutdown defense powered the Stallions to a 23-0 run to close the game. Birmingham (5-0) scored the final 23 points in Sunday’s game after backup quarterback J’Mar Smith entered the game.
Smith, the USFL’s Offensive Player of the Week in Week 1, finished the game with 203 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns, one through the air and one on the ground. CJ Marable paced the Stallions on the ground, turning 23 carries into 114 yards and a touchdown. He also caught two passes for 17 yards.
Defensively, DeMarquis Gates led the Stallions with 1.5 sacks, four combined tackles and a forced fumble. Eight Stallions tallied three tackles or more in the victory.
“We got more into the groove of the game,” said Birmingham Stallions’ head coach Skip Holtz. “We didn’t start fast like we would’ve wanted to, but our offense focused up and put points on the board. Then our defense got stops and stayed fresh because our offense controlled the ball.
“These guys flipped a switch.”
Philadelphia (2-3) quarterback Case Cookus led the Stars with 215 yards passing, completing 19-of-35 attempts. The Stars scored both of their touchdowns on the ground in the defeat as Paul Terry and Matt Colburn II each rushed for scores.
The Stars established the run on their opening drive when running back Paul Terry burst through a hole for a 43-yard gain, setting up Philadelphia in Birmingham territory. Terry then pulled down his first catch of the game for 23 yards to give the Stars a goal-to-go opportunity at the Stallions’ 9-yard line. Matthew Colburn II finished off the drive for the Stars with a 2-yard touchdown rush before kicker Luis Aguliar drilled the point-after attempt to make it 7-0.
After a pair of three-and-outs, the Stallions knotted the game at 7-7 when Birmingham starting quarterback Alex McGough found wide receiver Michael Dereus for a 17-yard touchdown on third down. McGough’s strike to Dereus capped off an 11-play, 61-yard drive for the Stallions to tie the game with 1:53 left in the first quarter.
Philadelphia’s Maurice Alexander, Jr. returned the ensuing kickoff 39 yards to the Philadelphia 42-yard line to give the Stars good field position for their third offensive drive. The Stars then needed just four plays to retake the lead when Terry capped off a 58-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown run. The Stars marched down the field behind a 30-yard reception from tight end Bug Howard and a 15-yard catch from wide receiver Chris Rowland to score on the first play of the second quarter.
The Stallions would then pick up just one first down on the next drive before punting the ball back to the Stars, who advanced into Birmingham territory behind a 7-yard catch from wide receiver Devin Gray. The Birmingham defense, however, pushed the Stars backward behind a pair of penalties and a sack from linebacker Brody Buck and defensive lineman Johnny Newsome to force a Philadelphia punt.
Philadelphia quickly regained possession when cornerback Amani Dennis intercepted McGough’s pass at the Stallions’ 36-yard line. The Stallions would hold the Stars to a field-goal attempt after McGough’s turnover as Aguilar drilled a 49-yard field goal to make it 17-7 Philadelphia with 7:28 remaining in the second quarter.
After Philadelphia took a two-score lead, Smith entered the game for the Stallions, leading Birmingham to a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to trim its deficit to 17-14. Smith went 5-for-6 passing on the drive, firing completions of 12 yards, 8 yards, 5 yards and 11 yards before finding Marlon Williams for a 38-yard touchdown catch with 4:26 remaining in the opening half.
One play after the two-minute warning, Gates sacked Cookus, forcing him to fumble. Chauncy Haney recovered the fumble at the Stars’ 47-yard line for the Stallions, giving Birmingham 1:46 remaining in the opening half to take a lead into the break.
Smith would drive the Stallions to the Philadelphia 4-yard line with three pass completions going 10 yards or more, highlighted by a 17-yard connection to wide receiver Osirus Mitchell. The Stallions, however, failed to capitalize on the takeaway when Brandon Aubrey’s 23-yard field-goal attempt struck the right upright with seven seconds remaining in the half, helping the Stars hold a 17-14 lead entering the half.
On the opening drive of the second half, the Stallions took their first lead of the game behind a six-play, 67-yard drive that took just 3:07 off the clock. Smith completed three straight passes to open the drive before Marable finished off the drive on the ground, rushing for gains of 4 yards, 8 yards and 29 yards to put the Stallions ahead 21-17 with 11:37 remaining in the third quarter. Marable’s 29-yard rushing touchdown marked Birmingham’s third touchdown of the game on a play that went 17 yards or more.
After a pair of three-and-outs from Philadelphia and a fumble from Marable, the Stallions got the ball back with 5:27 remaining in the third quarter. Birmingham drove from its own 33-yard line to the Philadelphia 27-yard line, capping off the 4:59 drive with a 45-yard field goal from Aubrey to extend its lead to 24-17 near the end of the third quarter.
Philadelphia only entered Birmingham territory once the rest of the game after the Stallions finished off a 10:28 drive to push the game to its final score at 30-17. Smith capped off the lengthy scoring drive with a 2-yard rushing touchdown to make it a 13-point lead for the Stallions with 41 seconds remaining in the game.
Birmingham (5-0) plays again on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. against Michigan (1-4), while Philadelphia (2-3) takes on Tampa Bay (3-2) in the first game on Saturday at noon.
In other games from the weekend, the Tampa Bay Bandits (3-2) beat the Michigan Panthers, 27-20, on Friday night; New Jersey (4-1) beat New Orleans (3-2) 27-17 on Saturday; and the Pittsburgh Maulers (1-4) edged the Houston Gamblers (1-4), 21-20, in Sunday’s second game.
Story by Tyler Hotz, USFL.