We are LIVE from Canton, Ohio!@RJ_Young breaks down the @USFLStallions win over the @USFLStars in the USFL Championship game.https://t.co/pN2YFaN1MN— The Number One Ranked Show (@numberoneshow) July 4, 2022
USFL championship game 2022 score, takeaways: Stallions surge past Stars in wild finish to win inaugural title
Birmingham overcame a late deficit to capture the USFL title
CANTON, Ohio -- The inaugural championship game of the rebooted USFL had everything: great weather, a packed house, big plays and, most importantly, a thrilling game between the league's top two teams. The night ended with the Birmingham Stallions, the league's best team all season, being crowned the champion after posting a 33-30 win over the Philadelphia Stars.
Down 23-20 late, the Stallions took the lead for good on Victor Bolden's touchdown reception on a pass from quarterback Alex McGough, who was playing in relief of injured starter J'Mar Smith. Linebacker Scooby Wright's pick-six moments later proved to be the game's most important play. Philadelphia, which also finished the game with a backup quarterback after Case Cookus injured his leg, clawed back with a late touchdown. But a missed conversion attempt after the score and a last-minute interception sealed the Stars' fate.
Here's a closer look at what went down on Sunday night.
Smith left the game during the Stallions' second possession of the second half after suffering an injury to his midsection. With Smith on the sideline, the Stallions' drive ended with a missed field goal. The Stars -- who had scored first in every game this season going into the championship -- took their first lead on the ensuing possession, shortly after the start of the fourth quarter.
With Smith still sidelined, backup Alex McGough committed the game's first turnover when he fluttered a pass that was picked off by Stars linebacker Jordan Sewell. But after the Stallions' defense minimized the damage by forcing a punt, McGough responded by throwing the go-ahead score.
Cookus, who had directed consecutive scoring drives prior to his injury, left the game for good after taking a sack with 8:25 left. He was carted off after breaking a bone in his leg. His backup, K.J. Costello, threw the pick-six to Wright on his first attempt of the night. He rebounded with a touchdown pass to Chris Rowland with 1:47 left, but he and his teammates were unable to complete the comeback after his final pass was picked off by safety Christian McFarland with 28 seconds left.
Smith finished with 131 yards and a touchdown on 10 of 18 passing. Cookus overcame a slow start to throw for 222 yards and three scores on 17 of 29 passing.
🗣 LET'S GO @CaptainCookus10 was HYPED after the @USFLStars TD pic.twitter.com/GIzwlkuYsO— USFL (@USFL) July 4, 2022
With the game taking place on Fourth of July weekend, it's fitting that there were plenty of fireworks, especially in the first half. The list of big plays on Sunday night included:
- Bo Scarbrough's 36-yard TD run to give Birmingham a 10-3 lead.
- Jordan Suell's 25-yard TD catch on Philadelphia's ensuing drive.
- Marlon Williams' 41-yard TD catch less than a minute later that gave the Stallions a 17-9 lead.
- Scarbrough's 70-yard run that set up Brandon Aubrey's short FG on the final play of the first half.
- Dexter Williams' 34-yard catch on a screen pass that set up Suell's second TD catch on Philly's first drive of the second half.
- Wright's 46-yard pick-six with under three minutes left.
The FIRST touchdown of the USFL Championship belongs to Bo Scarbrough 😤🔥@starbo06 | @USFLStallions pic.twitter.com/tmOZNwIw8q— USFL (@USFL) July 4, 2022
Given the final score, Stars defensive back Chris Brown is surely kicking himself after dropping a sure interception at the end of the first half. Instead of an interception, the Stallions ended the half with a field goal that stretched their lead to 20-9.
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Strong fan turnout
The USFL's brass have to be happy with the turnout for Saturday's championship game. Most of the 23,000 seats inside Tom Benson Stadium were full by kickoff, as fans took advantage of a perfect northeast Ohio summer evening.
Fans are fired up as we have a close second half for the @USFL title game. pic.twitter.com/abuZ5tcCf2— BryanDeArdo (@BryanDeArdo) July 4, 2022
All three playoff games were played next to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The entirety of the league's 10 week regular season was played in Birmingham, Alabama, which might explain Saturday night's partisan Stallions crowd.
The Stars did manage to cover the 4.5-point spread offered by Caesars Sportsbook.
Quote of the game
The sack of Cookus that resulted in his leg injury wasn't the only big hit Philly's QB took. Before throwing his third TD pass, the Stars' leader got hit in the chin by the top of DeMarquis Gates' helmet on a play where the QB had slid. Gates was called for the penalty. Cookus was asked about checking his teeth after he got up: "I've got my wedding coming up in a couple of days, didn't want my fiancee to kill me," he said.
You can relive all the action in our live blog below.
