FOX Sports College Football Analyst
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Birmingham Stallions got it on, banged a gong, and sang that winning song after their 24-20 victory against the New Orleans Breakers on Saturday.
With the win, Birmingham evened their season series with the Breakers and moved into first place in the South Division at 5-2 — while simultaneously knocking the Breakers (4-3) out of first place.
The Breakers couldn’t shake off the Stallions, who put them under pressure with outstanding defense, plus the arm and legs of quarterback Alex McGough.
“I’ve gotta try to get the ‘S’ off of Alex’s chest,” Holtz said. “He tries and wants it so much.”
The Stallions quarterback has proven to be the most valuable player in the Birmingham locker room since taking over the job due to a season-ending injury to J’Mar Smith. But he needed — needs — help. For the second week in a row, he received that from the run game and the defense.
McGough completed 16 of 23 passes and accounted for 198 total yards with two TDs against John DeFilippo’s Breakers.
“We are who our record says we are,” DeFilippo said of his 4-3 team.
Despite rushing for more than 100 yards and passing for 261, the Breakers fell short.
“We spread the ball around, and that’s our goal each week,” DeFilippo said.
Highlights: Alex McGough leads Stallions past Breakers
Defensively, Birmingham linebacker Quentin Poling, a native of Gomer, Ohio, rocked out with 11 tackles, including three tackles for loss, two sacks, and a fumble recovery in the win.
“We’ve been doing a great job as a unit,” Poling said. “We just have to keep growing.”
Despite out-gaining the Stallions 186-96 in the first half, not to mention converting seven of 10 third downs and getting off 40 offensive plays, the Breakers walked into halftime down 10-6 due to two costly turnovers.
With outstanding field position after a Wes Hills fumble and a mistake by the New Orleans punt team, Birmingham needed just 21 plays to put double-digits on the field and build quite a bit of momentum.
The Breakers knew they left points out on the field in the first two quarters. Wideout Jonathan Adams accounted for five catches and 82 yards, and tight end Sage Surratt had four catches and 45 yards in the half. The duo was responsible for catching eight of the 10 completed passes thrown by McLeod Bethel-Thompson for 128 passing yards in the half.
Coming out for the third quarter, it was like Holtz looked down at the stat sheet, saw running back CJ Marable had just four carries, and decided to let the Chanticleer crow. Marable accounted for just 46 total yards against the Breakers a month ago, but he matched that on the ensuing drive alone.
Former North Carolina State running back Ricky Person finished what Marable started on that drive, punching it in to give the Stallions a 17-6 lead in the third.
Marable ended the game with 23 touches for 138 total yards from scrimmage, his second straight game with 100-plus yards.
After a stop by the Birmingham defense on New Orleans’ next possession, the Stallions looked to be putting a Ted Nugent stranglehold on the game. That’s until Breakers defensive back Michael Stevens ripped the ball free of wideout Adrian Hardy to take over possession on the Birmingham 19 yard-line.
The turnover amounted to three points and put New Orleans back on the Stallions’ scent, and here the Breakers come again now, baby. Or so Breakers fans thought, because on the next drive McGough and the offense made like they heard one guitar just blow them away, saw stars in their eyes and decided to become something like jukebox heroes.
McGough started rocking, up eight in the third, scrambling, dipping, ducking and diving to find La’Michael Pettway, and then Myron Mitchell, and then Jace Sternberger — twice — to extend the Stallions’ lead to 24–9 with less than a minute left to play in the third.
Next thing you knew the sound of drums were beating in Birmingham hearts, the thunder of fireworks tearing New Orleans hearts apart — thunderstruck.
The Breakers’ journey is one where they simply don’t stop believing, though, as they quickly marched downfield on the arm and wit of Bethel-Thompson, operating on more than a feeling.
He found wideout Lee Morris for six and then converted the two-point try with a pass to Surratt to make it a one-score game with 12:10 left to play, giving New Orleans fans permission to dream on.
After a defensive stop, the Breakers took possession of the southern rock on their own 35-yard line looking like making a bigger mess than George Thorogood & the Destroyers at a bachelorette party. The Stallions came up with a stop to force a 55-yard field goal but to close the game to 24-20 with 5:40 left to play.
Four inches, fourth down, up four, 1:26 left to play, the Stallions let their defense finish the game. It was a fitting end for a team that had given up 45 points to New Orleans in Week 4.
“That’s the sign of a strong league,” DeFilippo said. “It’s hard every week for sure.”
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