Great start for the USFL.
The USFL's first game had just about everything, including a game-winning touchdown in the final minute. The score, courtesy of Stallions quarterback J'Mar Smith, gave the Birmingham Stallions a 28-24, come-from-behind win over the New Jersey Generals.
The two teams combined to score 24 points in the fourth quarter, with Smith's score coming on a 2-yard touchdown run with 29 seconds left. Smith's touchdown came moments after the Generals took the lead on Nick Rose's 47-yard field goal with 1:54 left. Smith then led the Stallions on a game-winning, 59-yard drive while recording the first win of the USFL's 2022 season. The Generals lost despite gaining a jaw-dropping 222 rushing yards that included 98 yards and a score from quarterback De'Andre Johnson.
Saturday's game started with a bang, with Generals quarterback Luis Perez hitting Randy Satterfield for a 48-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage. The drive ended with Satterfield catching a 3-yard touchdown despite taking a nasty lick from a Stallions defender.
The Stallions responded with a big play of their own, a 35-yard touchdown pass from Alex McGough to Osirus Mitchell less than four minutes into the game. New Jersey re-gained the lead by taking advantage of safety Shalom Luani's interception at the start of the second quarter. Facing a third-and-7 from the Stallions' 13-yard-line, Perez rolled to his right before hitting tight end Braedon Bowman in the end zone for the go-ahead score.
With the score tied through three quarters, both teams scored touchdowns to start the fourth quarter. Johnson gave the Generals the lead on a 10-yard run, only to have the Stallions respond less than four minutes later when Smith found tight end Cary Angeline for a 28-yard score. Rose then gave the Generals a 24-21 lead before Smith executed a game-winning two-minute drill.
Here's a full breakdown of what happened Saturday night in Birmingham.
Why the Stallions won
Birmingham's offense scored touchdowns on its last three possessions. Most of the damage was done by Smith, who started in the second half in place of McGough, who was sidelined with an injury. After going 0 of 4 in the first half, Smith completed 11 of 17 passes for 156 yards in the second half. The Stallions also received a big game from Mitchell, who finished the game with 96 yards on five receptions.
Birmingham's defense also came up with a few timely stops. The Generals were threatening to add to their lead before halftime when linebacker Scooby Wright forced a fumble of Perez that was scooped up by safety Nate Holley. With the game tied late in the fourth quarter, the Stallions' defense forced the Generals to settle for a field goal after JoJo Tillery tackled Johnson two yards shy of the first down on third-and-10. Birmingham's defense then forced three incomplete passes on the game's final three plays.
Why the Generals lost
Two missed field goals certainly didn't help the Generals, who led for most of the game. Rose missed a 47-yard field goal on the final play of the first half. He then missed a 23-yard field goal to start the second half.
Rose rewarded coach Mike Riley's faith in him when he made his third attempt with under two minutes left. That being said, Riley may be second-guessing his decision not to go for it in that situation given how much success his offense was having running the football. There was also the surprising disappearing act from Perez, who attempted just three passes in the second half after going 12-of-16 for 142 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
New Jersey's defense, which played lights out in the first half, simply had no answer for Smith, who led Birmingham's offense on scoring drives of 80, 67 and 59 yards in the second half.
The Generals were in control of the game after forcing a Stallions punt to start the second half. New Jersey then drove 75 yards and were in position to add to their lead before Rose missed his second field goal in as many drives. The Stallions' offense seemed to wake up after that, as Birmingham put together a nine-play, 80-yard drive that was punctuated by CJ Marable's 3-yard, game-tying touchdown run. Consecutive completions from Smith to Mitchell for a combined 44 yards set up the score.
Play of the game
Satterfield's catch deserves mention, but the play of the game belongs to Smith, who capped off his big second half by scoring the game-winning touchdown.
The Generals will face the Michigan Panthers next Saturday night. The Stallions will take on the Houston Gamblers next Sunday night.
This Sunday will feature a triple-header of USFL action that starts with the Panthers facing the Gamblers at noon. The New Orleans Breakers will take on the Stars at 4 p.m., while the USFL's opening weekend will commence with a prime time matchup in between the Tampa Bay Bandits and Pittsburgh Maulers.