The New Orleans Breakers’ players made it clear all week: this game was personal. After losing to the Birmingham Stallions three times last year, including in the USFL South Division playoff game, the Breakers had this date circled on their calendars for months. When they hit the field on Saturday, it showed.
It turned out to be the Breakers’ day, but the defending champion Stallions could not have asked for a better start. Deon Cain received the opening kickoff and took it back 82 yards to the house, giving the Stallions a 7-0 just 11 seconds into the game. It was just the second kickoff to be returned for a touchdown in the newest iteration of the USFL. The first was by Victor Bolden—the Stallions’ All-USFL return man last year—in the South Division playoff game against the Breakers a year ago.
Breakers coach John DeFilippo went up and down the sideline telling his team not to panic, and they did not. In fact, they responded almost as quickly, scoring on a five-play, 53-yard drive that only took two minutes and 32 seconds. The Stallions had the Breakers in a third-and-eight situation on the cusp of field goal range, but Breakers quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson found Lee Morris in between the safeties for a 40-yard touchdown.
The Stallions did not waste any time striking back, as quarterback Alex McGough hit wide receiver Davion Davis on a nifty screen pass that he was able to turn into a 46-yard gain. The Stallions couldn’t punch it in from the seven-yard line, though, and had to settle for a field goal, bringing the game to 10-7.
On the Breakers’ second possession, they cooked up a recipe the Stallions had no answer to all game: give the ball to Wes Hills. Starting at their own 37-yard line, Hills rushed the ball six times and caught one pass, racking up 63 yards and a touchdown in the process. That made it 14-10, and the Stallions did not lead the game again after that point.
Touchdown Wes Hills! 🙌 What a drive for Wes Hills, 63-total yards capped off with the TD! 😤 #GeauxBlueWave
After a pair of punts, Alex McGough made his biggest mistake of the game. Dropping back to pass, McGough did not see Breakers linebacker Jerod Fernandez in coverage and threw the ball right into his arms for his first interception of the season. The Breakers took over at the Stallions 39-yard line but could not convert a first down and had to settle for a field goal.
After a Stallions punt, the Breakers got the ball back with a chance to go up by two scores. However, on second down, Bethel-Thompson was leveled by Stallions cornerback Lorenzo Burns on a blitz, and an errant throw became an acrobatic Donnie Lewis interception. The Stallions scored four plays later to tie the game at 17.
With only 3:39 remaining in the half, it seemed like things might be done before the break. But both offenses did not plan on slowing down. The Breakers only needed four Bethel-Thompson passes to go 75 yards down the field and score, making it 24-17.
However, the Breakers left too much time on the clock for the Stallions. With a minute and a half to go, McGough executed a textbook two-minute drive and hit his favorite target, Jace Sternberger, in the back of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown, tying the game up at 24.
The New Orleans Breakers got the ball to start the third quarter and picked up right where they left off. Behind Bethel-Thompson’s arm and Hills’ legs, they marched 54 yards down the field. Like on their first possession, Bethel-Thompson found Lee Morris again in the middle of the field, hitting him for a 34-yard touchdown and taking back the lead 31-24.
The Stallions were unable to answer and had to punt the ball away. Coach Holtz tried to dial up a fake punt play, but a false start penalty prevented the Stallions from attempting it. After the punt, the Breakers put together another impressive drive, this one eight plays and 80 yards. Hills produced over 50 of those yards and punched it in from one yard out, making it 38-24.
The Stallions finally got things rolling in the fourth quarter, mostly behind Davion Davis’s acrobatics. Faced with a third-and-sixteen, McGough bought time with his legs before launching the ball downfield to Davis. Davis went up and made a spectacular catch, bringing in the 50-50 ball. Two plays later, McGough found Davis in the endzone to make it a one-score game, 38-31.
The Stallions seemed to regain momentum, and after a holding penalty and some incomplete passes, had the Breakers facing a third-and-20. There were still around 11 minutes in the game. Assuming the Stallions got a stop, they could get the ball back and tie it up at 38. However, a defensive pass interference call on Brian Allen gave the Breakers an automatic first down. Two more penalties on the Stallions secondary and several Wes Hills rushes later, the Breakers were able to find the end zone, making it a two-score game once again, 45-31.
THREE TOUCHDOWNS for Wes Hills today 😤 This is his second consecutive game with 3 TDs 😤
McGough was sacked twice on the ensuing possession, and the Stallions had to punt it away. Like the rest of the day, Hills could not be stopped, and the Breakers were able to run out the clock to finish the game.
IN THE TRENCHES
After the game, Stallions coach Skip Holtz credited the Breakers for being the more physical team and dominating the line of scrimmage. That certainly was the case, and the game stats go a long way to prove it. While the Breakers and Stallions were fairly even in the passing game and both had one turnover, the Breakers dominated time of possession 36:36 to 23:24. They ran for 200 yards while the Stallions only produced 46. The Breakers had four sacks while the Stallions had none. What happened in the trenches was the difference in the game as the Breakers could run the ball at will while the Stallions struggled to keep the Breakers’ defense out of the backfield.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
This award must go to Breakers running back Wes Hills. Hills had 34 carries for 191 yards and three touchdowns. He also had three catches for 16 yards, putting him over 200 total yards. He simply looked unstoppable against the Stallions defense and carried the Breakers to victory.
The Stallions scored their final touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter to make it a one-score game, 31-38. On the Breakers’ first series of the next drive, they had a holding call and two incomplete passes to bring up a third-and-20. Bethel-Thompson launched a ball deep to Jonathan Adams but was off the mark. It looked like the Stallions were going to get the ball back with 11 minutes to go in the game down one touchdown. However, a defensive pass interference call gave the Breakers a first down and new life. Hills ran the Breakers down the field and put the game away with his third score, making it 45-31.
NEW ORLEANS BREAKERS STAT LEADERS
– McLeod Bethel-Thompson finished the game 20/28 for 283 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
– Lee Morris led the team with two catches for 74 yards and two touchdowns.
– Greg Eisworth II had eight tackles and forced a fumble.
– Jerod Fernandez had five tackles, an interception, and one pass deflection.
BIRMINGHAM STALLIONS STAT LEADERS
– McGough finished 17/26 for 238 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
– Davion Davis led all receivers with five catches on five targets for 123 yards and a touchdown.
– Tyree Robinson had 10 tackles and one pass deflection.
– Donnie Lewis II had three tackles, one pass deflection, and one interception.
– Deon Cain returned eight kickoffs for 236 yards, including one touchdown.
The Stallions did not appear to sustain any major injuries. McGough went to the injury tent early in the game with what looked to be a concussion, but he passed the protocol and returned to the game the next series.
The Stallions will look to bounce back next week against the Pittsburgh Maulers. The Breakers hope to keep things rolling against the New Jersey Generals. Both games will take place in Canton, OH.
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