The Salt Lake Stallions traveled to meet the Birmingham Iron to kick off the second week of action in the Alliance of American Football. The Iron entered the game coming off an impressive performance during week one that saw them shutout the Memphis Express, while the Stallions were coming off an opening loss to the Arizona Hotshots where they looked like the most impressive losing team from the opening week.
The Stallions went with a new starting quarterback this week, starting Austin Allen after a hamstring injury to week one starter Josh Woodrum (and ineffective play from back up Matt Linehan in relief last week). Under center for the Iron was quarterback Luis Perez, coming off a relative strong showing in week 1 that saw him throw for over 250 yards without a turnover.
Good Defense… or Poor Offense?
Early on in the game, it seemed that defense would prevail, with neither team able to get much going. The Iron seemed on the verge of scoring first, driving to the Stallions’ 34 yard line on a 13 play, 45 yard drive on their first possession of the game. The drive stalled, however, and the Iron left empty-handed after kicker Nick Novak came up short on a 53-yard field goal attempt.
The ensuing drive for the Stallions seemed to be one that would at least end with a field goal. Four consecutive running plays moved the Salt Lake offense to the Birmingham 11-yard line, with running back Branden Oliver gaining 32 of the 46 yards. However, it was all for naught as Matt Asiata fumbled on the next play, which the Iron recovered.
Finally a Score!
The teams exchanged punts over the next four drives, but the tide seemed to shift when Iron returner Quan Bray muffed a Stallions punt, giving the Stallions the ball on the Birmingham 27 yard line with about 3:30 left in the first half. The Stallions wasted little time taking advantage of the turnover, using four plays to score on a Joel Bouagnon 4-yard run just after the two minute warning. The ensuing conversion attempt failed, and the Stallions led 6-0.
After their next drive stalled, the Iron attempted (and failed) to convert on a fake punt, giving the Stallions another short field. After three incomplete passes, the Stallions settled for a 53-yard field goal attempt by kicker Taylor Bertolet, who converted (tying the league record for longest field goal), and sending the Stallions into the locker room with a 9-0 lead.
Time for some Second Half Fireworks…
The Iron began the second half with the ball, and after yet another three-and-out, punted the ball to the Stallions. The Stallions had a relatively successful drive, moving the ball to the Birmingham 9 yard line before again sputtering to a stop. An attempted field goal was aborted on a bad snap, allowing the Iron defense to escape without allowing any points.
The Iron began their drive from their own 9 yard line, moving to the 35 yard line after a couple of Trent Richardson runs and a 23-yard reception by Richardson. After an Iron timeout, tight end Weslye Saunders caught a pass from Perez, only to fumble on the tackle, which the Stallions recovered.
The Stallions drove the field, again stalling out and settling for a field goal attempt. This time, the Bertolet 50-yard attempt hit the right upright, giving the Iron the ball once again in relatively decent field position. As had been the case nearly all game, the Iron offense failed to convert a first down, and again had to punt. Only this time, it was the Stallions turn to fumble the ball away, with returner De’Mornay Pierson-El fumbling the ball on the tackle and having the ball bound towards the end zone. Shaheed Salmon recovered the ball in the end zone for the Iron, finally getting some points on the board for the home team. The 2-point conversion failed, and the Stallions held a narrow 9-6 lead at the end of the third quarter.
The Stallions again drove the field, and again had to settle for a Bertolet field goal attempt. As the team lined up to attempt a 50-yard field goal, they had a delay of game penalty push them back. Still opting to kick, Bertolet missed the subsequent 55-yard attempt short, giving the Iron another shorter field… which they again failed to capitalize on. The teams exchanged punts (again), and the Iron had the ball on their own 46 yard line.
In their first extended drive since the beginning of the game, the Iron held the ball for nearly six minutes, driving the length of the field on a mix of Trent Richardson runs and Luis Perez passing. On their first – and only – trip into the red zone during the game, the Iron came through with a touchdown, with Trent Richardson scoring on a 2-yard plunge off the right guard for his league-leading third rushing touchdown on the young season. They again failed to convert the conversion, and took a 12-9 lead with just under five minutes remaining in the game.
Ends with a Blah
The Stallions would have one drive left in the game, and a mix of short runs and passes moved them down to the Birmingham side of the field. Again their drive stalled out, and again Tyler Bertolet lined up to kick a field goal. This time, it would be a 48-yard attempt, and he lined up to kick it with about one minute on the clock. Like his previous two attempts, he missed, this time wide left, only this time the kick would have tied the game for this team. The Iron took possession of the ball and were able to run the clock out, with the game ending on an Iron punt (as it probably should have).
Trent Richardson was the offensive star, if you could find one in a game lacking a lot of offense. He ended the game with 91 yards of total offense (41 rushing and 50 receiving) with that game-winning touchdown. Luis Perez was also competent for the Iron, though he failed to reach 200 yards like last week and still does not have a passing touchdown on the season.
The two-headed running back attack for the Stallions seemed to work best for them, especially with Austin Allen struggling a bit in his first start. Running backs Branden Oliver and Joel Bouagnon combined for 129 rushing yards (and Bouagnon’s touchdown), averaging nearly 5.2 yards per carry in the process. It will be interesting to see if Coach Dennis Erickson features the run next week in the home debut, especially considering the struggles from his team’s quarterbacks.
The Salt Lake Stallions (0-2) will look for their first win of the season in their first home game next Saturday against the Arizona Hotshots, a rematch of their Week 1 loss. The Birmingham Iron (2-0) will go on the road for the first time this season for a game against the Atlanta Legends (0-1) on Sunday, February 24th.