Folks, the USFL’s season is finally upon us. All of the anticipation has led up to this very moment. The USFL kicked off tonight with the Birmingham Stallions taking on the New Jersey Generals at Protective Stadium.
With brand new leagues, it is difficult to gauge which teams will perform at a higher level heading into the season. However, with both Birmingham and New Jersey featuring quality players, we knew it was going to be an exciting match from the get go – and it certainly was.
Led by head coaches Mike Riley & Skip Holtz, both teams hit the field for the first time this season. The crowd was surprisingly loud for a hub city, as Birmingham showed up in large numbers for their hometown Stallions.
Birmingham wanted in on the action as well, so they got to work efficiently. On just the second play from scrimmage, Alex McCough threw a long ball to Osiris Mitchell, who made an incredible one-handed catch for the score – tying the game at seven a piece.
Both teams then followed those exciting drives up with three and outs, as the defenses tightened things up after those first scores. DeMarquis Gates (a spring football legend), got a big sack on Perez, forcing the Generals to punt again. Most of the first quarter was a slugfest after the explosive start.
To start the second period, the Generals were forced to punt. However they got the ball back very quickly, as Shalom Luani came up with an interception.
Brandon Bowman, a former tight end for the NY Jets, played a crucial role on the ensuing drive. Perez found him on multiple occasions, before throwing a dart to the endzone on a 3rd and 6, putting New Jersey back on top 14-7.
In the first half, Perez looked quite sharp, showing poise and confidence despite facing plenty of pressure.
Birmingham once again was forced to punt, and New Jersey looked like they were going to take advantage. Satterfield continued to dominate offensively, making a couple of grabs that put the Generals in scoring territory.
However, Scooby Wright forced a fumble as Perez scrambled, and the Stallions created a much-needed turnover.
While Birmingham’s defense did a solid job of keeping the Generals contained, offensively they were a mess. Neither quarterback could get anything going for the Stallions. Missed throws piled up, causing Birmingham to punt the ball on every possession.
Perez led the Generals down the field quickly on their final drive of the half, but kicker Nick Rose shanked his first attempt wide left, leaving the score at 14-7 heading into halftime.
Birmingham was treated to some disappointing news at halftime. Alex McGough, starting quarterback, was ruled out for the remainder of the game due to an ankle injury.
J’Mar Smith filled in, but his struggles continued. The Stallions went three-and-out on their opening drive, failing to generate much offense at all.
New Jersey slowly but surely marched down the field, powered by DeAndre Johnson’s effective RPO abilities. However, Nick Rose missed another field goal, leaving the Generals empty on another possession.
The Stallions took advantage of the Generals’ miscues. Smith came alive, finding Mitchell for multiple large gains on the drive. After a long drought, Birmingham scored on a five yard run from CJ Marable, tying the game up at 14 a piece.
New Jersey found a rhythm in the fourth period, as they fluidly marched down the field. Considering Roses’ struggles, the team went for it on fourth down in Birmingham territory, and successfully picked up the necessary yardage.
DeAndre Johnson stepped into his role as secondary QB excellently, as it allows for New Jersey’s offense to mix things up compared to the schemes run while Perez is at the helm.
Johnson and Darius Victor exposed Birmingham’s defense, and Johnson found the endzone on a scramble putting the Generals back on top.
If you thought Birmingham was going to go away, you’d be wrong. J’Mar Smith really stepped up down the stretch, leading the Stallions right back down the field. Smith threw a dot to Cary Angeline, who stumbled into the endzone. With under six minutes left, the game was tied at 21.
Johnson stayed in the game for the Generals, and looked like the USFL’s version of Lamar Jackson. He effortlessly ran the football through multiple coverages – it didn’t matter what Birmingham tried to do to stop him.
Nick Rose, after struggling all night, knocked through a clutch 47 yard field goal. With under two minutes left, New Jersey grabbed hold of a 24-21 lead.
The Generals grab the lead with a go-ahead field goal with less than two minutes left! #USFLOpeningWeekend
Once again – if you thought the game was over…think again. J’Mar Smith put the team on his back, marching the Stallions down the field in record time. With under 30 seconds left, Smith found some daylight, and ran it in for the go-ahead score.
Luis Perez: Perez was simply sensational tonight, when all was said and done. The journeymen quarterback stepped into his starting role seamlessly, throwing accurate passes while dissecting Birmingham’s defense efficiently. Outside of a few offensive missteps, Perez proved that he is one of the USFL’s best quarterbacks. Perez threw for over 170 yards and two scores in his USFL debut.
Shalom Luani: The aggressive defender was all over the place tonight, making plays in the backfield while simultaneously covering ground at a fast pace. He racked up eight tackles, and an interception on a stat filled night.
J’Mar Smith: After a rocky start, Smith was exceptional down the stretch. He finished the night with over 150 yards through the air, alongside two total touchdowns. If it wasn’t for the playmaking abilities that Smith showed during the fourth quarter, Birmingham would have lost the game.
When all is said and done, the USFL could not have asked for a better debut. Both teams displayed plenty of talent. Mike Riley and Skip Holtz are two excellent coaches, and showed that to the world tonight.
New Jersey definitely could have benefitted from passing the ball more frequently in the second half. Ultimately, Birmingham found a way to win, even though it wasn’t always pretty.
After tonight’s matchup, the Stallions improve to 1-0 on the season, while the Generals are now 0-1. Make sure to tune in tomorrow, as we have day full of USFL content with three games! It should be quite entertaining.
Did you enjoy watching the USFL’s debut? Will you be watching any of the matchups tomorrow? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!