USFL Championship Game 2023 score, takeaways: Stallions go back-to-back behind MVP Deon Cain, Alex McGough
Birmingham defeated the Pittsburgh Maulers to repeat as USFL champions
The Birmingham Stallions are the USFL champions -- again -- defending their title thanks to stunning performances from Alex McGough and Deon Cain. McGough threw for four touchdown passes, connecting with Cain on three of them, while leading Birmingham to a 28-12 victory over the Pittsburgh Maulers at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
Cain took home the USFL Championship Game MVP honors after finishing with four catches for 70 yards and three touchdowns, two coming in the second half to put the game away for the Stallions. His 40-yard touchdown reception with 6:41 to go put Birmingham up 28-12 and sealed the championship. Cain finished with 172 all-purpose yards in the victory.
The Stallions have won their 21st game in two seasons to successfully defend their title. Birmingham is 21-3 since the reincarnation of the USFL in 2022. Pittsburgh, the North Division champion, ended its season at 5-7.
The Maulers did get four field goals from Chris Blewitt, including a 55 yarder prior to halftime, but were held out of the end zone. They finished with just 202 total yards as Trey Williams went 24 of 37 for 143 yards in the loss.
Here are our takeaways from the Stallions' title game victory, and you can relive all the action in our live blog below.
Why the Stallions won
Birmingham's offense lived up to its moniker as the top unit in the USFL, thanks to the passing prowess of Alex McGough. Having just two incompletions midway through the third quarter, McGough finished 16 of 23 for 230 yards with four touchdowns (a USFL Championship Game record) and a 141.3 passer rating. And it came against a Maulers defense that had allowed the fewest points in the league.
Deon Cain broke the game open with his three touchdowns. The Maulers pass defense was no match for the Stallions passing game, even though the pass rush was getting to McGough and forcing mistakes -- as they did on this play, one of the wildest you'll ever see, as McGough fumbled on 3rd-and-goal from the Maulers' 7.
That play could have been worse for the Stallions, but the TD didn't stand due to the ball being pitched forward.
Birmingham made the plays needed to control the game and make sure Pittsburgh couldn't really back in it. There were mistakes made, but not any backbreakers.
Why the Maulers lost
Pittsburgh's game plan in the early going worked. The Maulers controlled the ball and keeping Birmingham off the field. The first two possessions were long and time consuming, but Pittsburgh was held without a touchdown in the red zone and settled for field goals.
Birmingham scored touchdowns on its first three possessions while Pittsburgh settled for field goals, keeping the Maulers out of reach against the league's top offense. The Stallions kept the Maulers out of the end zone. If the Maulers were able to finish off those long drives early, it could have resulted in a close game in the fourth quarter.
Field goals weren't going to beat the Stallions, yet the Maulers were content on settling for them.
Needing a score before the half in a 7-6 game, McGough led the Stallions on a 7-play, 68-yard drive that took just 2:30 off the clock, giving Birmingham some cushion heading into halftime. McGough capped off the drive by finding Cain on a 3-yard touchdown pass, which ended up setting the stage for Cain to take over the game.
The touchdown catch was Cain's first of the night, carrying the momentum from the previous possession that resulted in a Davion Davis 42-yard touchdown for Birmingham's first score of the game.
The Stallions scored touchdowns on their first tree possessions, but Cain's was the one where the defending champions took control.
Play of the game
Cain's third touchdown of the night was the highlight of this one. The catch that sealed Birmingham its second championship, McGough turned a broken play and chucked the ball downfield (which he'd done on multiple occasions in the game). He found Cain in the end zone with three defenders on him, corralling the ball for the score that put the Stallions up 28-12.
Cain's catch was the play Birmingham needed to put the game out of reach. If it wasn't for Cain, this game would have been much closer than the final score indicated.
A total victory
Birmingham won its second USFL title in two seasons, compiling an .875 win percentage in that span (including postseason). The Stallions won seven straight games after a 3-2 start to seal the championship.
The Birmingham Stallions have successfully defended their title. Alex McGough goes 16 of 23 for 230 yards and 4 touchdowns (Deon Cain catches three of them) in an impressive victory. Offense wins championships this time.
The Stallions are 21-3 in two USFL seasons. Heck of a run by the Maulers to get to the title game. They were the league's most improved them this year and should be a contender in 2024.