BIRMINGHAM – For now, at least, the New Orleans Breakers are the top team in the USFL South Division. They showed that by shrugging off an opening kickoff touchdown and ultimately walking away with a 45-31 victory over the Birmingham Stallions on Saturday at Protective Stadium.
New Orleans outgained the Stallions 483-253 and converted on 11 of 13 third downs. Running back Wes Hills carried the ball 34 times for a USFL record 191 yards with three touchdowns, and quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw for 283 yards with three touchdowns. Defensively, the Breakers had an interception and four sacks.
All in all, a pretty convincing win for the Breakers.
“I thought they played more physical than we did,” said Birmingham head coach Skip Holtz. “I thought in the trenches, on both sides of the ball, they won the line of scrimmage. I think it’s hard to win a football game (like that). I told the team, ‘You wear that crown for a while. You start believing it and it’s going to eat you up.’ Today, I thought they outplayed us, they outcoached us. There’s not a lot of excuses on my end.”
New Orleans head coach John DeFilippo, who came into the interview room a few minutes later, was pleased with the win but warned that it’s a long season.
“I thought it was an unbelievable team effort,” DeFilippo said. “There’s still a lot for us to clean up. I don’t think anyone in that locker room is satisfied, not by any means. We have to keep going. We are not there yet. We are not even close to being there yet.”
The Breakers did earn a couple of extra days' rest after the win. DeFilippo said he gave his players off on Monday and Tuesday, which are normal workdays for the team.
Things didn’t start out well for New Orleans on Saturday. Birmingham’s Deon Cain took the opening kickoff and raced 82 yards for a touchdown to give the Stallions a 7-0 lead.
“I went down the sideline and said no panic, no one panic,” DeFilippo said.
New Orleans responded with a five-play, 53-yard touchdown drive that culminated with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Bethel-Thompson to Lee Morris. Eventually, the Breakers built the lead to 24-17 with the final points coming on a 19-yard scoring pass to Dee Anderson with 1:29 left in the half.
Birmingham responded with a seven-play, 66-yard drive that took just 47 seconds off the clock. Alex McGough connected with Jace Sternberger on a 19-yard scoring play to tie the game at halftime.
“We hadn’t played very well and we were in a tie ballgame,” Holtz said.
By the end of the third quarter, the deficit was back to two touchdowns. The Stallions scored early in the fourth quarter on a 5-yard pass from McGough to Davion Davis to cut the deficit in half. Soon after, the Breakers escaped a 3rd-and-20 situation on a pass interference call against Brian Allen. The Breakers ultimately made the mistake costly when Hills’ 2-yard touchdown run culminated what was officially an 11-play, 54-yard drive.
“It had the makings for a great game,” Holtz said. “We couldn’t hold up our end of the bargain at the end.”
McGough finished 17 of 26 for 238 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Davis had five catches for 123 yards. But the Stallions only rushed for 46 yards.
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