By Eric D. Williams
FOX sports writer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – THE Birmingham Stallions has been the most resilient 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 claim victory.
This time, Birmingham edged out the New Orleans Breakers, earning a 22-13 win on Saturday night’s double-game at Protective Stadium.
The Stallions forced two turnovers, a safety, fired Breakers quarterback Kyle Sloter four times and kept New Orleans for 316 total yards.
With the win, Birmingham improved to 3-0 for the year, while the Breakers dropped to 2-1.
As with previous wins over the New Jersey Generals and Houston Gamblers, the Stallions bounced back from a second-half deficit. In Week 1, the Stallions trailed 24-21 with four minutes left. Against Houston, they trailed 18-13 at halftime.
On Saturday against New Orleans, the Stallions overcame a 13-10 deficit in the fourth quarter.
“We have a lot of leadership in this team,” said Birmingham’s Victor Bolden Jr., who finished with six receptions for 70 yards and a score. “Lots of older guys who’ve been through tough, tough games before. So we keep playing the next play, and these guys keep moving forward.”
After a back-and-forth first half dominated by the defense, the Breakers drove 75 yards on 17 plays to open the second half.
Sloter finished the drive by hitting Johnnie Dixon on a 10-yard touchdown route that passed through linebacker Scooby Wright. The drive took 8:50 off the clock in the third quarter and put New Orleans at 13-10.
However, the Stallions got back on the run, taking a 17-13 lead with 7:56 remaining when J’Mar Smith connected with Bolden on a 19-yard corner route.
Bolden thought he had entered the previous play, but the referee called him out of bounds. Stallions coach Skip Holtz said that after a timeout, he just turned the play across the field.
“We talked about it over the week that they were going to throw us into a lot of man, a lot of single coverage,” Bolden said. “It was something we made time for during the week. I just give J’Mar credit for giving me the opportunity to make a play.”
The Stallions appeared to end the game when Dondrea Tillman fired Sloter in the end zone. New Orleans lineman Kai Absheer bounced back to a safety, putting Birmingham ahead 19-13.
But on Birmingham’s next possession, Nigel Chavis blocked Brandon Wright’s shot and the Breakers took over the Stallions’ 25-yard line.
DeMarquis Gates fired Sloter on the next play, and the Breakers had to settle for a 43-yard field goal attempt by Austin MacGinnis, which he missed.
The Breakers would get the ball back, but Gates then took an offer from Sloter in the middle, returning it to New Orleans’ 18-yard line to end the game. Brandon Aubrey hit a 33-yard field goal to give the Stallions a 22-13 lead with 1:16 left in the game.
Hometown cuisine for stallions
Holtz said his team is benefiting from a raucous crowd on his side every week he takes to the field.
And that was evident on Saturday, with fans in the stadium cheering when the Stallions made good plays and booing when the calls didn’t come.
“The crowd is making a huge difference,” Holtz said. “So thank you, thank you to the City of Birmingham for the way you supported this team, because I think they play with that passion, but the fans cheer with that passion.
“I don’t know how many three and out we started the game with, but they started cheering for the defense more. It was noticeable. I could hear it and I was wearing a headset. I thought the crowd was great.”
New Orleans coach Larry Fedora said he likes the atmosphere, whether the crowd is behind his team or not.
“That was a great atmosphere out there tonight,” Fedora said. “For Birmingham, the fans and everything, I thought it was a cool experience for the whole team. It was nice to see the fans supporting the local team. They made noise at the game and it was fun.”
The Birmingham Fighting 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 missed an interception and was given an unsportsmanlike penalty for pretending to ride a horse down the New Orleans sideline after his team secured a safety.
“It was a stupid move on my part,” Wright said. “This shouldn’t happen. I’ve 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 a scoreboard.
According to Holtz, this speaks to the league’s competitive balance.
“This league is like NASCAR,” Holtz said. “Everyone has the same engine size. It’s just who does the best job of driving it that week. And this week, these guys did an amazing job of driving it.
“Everyone has talent. Everyone is the same.”
Eric D. Williams has been an NFL reporter for over 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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