The Birmingham Iron offense came back to earth in a big way during Saturday’s action, but the still did enough to earn the win. One week after a dominant 26-0 win, Birmingham showed they’re capable of winning ugly. Despite trailing for the majority of the game, the Iron pulled out a 12-9 victory to advance to 2-0. Trent Richardson was the star of the game, scoring the game-winning touchdown while providing several big plays in both the pass and run games. The Stallions, meanwhile, drop to 0-2 on the young season.
First Half Summary
After watching Josh Woodrum and Matt Linehan combine for 159 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions in Week One, the Salt Lake Stallions decided to turn the ball over to Austin Allen. Allen came out of the gate slow, as Salt Lake punted on their first drive. Birmingham hit the ground running, as quarterback Luis Perez quickly got the ball into Salt Lake territory. However, the drive stalled as Perez took two big sacks, forcing a long 53-yard field goal. This is a hard kick for even the most experienced NFL kicker, and Nick Novak couldn’t sink the long field goal.
Salt Lake had enviable field position, but couldn’t make the most of the opportunity. Former Minnesota Vikings running back Matt Asiata fumbled on the fourth play of the drive, and Elijah Campbell recovered the ball. Neither offense could do anything for the majority of the first half, as both teams exchanged punts. However, with 3:45 left in the half, Salt Lake got a break.
After another stalled drive, Salt Lake sent out the punt team on fourth-and-long when Birmingham Iron return man Quan Bray fumbled the punt. Salt Lake recovered at the 27, and rode that momentum into the endzone. Austin Allen found Branden Oliver for a 20-yard screen pass to set up Joel Bouagnon’s three-yard touchdown run. Bouagnon couldn’t convert the two-point conversion, so Salt Lake had to settle for a 6-0 lead.
Birmingham still had 1:56 left in the half and looked to get on the scoreboard. However, Birmingham’s offense couldn’t get the job done, facing fourth down after three plays. Hoping to provide a spark, Birmingham tried to convert the fourth down via fake punt. It didn’t work, as Jacob Hagen was stuffed short of the line-to-gain. Making matters worse, Hagen suffered a nasty leg injury and needed a cart to get off the field.
For the second straight drive, Salt Lake took advantage of the Birmingham miscue and turned it into points. While they couldn’t find the endzone this time, the Stallions added another three points on a Taylor Bertolet 53-yard field goal. Not wanting to do anything crazy, Birmingham went into the half accepting their 9-0 deficit.
The second half started out as more of the same for the Birmingham Iron. Getting the ball to start the half, Birmingham lost eight yards on their opening drive. Salt Lake, however, put together perhaps their best offensive drive of the night. Running the ball down Birmingham’s throat, Salt Lake made it all the way to the eight-yard line before the Iron defense held strong in the red zone. The Stallions were on the verge of a 12-0 lead, but a bad Colten Taylor snap forced a failed attempt. Birmingham lucked out and got the ball back, trailing just 9-0.
Birmingham couldn’t do anything with their opportunity, despite a 23-yard reception by Trent Richardson. Barely avoiding a safety, Perez threw a checkdown on third-and-seven. Richardson made a man miss and picked up 23 yards. This looked like the life Birmingham needed to get back in the game. Instead, tight end Weslye Saunders fumbled on the very next play, giving Salt Lake fantastic field position. Salt Lake couldn’t do anything with the opportunity, as Taylor Bertolet missed a 50-yard field goal attempt to keep the score 9-0.
Salt Lake got their first touchdown thanks to a special teams mishap, so it’s only fair that Birmingham got on the board with some special teams action of their own. Jamar Summers forced a fumble on Birmingham’s fifth punt of the day, and Shaheed Salmon recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. The play was reviewed, and although it looked like De’Mornay Pierson-El’s knee was down, the officials decided there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call. Birmingham couldn’t convert the two-point conversion and gave the ball back to Salt Lake facing a 9-6 deficit.
Salt Lake had a chance to build on their lead on the ensuing possession with a 50-yard field goal. However, Salt Lake couldn’t get the snap off and had to take a delay-of-game penalty. Instead of just punting the ball, the Stallions decided to trust Bertolet to attempt a 55-yard field goal. That trust backfired, as Bertolet hooked the kick to give Birmingham great field position.
Both teams exchanged punts, and then Luis Perez got to work. Converting multiple third-and-longs, Perez led Birmingham on a go-ahead drive. Of course, he couldn’t have done it without Trent Richardson, who plowed through defenders for the go-ahead score. Birmingham missed the two-point conversion, but still held a 12-9 lead with 4:40 left on the clock.
The Stallions had a chance to pull off a last-second comeback, but Birmingham’s defense was too good. Facing fourth down from outside field goal range, Allen couldn’t connect and it looked like Birmingham could run out the clock. Instead, the refs gifted Salt Lake with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to keep the Stallions’ hopes alive.
Salt Lake couldn’t get another first down, but they managed to set up Bertolet for a 48-yard field. However, for the third time in a row, Bertolet missed the kick. Birmingham took over with just 58 seconds left on the clock, essentially sealing their victory. Thanks to clutch play and a bit of luck, the Iron are the first team in AAF history to win two games.
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