It’s tough to life up to the hype like the Birmngham Predators did. At times, it seems maybe in doubt, but as the clock struck double zero, kicker Harrison Butker’s 29 yard field goal sailed perfectly through the uprights and the Predators were champions.
The championship capped off a year where they were clearly the best, dominating top-level opponents in the regular season and in the playoffs before escaping Miami, Florida with a 22-20 victory over a tough-as-nails Nashville Renegades team.
Nashville went into the game a big underdog, but with A.J. McCarron under center during a career-year, the dominant Jordan Howard bulldozing defenders and the always electric Tyreek Hill running down the outside, they felt they had a great chance to win. After scoring 13-straight points in the second half and holding Birmingham mostly to field goals, they thought they would win too, but the final seconds of the game just did not pan out for them.
Butker, the kicker, was the unlikely SFL Grand Finale MVP after going 5-for-5 on field goals and scoring 16 of the team’s 22 points. The only other player to score for Birmingham was running back Kareem Hunt, who with 111 yards rushing had an early second quarter goaline touchdown run.
Nashville scored first blood with a six-yard touchdown pass from McCarron to Malcolm Mitchell late in the first quarter. Both teams were playing tremendous defense early in the game and it was very clear the explosive offenses of both teams were going to be contained. Birmingham responded with Hunt’s touchdown early in the second quarter and saw Butker boot in two field goals before halftime to give Birmingham at 13-7 lead at the intermission. Butker added to the lead with a 45-yarder in the third quarter.
Ty Long, Nashville’s kicker, was able to get Nashville withing three points early in the fourth quarter after a second field goal. Then, the first play of the ensuing drive for Birmingham could not have gone worse. Wide receiver Justin Blackmon was leveled after a catch and Mike Hull scooped the ball up and ran 35 yard into the endzone to give Nashville a 20-16 lead.
After Birmingham stalled out and needed a 48-yard field goal but Butker on the next drive, it felt like Nashville was going to hand on to the win, especially after forcing a three and out on Birmingham’s next driver after that. But Birmingham proved why they have been the best team all year long on that final drive, which went 12 plays and ate up the final 4:55 of the game.
Having ridden Kareem Hunt all year long he was the focus for the offense on that drive, touchding the ball seven out of the 12 plays. Prescott completed all four of his pass attempts on that drive as well and tucked it and ran it for a gain too.
Birmingham did what they needed to do to get to the 11 yard line and with just two seconds left, they called the timeout. Butker, who was perfect in the game to that point, lined up business as usual, and with no problem, kicked the winning field goal of Grand Finale XX.