Stallions Championship gear is on sale now! 🐎🏆— USFL (@USFL) July 4, 2022
Get yours ➡️ https://t.co/W0lb7O7Xzg pic.twitter.com/lYUffvaE3B
There’s no better feeling in the world than a Gatorade bath 🥶 pic.twitter.com/bHT5Tl2Wse— USFL (@USFL) July 4, 2022
EXTRA‼️ EXTRA‼️ READ ALL ABOUT IT‼️ pic.twitter.com/2O5nJ3anRX— Birmingham Stallions (@USFLStallions) July 4, 2022
More Championship postgame coverage NOW with @RJ_Young ⬇️https://t.co/8Y7X30i54E— USFL (@USFL) July 4, 2022
We are LIVE from Canton, Ohio!@RJ_Young breaks down the @stallions win over the @stars in the USFL Championship game. https://t.co/pN2YFaN1MN— The Number One Ranked Show (@numberoneshow) July 4, 2022
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS 🏆 pic.twitter.com/mbn10CA9y6— Birmingham Stallions (@USFLStallions) July 4, 2022
YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP GAME MVP, VICTOR BOLDEN JR. 🙌🐎@vicbolden | @USFLStallions pic.twitter.com/waFF8Tic84— USFL (@USFL) July 4, 2022
What an incredible @USFL season it's been! 🙌@curtmenefee and @joelklatt sign off after a memorable inaugural @USFL season and championship 👋🏈 pic.twitter.com/czfQlSqXiR— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) July 4, 2022
WAVE THAT FLAG 😤 pic.twitter.com/ha1b2SbtzV— Birmingham Stallions (@USFLStallions) July 4, 2022
What a feeling 🏆 pic.twitter.com/jRnySjpCzo— Birmingham Stallions (@USFLStallions) July 4, 2022
THANK YOU, Stars fans, for being the real stars ❤️— Philadelphia Stars (@USFLStars) July 4, 2022
See you next season 🤩 pic.twitter.com/30kb2jOEVH
"He said, 'we're gonna win this game.'"@BrockHuard spoke with both @USFLStallions QBs to get their thoughts after winning the USFL title. 🏆 pic.twitter.com/67sSvZT9rd— Birmingham Stallions (@USFLStallions) July 4, 2022
*CHAMPIONSHIP-WINNING* head coach @CoachSHoltz spoke with @BrockHuard after the @USFLStallions won the 2022 @USFL title. 🏆 pic.twitter.com/B84o3hMWfy— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) July 4, 2022
YOUR USFL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME MVP, @vicbolden 👏🥳@joelklatt catches up with the @USFLStallions's WR after his incredible championship performance to help clinch the title ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/xCjvGlkt8v— USFL (@USFL) July 4, 2022
#NewProfilePic pic.twitter.com/nJ0cs5lz3m— Birmingham Stallions (@USFLStallions) July 4, 2022
THE TROPHY LIFT 🏆— USFL (@USFL) July 4, 2022
The @USFLStallions are USFL CHAMPIONS 🐎🐎🐎 pic.twitter.com/1dlvxSuKxS
The best thing that's happened to anyone anywhere in the history of the universe!!!!! 🐎🏆 pic.twitter.com/aaRoZ0tveI— Birmingham Stallions (@USFLStallions) July 4, 2022
What. A. Championship. 🏆🔥— USFL (@USFL) July 4, 2022
"Teamwork. Team, team, team."@TwoStarScoob spoke with @BrockHuard after becoming a USFL champion! @USFLStallions 🐎 pic.twitter.com/CQVj7BmNYJ— USFL (@USFL) July 4, 2022
YOUR INAUGURAL USFL CHAMPIONS 🐎 #GiddyUp pic.twitter.com/57DtKnofVa— Birmingham Stallions (@USFLStallions) July 4, 2022
THE BIRMINGHAM STALLIONS ARE USFL CHAMPIONS 🏆🐎 pic.twitter.com/HRvmuFhdId— USFL (@USFL) July 4, 2022
We'll have a full breakdown of tonight's game soon. Congrats to the Stallions, Stars and the entire USFL on a successful season.
Stallions come up with the game clinching pick! The celebration has begun for Birmingham.
Surprised the Stallions volunteered to stop the clock. I would have taken a delay of game, punted and tried to pin the Stars deep.
Stars use their last timeout. They can still get the ball back with a stop here. What will be interesting to see is whether or not the Stallions for a long FG if they don't do anything on third down. They've had issues with their kicking game in the second half.
No good! 🛑— USFL (@USFL) July 4, 2022
In the USFL you have another option on top of the onside kick: A 4th & 12 scrimmage play from the 33-yard line
Watch how it played out for the Stars ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/SIoKOma6cD
Stars fourth-and-12 attempt fails, so Stallions take over at the Stars' 33 with 1:37 left.
Stars still have life after Costello hits Chris Rowland for a 12-yard score with 1:43 left.
Scooby Pick Six + Drone Cam = 🔥🔥🔥— USFL (@USFL) July 4, 2022
Can't get enough of these Championship Drone Cam angles ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/l0vSDNAVpu