UFL Week 11- The Conference Division Playoff Round

The UFL playoffs began Saturday afternoon with the four best teams in the league, the Birmingham Stallions, the Michigan Panthers, the St. Louis Battlehawks, and the San Antonio Brahmas playing against their divisional rivals. Now, only two teams remain to battle for the Championship title.

UFL Week 11- The Conference Division Playoff Round

The Michigan Panthers v. The Birmingham Stallions

On Saturday, the Panthers had their work cut out for them after losing to the Birmingham Stallions 20-19 in the regular season finale last week. Despite dominating for most of the game, the Panthers lost by one point after quarterback Adrian Martinez and the Stallions staged a late-game rally. It was a tough loss.

But after a week that saw Panthers Coach Mike Nolan win Coach of the Year honors, and a league-leading seven Panthers were named to the All-UFL team, the Panthers felt confident in their chance to pull off a victory.  Among the Panthers recognized as the best in the UFL, were four members of their defense, their sensational young kicker Jake Bates, and outstanding wide receiver Marcus Simms. Heading into the playoffs, the Panthers had every reason to believe they could go toe-to-toe with the league’s most successful offense.

Once again, although the Panthers dominated every aspect of the game in the first half, they ultimately lost to the Stallions, 31-18.  This loss wasn’t just tough.  It was brutal. Panthers quarterback Danny Etling who looked so strong in the last few weeks, gave up three interceptions. Etling finished the game 18/29 for 182 yards with one touchdown and three turnovers.

When it mattered most, the Panthers couldn’t mount a late-game comeback. Marcus Simms was held to three catches for 32 yards. Siaosi Mariner, the team’s number-one wide receiver over the past few weeks, had 4 catches for 60 yards with the team’s only touchdown. 

The offense repeatedly struggled to reach the end zone forcing the team to rely on Bates for six field goal attempts. He split the uprights with a beautiful 53-yard kick early in the game and followed with three other scores, but then missed a crucial 51-yard kick to end the half, and a 44-yard attempt was blocked later in the game.

Nonetheless, the Panthers weren’t the only team to struggle on offense.  The Stallions were held scoreless in the first quarter after committing several senseless penalties. Despite having an outstanding season and being recognized as the league MVP, Adrian Martinez struggled on Saturday. He was 10/19 for 164 yards with one touchdown and an interception.  Coach Skip Holtz benched Martinez in the second half and substituted Matt Corral.  The switch to Corral proved effective and he finished the game passing 9/11 for 120 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

Noah Dawkins led the Panthers’ defense with eight tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble.  Javin White had seven tackles plus an interception and one and a half sacks. Disappointingly, Breeland Speaks, the UFL’s Defensive Player of The Year, had only one tackle.

The San Antonio Brahmas v. The St. Louis Battlehawks 

On Sunday night, the Battlehawks hosted the Brahmas in a game they were favored to win. In addition to the advantage of a hometown stadium filled with cheering fans, their ace quarterback A. J. McCarron was back under center. The Battlehawks were expected to have a strong offensive game with the UFL’s number one wide receiver, Hakeem Butler, and Jacob Saylors, the league’s best running back. 

But instead of a high-scoring offensive shootout with the O/U set at 44 points, this game turned into a bruising defensive struggle as the Brahmas punishing defense held the Battlehawks to a single Andre Szymt 46-yard field goal in the first half of the game.

A Punishing Defensive Battle 

In addition to sacking McCarron four times, the Brahmas defense forced a fumble, broke up two passes, and had nine tackles that resulted in a loss of yards. With 22 seconds left to play in the first half, a Brahmas defender fell on McCarron, re-injuring the same ankle that kept him out of the lineup for two weeks. Although McCarron gamely returned to play for the second half, he was hampered by the injury and finished the game 19/29 for 179 yards with one touchdown. McCarron stated in the post-game press conference, that he will likely need surgery on the ankle this off-season.  

Brahmas Offense Peaking At Just The Right Time

Brahmas quarterback Chase Garbers returned from injured reserve just in time for the playoffs and he had a great game passing 15/21 for 197 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. The Brahmas offense scored 13 unanswered points early in the game when Garbers had his longest touchdown of the season, a 63-yard beauty to wide receiver Justin Smith.  

Adding to the Brahmas’ blistering offensive attack, running back Anthony McFarland torched the Battlehawks with a stunning 69-yard touchdown run. Although Brahmas’ kicker Ryan Santosa has struggled in recent weeks, he was solid last night delivering two field goals; a 45-yard kick, and a 31-yard field goal.  

The Battlehawks’ defense led by Elijah Lee and Willie Harvey, fought back to keep St. Louis in the game. In the third quarter, Garbers fumbled a handoff to Anthony McFarland and DE Pita Taumoepenu scooped it up, running into the end zone for a touchdown to raise the score 19-15. But although the touchdown put the game within reach, that would be the final points scored by the Battlehawks. In the end, the Brahmas, the best defensive team in the league, overcame the Battlehawks by a score of 25-15 to advance to the UFL League Championship next week. 

The Title Game

The UFL League Championship title is on the line this week when the Stallions and the Brahmas meet at The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis.  On Sunday evening, the Stallions will take on the San Antonio Brahmas when the league’s best offense meets the league’s best defense.  Two weeks ago in week nine, these two teams met and the Brahmas were the only team to emerge with a victory this season over the Stallions.

Their staunch defense held Martinez and the seemingly unstoppable Stallions offense to a mere nine points.  Can they do it again? Or, will the Stallions prevail?  You can check out all the action next Sunday at 5:00 pm EDT on FOX.

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