Next up, the Double Down Derby where the Birmingham Stallions and Houston Gamblers will look to hold on to their undefeated status. After this game, we’ll see the first loss for a southern division franchise.
Although every game of the season is housed in Birmingham, the Stallions are playing the away team tonight against Houston; giving them a chance to show off their clean away threads.
Clayton Thorson and the Houston Gamblers would start out the game with possession, hoping to get an early lead over their rivals.
The Stallions defense came out strong, seemingly forcing a turnover and a touchdown. After further review, the call was reversed, giving the Gamblers another shot. Unfortunately, on the very next play Thorson threw an interception with Brian Allen grabbing the pick-six for the Stallions.
The extra-point gave Birmingham an early 7-0 lead over Houston with 14:02 left in the 1st quarter.
With not much time off of the clock, Thorson was back on the field for the Gamblers, hoping for a better drive and hopefully some points.
This drive, the coaching staff relied on their running team. This proved to work in their favor with Mark Thompson giving the team a solid 41-yard rush, moving the chains and brining them near the 30 and well within striking distance.
Although the running game was working, it wasn’t working enough to find the end zone. Coach Sumlin ultimately relied on his kicking unit with Nick Vogel knocking it through the uprights from 50-yards out.
The kickoff return initially looked promising for Birmingham, but after the flag the run was pulled way back to the 25.
J’Mar Smith came back in for the Stallions, coming off his hot week 1 performance looking to continue where he left off. CJ Marable saw a good amount of action on this drive, moving the chains on at least a couple occasions.
Now at mid-field, the team had a new set of downs thanks to their strong running game.
This is when the Gamblers defense came in clutch. J’Mar Smith went back to his passing game, only to get intercepted by Will Likely, giving the Gamblers the first lead of the night.
After making a long 50-yard field goal attempt, Nick Vogel kicked the ball off the uprights. Regardless, the Gamblers now held a 9-7 lead with 7:57 left in the first.
J’Mar Smith, now behind, had another chance with control to get his team back into the game.
The drive started out promising, moving the marker both by ground and air. The team was able to make their way into the red zone, but the Gamblers defense once again proved to be too much for their to handle. Coach Holtz ultimately had to lean on his kicking unit to add to their score.
Brandon Aubrey came in for the first time for the Stallions, grabbing three more and the slim lead for Birmingham.
Thorson came in looking to make am impact. He looked a bit shaky at times, but took a chance to air it out. He didn’t complete, but the Stallions defense committed a late hit giving the team a fresh set of downs near mid-field.
When presented with no passing option, Thorson moved quick bringing the team within a yard of another first down. Their running game ultimately moved the chains to close out the first quarter.
Thorson picked up where he left off. On the second play of the quarter, he aired it out and found Isaiah Zuber in the end zone for their first offensive score of the night.
J’Mar Smith once again looked solid to start out this drive. Just when it looked like the Houston defense was going to get a big stop, they were slapped with an illegal blocking call giving Birmingham a fresh set of downs and 15-yards.
On the very next play, the Gamblers forced a fumble on a big sack, but could new gain possession. This put the Stallions as 3r & 24. Smith went long on the next play, but could not find the receiver at the end of the field.
Thorson was looking smooth on his next drive, but after some confusion and a timeout he ended up giving up an interception after a tipped ball.
Smith now had another chance to get his team the lead before the half. He was able to move the chains, but enough for six. Coach Holtz once again called out the kicking unit. Brandon Aubrey good once again, bringing them within two.
.@Brandon_Aubrey puts another one through the uprights to bring the Stallions within ✌️
Now in good scoring potion, Coach Sumlin opted to put Kenji Bahar in at QB. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much to get the offense moving. The team ultimately turned to their kicking unit to add to their lead.
The Houston defense continued to put pressure on J’Mar Smith, almost forcing another turnover. The drive ended with a quick three and out, wit a punt back to Houston.
Bahar came back in at QB on this drive, once again relying heavily on the running game. They were able to move the chains, but there wasn’t a lot of time on the clock to get very far. Coach Sumlin called a timeout with 38 seconds left to regroup with his team.
They once again went back to their ground game, moving the chains, and in the USFL that stops the clock under two-minutes. After some pressure, Bahar was pushed back and forced to throw it away, wasting a lot of time on the clock. With 4-seconds left, the Gamblers went deep but could not connect.
The Stallions would start out the second half with possession and a chance to retake the lead. Starting out the drive, the team went back to their success in rushing the ball. On third down, Smith aired it out, only to find Osirus Mitchell int he end zone. Coach Holtz went for two, but the offense could not get it done. The Stallions now held a 1-point lead over the Gamblers with plenty of time left in the half.
Kenji Bahar and the Gamblers offense could not find their rhythm to start out the half. After a few attempts, they were forced to punt the ball back to the Stallions.
J’Mar came back in and looked like he was on a mission. He was controlling the offense, moving the chains on many occasions. With the team now withing a few yards of the end zone, Smith handed it off to CJ Marable to secure the score. The extra-point put them up 26-18 over the Gamblers.
The team relied on their ground game, and it was helping getting the offense moving in a positive direction. After Bahar’s first completion, he came out of the game after a hit to the helmet
Thorson now back in the game, and the team at 1st & goal he came close to finding his receiver. The next try didn’t bode any better. The Stallions defense was just too much, the Gamblers had to get the points where they could so they brought in the kicker.
Nick Vogel once again came in clutch for his team, knocking it in from 24-yards.
The Gamblers had possession again, and it was officially announced that Kenji Bahar would not return tonight. Clayton Thorson was back in at QB, and initially struggled. That was until he went long, only to find his receiver and another score. The extra-point brought them within five and plenty of time to go in the matchup.
Birmingham still had a slim lead, but J’Mar Smith wanted to add some padding. With plnty of time to go in the game, Smith was moving the ball by ground and air keeping his team on the field. Around midfield, the Stallions luck ran dry with the Gamblers getting a much needed stop and forcing a punt.
Wadman came out strong for BHam, pinning Houston back with his punt.
It looked as if the Gamblers may be able to fight back, but Thorson ended up throwing another interception. This allowed the Stallions to kneel out the rest of the clock and staying undefeated on the season.
At the end of the day, it was a very competitive matchup. Houston may not have pulled it out, but they look like they could be trouble for the rest of the league. Birmingham and J’Mar Smith continued to shine, and they could be a force to reckon with considering they’ll have home field advantage for the rest of the season.
What was your favorite moment of the Double Down Derby? Let us know down in the comments below or join the conversation on Discord.