USFL Semifinals: Philadelphia Stars stage huge upset; Birmingham Stallions hold on for gritty win

The United States Football League’s first-ever postseason kicked off this past weekend, and it was a treat including not only outstanding football but the upset of the year.

Both games had amazing football in all three phases including an astounding three special teams touchdowns in the two games.

We’ll recap every big moment of the two battles below.

Philadelphia Stars 19, New Jersey Generals 14

Kicking off the semifinals weekend, we had a great one. The familiar foes of the North faced off for the third time after New Jersey had won both regular-season matchups. Philadelphia came into the game a firm 4.5-point underdog, but fans wouldn’t have guessed that once the game got underway.

The first quarter highlights were delivered by both teams’ defenses. After the Stars’ opening drive, which ended in a 38-yard field goal, there were no glimpses of the red zone. At the start of the second quarter, the Generals’ high-flying offense began to look like themselves again as quarterback Luis Perez marched the ball down the field. Then things went sideways… literally. Perez got obliterated as he let the ball go, forcing the ball to land right in the hands of Mazzi Williams for the interception which he returned to the red zone. Philly quarterback Case Cookus took it in himself giving the Stars a surprising 10-0 lead as the two headed to the locker room for halftime.

Halftime didn’t fix New Jersey’s woes as Cameron Echols-Luper fumbled the ball on the kickoff, giving it up to the Stars. However, the Generals’ defense was able to return that hit on Perez to Cookus which forced him into throwing an interception to Mike Bell Jr. That hit would end up taking Cookus out of the game for some time.

New Jersey quickly capitalized after a bomb from Perez to Darius Shepard followed by a Darius Victor touchdown. The Generals’ defense again made a statement forcing yet another turnover thanks to a fumble forced by Paris Ford. But New Jersey’s offense was unable to cash it in this time, giving the ball back to a reentered Cookus and Philly offense.

Cookus came out firing going into the fourth quarter following a 50-yard dot right into the hands of Diondre Overton. Ultimately though, they jogged off the field with nothing to show for it after Luis Aguilar botched the field goal. After three consecutive back and forth stagnant drives for the two teams, the Stars were forced to punt. The biggest issue… they were punting to USFL MVP and former European Football League star Kavontae Turpin. Turpin made defenders look foolish as he ran it back to give New Jersey their first lead of the game at 14-10. Philly was able to answer however as they kicked through a field goal cutting the Generals’ lead to only one. Then the Stars’ defense stepped up. Thanks to a much-needed sack by Adam Rodriguez, the Generals were forced to punt the ball back to Cookus’ offense. With just two minutes to go, New Jersey punted the ball to Maurice Alexander, who was set to prove Turpin wasn’t the only special teams star. Alexander took the punt back 88 yards for a touchdown in what was most likely the biggest play of his life.

Philly was back on top 19-14. The Stars‘ defense had to step up one more time… and they did. Rodrguez again got to Perez forcing him to throw an interception right to Amani Dennis clinching the victory. Philly proved that the third time’s the charm in this North Division rivalry as they’re headed to the USFL championship game.

Birmingham Stallions 21, New Orleans Breakers 14

 The Birmingham-New Orleans regular-season battles were both great games. The Stallions were able to win both but barely. Both games were defensive battles that at times looked sloppy. The Breakers were five-point underdogs going into Saturday night’s matchup. However, the Stallions recent ugly games made it seem like it could be a lot closer.

The first quarter opened with a strong Birmingham running game thanks to CJ Marable. However, after making it into New Orleans territory they couldn’t cash in. After Brandon Aubrey just missed a 52-yard field goal, they went away with nothing. The Breakers’ opening drive looked a little different. Thanks to a solid start from quarterback Kyle Slotter and help from the league leader in rushing, Jordan Ellis, New Orleans went up 7-0.

The second quarter began in the middle of an impressive Stallions drive. Thanks again to the ground game, this time Bo Scarborough, Birmingham was marching. The possession was capped off with quarterback J’Mar Smith finding a wide-open Osiris Mitchell in the endzone, tying the game at seven apiece. On the Breaker’s next possession, Kyle Slotter’s season struggles began to show once again. He forced a throw that ended up being picked off by DeMarquis Gates who returned it for six giving the Stallions a 14-7 lead. The New Orleans offense then continued to be their worst enemy after a bad taunting penalty forced them to punt. Luckily for them though, their defense was showing up and gave their offense a stop. Slotter and the offense were able to capitalize this time ending with Jordan Ellis breaking a tackle into the endzone tying the game at 14. The Breakers‘ celebrations lasted about 20 seconds though. With under a minute left in the half, Victor Bolden returned the kickoff for a Birmingham touchdown to give them the lead once more at 21-14.

The Stallions came out of halftime to a long, slow New Orleans drive. Thanks to Slotter making the throws he needed to, the Breakers were able to put together a 10-minute drive. Reading that you might think that would be a huge momentum boost for New Orleans, but they couldn’t find a way to the end zone and had to settle for three.

In the fourth, Birmingham showed that they’re human too. Smith missed a wide-open Victor Bolden for what would’ve been his second touchdown of the day and the team was forced to settle for three too. The Breakers still were in this as it was just a one-possession game at 21-17. However, New Orleans’s next drive was disappointing once again and ended with a punt after picking up a couple of third downs. Then Burnham showed why he nearly had a perfect season. Smith’s offense picked up every necessary first down and slowly drained the clock. With less than a minute left, Smith ran it in himself to seal the Stallions’ ticket to the championship.

A current student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Jordan grew up playing football. He began writing in high school after creating his own website and hopes to continue his pursuit for a career in sports media.