CANTON, Ohio — The Pittsburgh Maulers suffered a crushing defeat in USFL Championship game to the Birmingham Stallions, 28-12, in a game that would have brought the Maulers their first championship in the updated version of the USFL.
The game got off to a slow start offensively, with the Maulers icing most of the first quarter with a 16 play, 60 yard drive that took nearly 10 minutes off the clock. However, it only ended in a field goal, with the Maulers getting as close as the one-yard line.
Over their next six possessions, the Maulers drove multiple times, but settled for five field goal attempts after reaching inside Birmingham’s 35-yard line each time. Maulers kicker Chris Blewitt nailed four field goals, going 4 of 5 on the day, including two kicks of 50-plus yards.
Early in the second quarter, the Stallions made quick work of the Maulers defense, marching 85 yards on five plays. Quarterback Alex McGough connected with Davion Davis on a 42-yard score to put the Stallions on top 7-3. After another Maulers field goal, the Stallions extended their lead when McGough found former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Deon Cain for a three yard score with 30 seconds left.
Pittsburgh went three-and-out, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Nate Brooks extended the drive, putting them in field goal range. Blewitt sunk a 55-yard field goal to chip into the Stallions 14-9 lead at halftime.
McGough ended the first half a crisp 10 for 12 with 2 touchdowns and 138 yards. The Stallions averaged 8.7 yards per play while the Maulers checked in at only 3.6 yards per play despite leading time of possession in the first half of the game by over 13 minutes.
The Stallions continued their momentum out of halftime. Running backs Ricky Person Jr. and C.J. Marable ripped off a combined 58 yards on six rushes. McGough finished it off by finding Cain in the corner of the end zone on a back shoulder fade for his second touchdown on the night to extend the Stallions lead 21-12.
Pittsburgh seemed to have an answer on the Stallions’ next drive, as Reuben Foster snagged a strip sack of McGough that Olive Sagapolu picked up and took back to the 33-yard line before handing it off to Eli Walker. Walker scored, but it was reversed due to a forward handoff. After the turnover, Maulers quarterback Troy Williams was sacked and Blewitt missed a 48-yard field goal.
Late in the fourth quarter, Birmingham was not done. McGough rolled out to his right and found Cain again for a 40-yard touchdown near the front pylon in the endzone, notching his third touchdown of the night to extend the lead to 28-12. On the final Pittsburgh possession, Birmingham Defensive end JoJo Tillery forced the game-ending fumble for the Stallions.
McGough impressed on the evening, finishing 16 of 23 for 230 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions thrown. Meanwhile, Williams struggled to get going, completing 24 of 37 for 143 yards while adding 4 rushes for 38 yards on the ground.
Birmingham’s rushing attack was efficient, notching 152 yards on just 23 rushes, good enough for 6.3 yards per carry. They finished the day averaging 9.8 yards per rush once sacks were disregarded. The Maulers never found an answer for the play action game, as the Stallions averaged over 12 yards per completion.
Cain led the way in the game as a receiver, posting 70 yards on 4 catches with three touchdowns. For the Maulers, Isiah Hennie racked up 56 yards on 7 catches. The team finished averaging under 4 yards per play after failing to cash in at any point in the endzone.
The Maulers went 4-6 in 2023 in their second season of the reborn USFL, reaching the league’s championship game under first-year head coach Ray Horton. They captured their first conference title in 2023 in the new version of the USFL reboot by defeating the Michigan Panthers 31-27 last week.