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Adrian Martinez Leads Stallions to Comeback Win in Finale


Stallions comeback win
© David Rodriguez Munoz/USA TODAY NETWORK

The Birmingham Stallions, a force to be reckoned with, concluded the inaugural United Football League season with a nail-biting 20-19 win over the Michigan Panthers at Protective Stadium on Saturday.


The Stallions, with a remarkable 9-1 record, claimed the top spot in the USFL Conference. The seeding for the playoffs had been determined weeks before the matchup, and the Stallions' victory was a testament to their consistent performance throughout the season.


Turning Point of the Game

Quarterback Adrian Martinez should win the MVP award for the UFL this year, and his most valuable play may still be in front of him. However, Martinez made sure to put an exclamation mark on his MVP season after finding tight end Jace Sternberger for a 5-yard touchdown pass to tie the game 19-19 with 59 seconds left to put the Stallions into position for the win. Martinez then hit tight end Marcus Baugh for the one-point conversion to give Birmingham its first lead since the 10:47 mark of the first quarter.


On the touchdown, Martinez found Sternberger leaking into the flat with two Stallions receivers running rub routes to take out the Panther's defenders. Sternberger then coasted into the end zone from near the 3-yard line to tie the game up and cap a 12-play 56-yard drive to regain the lead.



Play of the Game

The Panthers have weapons on the offensive side of the ball, and one of the biggest is on special teams. Kicker Jake Bates, the usually clutch performer, could not make the play to secure a win for Michigan. Bates was trying to make his third game-winning field goal as the Panthers got into position for the potential game-winner—in large to a penalty called on the Stallion's defense—only to be disappointed at the results of the drive. The Panthers lined up for a 53-yard field goal, but Bates pushed the attempt wide right to give the Stallions the 20-19 win.



Stallions MVP

Martinez had another solid performance for the Stallions to end the regular season. He ended his first season with the Stallions going 14-of-28, passing for 163 yards and the lone touchdown to Sternberger. Martinez has shown his ability to keep plays alive and be a threat with his legs all season, ending the day with 5 carries for 41 yards.


Martinez made plays when needed and got the offense in position for running back CJ Marable to score twice from inside the red zone. The Stallion's quarterback finished his season with 1,749 yards passing with 15 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions. Martinez also led the entire league in rushing, with 528 yards and adding 3 touchdowns.



Panthers MVP

The Panthers also had a special day at quarterback with Danny Etling's outing in Birmingham. The former seventh-round pick out of LSU missed some of the season due to a hand injury, and even in the loss, the way Etling played gives Panthers hopes for next week's playoff back in Birmingham next week. The former Green Bay Packer was 16-of-31 passing with 195 yards and a touchdown. Etling also navigated the team into position for the game-winning field goal after the Stallions took the lead with less than a minute left. Etling also added the only rushing touchdown for the Panthers on a 23-yard sprint to the end zone.



What This Means for the Stallions

The Stallions knew coming into the contest against the Panthers they would be the No. 1 seed and would host the USFL Conference Championship game. This game was about shaking the loss to San Antonio off before starting their quest for a third consecutive championship. There were times, especially in the fourth quarter, when the Stallions could have packed it in, knowing they would see Michigan again in the playoffs the following week, but that is not Stallion's football. Coach Skip Holtz has instilled his tenacity and never give-up approach, and it shows as the Stallions fought and clawed their way to the regular season-ending victory.



What This Means for the Panthers

With the loss, the Panthers finished in a three-way tie for the second-best record in the UFL, along with XFL Conference Championship opponents the St. Louis Battlehawks and San Antonio at 7-3. The Panthers showed they could compete with the best team in the league and do it on their field. A missed field goal away from handing the Stallions back-to-back losses shows how dangerous Michigan can be in the playoffs.



The Panthers know that Etling can lead this offense and this team into the playoffs. The Panthers want to end a four-game losing streak to the Stallions at 3 p.m. EST on June 8 at Protective Stadium in downtown Birmingham. No one likes moral victories in sports, but the Panthers can build on their performance with a short turnaround and look to shock the UFL with an upset of the Stallions.

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