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In UFL playoff preview, Panthers fall to Stallions in heartbreaking fashion

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Hopefully the third time will be the charm for the Michigan Panthers. They fell to the Birmingham Stallions Saturday for a second time this season in a playoff preview, 20-19.

The two teams will face off in Birmingham again this weekend in the USFL Conference Championship Game with the winner headed to the UFL Championship Game. Despite the two losses to Birmingham, Michigan only lost those games by a combined score of 8.

“Certainly disappointed we lost but it was a hard-fought game,” Panthers head coach Mike Nolan said in a postgame press conference. “There were some good things to the game and hopefully we can build on it for next week.”

Things started out fine for the Panthers as they opened up a 16-6 lead at halftime behind strong performances by the defense, which sacked Stallions’ quarterback Adrian Martinez three times in the first half, and Danny Etlign, who ran and passed for two big touchdowns. Kicker Jake Bates also connected on a 39-yard field goal, his first since Week 7.

The second half, however, was all Birmingham. The Stallions outscored the Panthers 14-3 in the final two quarters as the defense gave up a long touchdown run and a touchdown pass from Martinez to tight end Jace Sternberger with just a minute left in the game.

Now trailing for the first time since the first quarter, Etling led the offense down the field and converted a few first downs and somehow got into Bates’ field goal range with five seconds left. Bates, who had nailed game-winning and long-distance kicks all year, stepped into position, but his kick fell wide to the right of the post. It was just his third miss of the season.

The loss solidified the standings; Michigan has to go on the road in the playoffs. It also ended the team’s five-game winning streak.

The Panthers had a chance to put the game away before the Stallions scored the final touchdown. The offense had a first-and-goal situation with the ball inside the Stallions’ five-yard line. But Michigan would commit five penalties on that drive and have to settle for a field goal.

There were plenty of positives for the Panthers, including strong quarterback play from Etling, better offensive line play and the fact the defense recorded five sacks throughout the game. It sets Saturday’s game up to be a big one and Nolan knows it.

“I think it’s going to be a competitive outing just like today’s was but I think just a little bit more,” Nolan said.

The game is set to kick off at 3 p.m. ET Saturday on ABC 4 West Michigan.

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