Home FootballSt. Louis BattleHawks Battlehawks XFL Week 3 Recap & Looking Ahead

Battlehawks XFL Week 3 Recap & Looking Ahead

by XFL

The beer snake is back… and it’s glorious. ESPN’s Stormy Buonantony reported the snake got to 1240 cups deep by halftime, meaning 20,000 ounces of consumed beverage just from sections 135 through 137 at Audi Field. By halftime. (Somewhere Homer Simpson is emerging from a vat of Duff’s Beer and tipping his hat.) By the end of the sunny afternoon, twin beer snakes materialized and eventually combined forces. Oh and also, the Defenders stayed undefeated with a punishing 34-28 win over previously undefeated St. Louis.

The game began as a bit of a Wild West shootout: Defenders QB Jordan Ta’amu found tight end Ethan Wolf for an early touchdown and 2-point conversion. D.C.’s pick machine Michael Joseph punctuated a pick six with a flip into the end zone. For St. Louis, A.J. McCarron helped generate 234 yards for St. