By Eric D. Williams
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama— The homecoming kings did it again on Saturday.
For a fourth game in a row, the Birmingham Stallions trailed in the second half. And again, the Stallions found a way to a victory, this one a 16-10 defensive battle against the Tampa Bay Bandits.
Stallions move to 4-0 start with 16-10 win over Bandits I USFL Week 4 Highlights
The Birmingham Stallions move to 4-0 after their 16-10 win over the Tampa Bay Bandits. Alex McGough threw for 126 yards and ran for a touchdown in the win.
The Stallions held Tampa Bay to just 158 yards, one offensive touchdown and not a second-half point. Energetic linebacker Scooby Wright led Birmingham with six tackles and a sack.
Following his sack, which came with just under six minutes remaining in the game and Birmingham maintaining a 13-10 lead, the University of Arizona product performed a sack dance which he described as a “shark-dog” – half shark, half dog. Wright says it’s his spirit animal.
“Nobody has more fun on this pitch than Scooby Wright,” said Birmingham head coach Skip Holtz. “He’s fun to coach, but it’s even more fun to watch him play, with the passion and energy he brings every day. I love him.”
The stallions started Alex McGough under center for the first time since injuring his ankle in the season opener. J’Mar Smith had taken over at quarterback during the team’s winning streak.
McGough said he re-injured his ankle on the second game of the match, but fought his way through the contest. The former FIU QB finished 14 of 26 for 126 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. He was sacked four times and had a few missed passes by his receivers.
“It felt good to be back there,” McGough said. “I felt more comfortable as the game went on. In that last practice I started to feel pretty good. Obviously my ankle was hurting, but mentally I was starting to feel it. see it, feel it and get back to it.”
The Bandits jumped on the scoreboard first, going downfield on an eight-play, 39-yard run. Tyler Rausa had a 37-yard field goal to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead.
The Stallions took a 7-3 lead with 1:21 left before halftime on a 17-play, 77-yard run. McGough capped off the practice with a one-yard quarterback for the score.
Alex McGough strikes for the Stallions touchdown
Alex McGough’s rushing touchdown gives the Birmingham Stallions a 7-3 lead over the Tampa Bay Bandits.
The Bandits only took 44 seconds to regain the lead. Tampa Bay went the length of the field on a drive that included Jordan Ta’amu finding tight end Cheyenne O’Grady on a 26-yard chip flicker, then tossing a 9-yard laser to Rashard Davis in the back of the end zone for a score.
The Bandits entered the locker room with a 10-7 halftime lead.
The Stallions opened the second half with a 39-yard field goal from Brandon Aubrey, tying the game at 10-10.
Later in the third quarter, Birmingham benefited from a prominent position on the field with Tampa Bay backed. Victor Bolden returned a punt at the Tampa Bay 27-yard line. Aubrey’s 49-yard field goal with 3:40 left in the third quarter put Birmingham up 13-10.
Aubrey made another field goal, this one from 26 yards, with 59 seconds left, giving the Stallions a six-point lead.
The Bandits won the ball but did not cross midfield.
Kicker Brandon Aubrey shines for the Stallions
While most kickers have struggled so far this USFL season, Aubrey has been Mr. Consistent.
A former Notre Dame and MLS football player, Aubrey’s only miss this season came on 40 yards against Tampa Bay on Saturday. Aubrey leads the USFL, scoring 7 of 8 and scoring all of his extra points.
Pretty impressive for a player who didn’t kick in college and last kicked in a college football game.
Holtz said he had the last selection for kicker in the draft, so he reached out to former NFL kicker and current kicking coach John Carney for advice on who to select.
“If you pick eighth, he said he might not have experience, but he could be the best in the league before it’s all said and done,” Holtz said. “And those words alone, I said ‘Done, my choice is made. … He really committed. If he can handle the pressure, which he has shown he can, he can be really good. He’s been impressive all year.”
The return of Angry Todd
Tampa Bay head coach Todd Haley was visibly frustrated by a handful of calls from the officials early in the game, including the 1-yard touchdown executed by McGough in which he believed the quarterback had failed. not crossed the goal line with the ball.
Haley said his heated conversations with officials date back to “Kansas City Todd,” when Haley served as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs from 2009 to 2011.
“I lost my mind several times,” he said. “I was like old Todd, Kansas City Todd (laughs). I can’t do that.”
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Several players suffered injuries in this hard-hitting match, but miraculously most returned to the pitch.
Tampa Bay offensive lineman Matt Burrell Jr. had to be ejected from the field in the third quarter with a knee injury. However, Burrell came back in impressive fashion with a brace on the affected knee and played.
Tony Brook-James and Tampa Bay linebacker Antonio Reed had a big collision at the line of scrimmage on a Brooks-James run midway through the second half. The coaches watched both players and left the field to enter their respective injury tents. The two came back on the sidelines and played.
Tampa Bay linebacker Travis Feeney suffered a back injury but returned to play.
“I stand back seeing guys laying on their backs to Greg Reaves,” Haley said. “We fear it’s a catastrophic injury and he gets up, comes off the touchline, comes in and plays.
“Matt Burrell gets fired, then I see him walk past me with a brace. How can you not love these guys? They gave it their all to try and win this game.”
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