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Birmingham claims back-to-back USFL championships, beating Maulers 28-12

By Mike Longo Jr.

Canton, Ohio – In the event you were looking for all the pomp and circumstance associated with the NFL Super Bowl, you suffered great disappointment. However, the United States Football League (USFL) did a great job in hosting its year-end title game to crown the league champion July 1.

The week leading up to the big game wasn't a celebrity watch to see who would attend. No gala super-star-laden parties, no extravagant half-time show, no standing room only sell-out crowd. Certainly no outrageously overpriced tickets.

Like its NFL counterpart, this championship game did have a pre-game concert. Country/pop singer Dylan Scott performed to the delight of fans of all ages. It did have fireworks and confetti, and at the conclusion, a player was named MVP and a champion hoisted the silver trophy on a stage at mid-field.

Although Pittsburgh fans made the hour-and-a-half trek each way, it wasn't a total lost cause other than the score. There was much to see and do leading up to kick-off.

Canton, more specifically the Tom Benson Stadium located adjacent to the Professional Football Hall of Fame, was the site of the 2023 USFL Championship.

The turf at Benson Stadium was no stranger to the Pittsburgh Maulers as it served as home field for the 2023 regular season.

Maulers receiver Ishmael Hyman hauls in a pass.

On championship night, the turf was as unfriendly as the opponents from Birmingham as the Maulers were soundly defeated by the Stallions 28-12. The win gave Birmingham back-to-back USFL championships in a league that is only in its second year since its rebirth.

Rebounding from last year's horrendous finish of just one win (1-9) the Maulers' 2023 season did a 180-degree turnaround. They won the North Division regular season title and playoffs, reached the championship game, and boasted the league's number-one defense. Eluding them this season, however, was the one thing they most desired – the championship trophy as the league's best.

This contest started off slow without either team showing much of an offensive output. The first quarter closed with the Maulers holding a slim 3-0 lead courtesy of a Chris Blewitt field goal.

Birmingham, the league's best team wire-to-wire, woke up in the second quarter. Quarterback Alex McGough, the league MVP, connected on a pair of touchdown passes good for 14 points.

On the flip side, the Maulers added two more field goals thanks to Blewitt and trailed by a score of 14-9 at intermission. Pittsburgh's offense never got out of the gate in that half, but hopes were still high entering the second half as they were down by a mere five points.

Defense wins championships and the Stallions were relentless in the third and fourth quarters limiting Pittsburgh to yet another field goal. Birmingham's elite, deadly combination of McGough and Deon Cain connected again on a touchdown pass in the third quarter

Scoreboard read Stallions, 21 – Maulers, 12 with Birmingham in control of the ball. Pittsburgh looked to close the gap and were oh-so-close to making this a tight contest once again.

A huge hit by the Maulers' Reuben Foster forced a fumble which was picked up by Linemen Olive Sagapolu who went rambling toward paydirt. Obviously running out of steam, Sagapolu opted to lateral the ball to teammate Eli Walker who raced to the endzone for an apparent touchdown.

Pittsburgh, thinking they closed the deficit to three points, had the call reversed upon review as it was ruled a forward lateral and no touchdown. Birmingham kept possession and a 12-point lead but failed on the rest of the drive.

Standing fast with a relentless style of defensive play, Birmingham forced a turnover on a fourth-quarter Maulers drive. The final nail in the Pittsburgh coffin was a 40-yard bomb from Stallions Quarterback McGough to Receiver Cain with under seven minutes remaining. That touchdown pass put the game to rest as it was the final score of the contest.

The lone bright spot for the Maulers was the efforts of Kicker Blewitt who nailed four field goals producing all of Pittsburgh's points. His only blemish was a miss from 48-yards out.

Pittsburgh could manage a mere 202 yards of offense for the game accounting for the 12-point total.

Stallions McGough would finish the game with four touchdown passes, three to Cain as he was 18 of 25 passing for 243 yards. Cain was the recipient of four catches, three of those touchdowns good for 70 total yards receiving.

Cain, with his 171 all-purpose yards, was named the game’s MVP.

Now that the spring football season is officially over, attention will once again focus on the NFL's upcoming training camp and season.

For the Maulers they can only think about what might have been and focus on next year. Unfortunately, they have the rest of the summer and the entire winter to dwell on the loss.



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