New Jersey Battles Birmingham In USFL Debut

By Terrance Turner

April 16, 2022

The United States Football League (USFL) launched its first season today, as the New Jersey Generals faced the Birmingham Stallions in Birmingham, Alabama.

The action started almost immediately when Generals quarterback Luis Perez launched a 49-yard pass to wide receiver Randy Satterfield. That dramatic play was followed by a surprise: the Generals switched quarterbacks. De’Andre Johnson ran deftly down the field for a first down. But the Generals’ next play went awry when the runner was tackled for a loss. New Jersey made up some ground on the next play, but needed one m ore yard for the first down.

New Jersey decided to go for it on 4th down. On 4th and 1, the Generals attempted a running play — and succeeded. They advanced to first and goal, less than five yards from the end zone. Perez threw a strike to Satterfield, who made the catch before colliding with a Birmingham defender — who knocked the wind out of him.

Satterfield was slow getting up on the play. He strayed bent over on the field for several minutes; eventually medical staff had to tend to him. After a few minutes, Satterfield was seen jogging off the field — a welcome sign that he had avoided serious injury.

The Birmingham Stallions took over. They, too, got to work immediately. Quarterback Alex McGough (pronounced mac-goo) hurled the ball to Osirus Mitchell for a 35-yard touchdown. That score evened up the score, tying the game at seven apiece.

McGough was later injured on the play. While mic’ed up, McGough could be heard saying that he’d suffered an ankle injury. He hobbled off the field, limping to the point where he needed assistance. He stayed in the game, but was later intercepted by New jersey Generals safety Shalom Luani.

The Generals capitalized on that turnover with a scoring drive. Facing a third-and-7 from the Stallions’ 13-yard-line, Luis Perez rolled to his right before finding tight end Braeden Bowman in the end zone for the touchdown. That TD gave the Generals a 14-7 lead.

The Stallions offense stalled after two wayward plays. The ball slipped out of McGough’s hands on one, and Birmingham managed to maintain possession. But on the very next play, McGough’s pass was nearly intercepted (twice!) by two different defenders. Though their offense was unable to convert, their defense came up big: Stallions inside linebacker Scooby Wright tackled Perez, forcing a fumble. The fumble was recovered by safety Nathan Holley, who won Most Outstanding Rookie in 2020 during his time with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders

Holley notched another standout defensive play on the ensuing series. With De’Andre Johnson in at quarterback for the Generals, the long snapper threw a high snap. As Johnson was trying to reach up and catch the ball, Holley dove for his legs, forcing Johnson to react. Johnson tried to hurdle Holley but ended up flipping in midair and falling to the ground. The Generals lost nine yards on that play.

The Stallions eventually took over possession and embarked on a drive that took up the rest of the second quarter. The clock continued to run, making the announcers wonder why neither coach called a timeout until the last few seconds. Birmingham moved down the field but was unable to score a late-period touchdown. So they settled for a field goal — which the kicker missed! It was still 14-7 at the half.

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In a remarkably interactive experience, USFL mics and cameras allowed the viewers to hear the coach as he was calling plays. At the beginning of the third quarter, that meant hearing Generals coach Mike Riley (the winningest coach in Oregon State history) call plays. “Deuce right, 22 topper,” he told the team. (As one announcer explained, that means a zone read: either the quarterback’s going to be running, or he’s going to hand it off.)

As it turned out, he was right. It was De’Andre Johnson who did the running, picking up major yardage on play after play. He helped propel the Generals to first and goal. It was all for naught: on 4th and goal, the Generals kicker missed his second kick of the night, leaving a 12-play drive scoreless. It was still 14-7.

On the Stallions drive, Osirus Mitchell again made some big plays, including a 30-yard diving catch that took it to first and goal at the five-yard line. Running back CJ Marable powered his way into the end zone for the touchdown (the first rushing TD of the night for either team). An extra-point kick tied the game at 14.

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Running back Darius Victor wore down the Stallions defense with a number of big rushes, propelling the Genera to first and goal. Then QB DeAndre Johnson put his own legs to use, running his way past defenders and into the end zone. That rushing touchdown gave New Jersey the lead, 21-14, with 9:14 remaining.

The Stallions overcame a stout Generals defense to score. With J’Mar Smith in at quarterback, Birmingham launched a scoring drive. Tight end Cory Angeline had a 28-yard catch-and-run to tie the game at 21 with 5:51 left.

The Generals got the ball. “Look for the tight end,” Riley told his team. “Trio right, 21 jet, hero!” Apparently that meant that Johnson would take off for a first down instead of throwing to the tight end. He picked up another first down on the next play. Johnson later run again, but would be stopped just short of the first-down marker. This time kicker Rose made the field goal (barely) from 47 yards, to make it 24-21. The Generals led by three with 1:49 left.

With the clock ticking, the Stallions started their drive. CBS Sports writer Bryan DeArdo noted that they were helped by strong running and a penalty on the New Jersey defense: “A good run and a face mask penalty picks up 22 yards for the Stallions. They’re at the Generals 20 with 48 seconds left.” They wound up on 3rd and 10, thanks to two overthrown passes, but Marable got the first down. J’Mar Smith ran in for the game-winning touchdown with 23 seconds left. The Stallions won, 28-24.

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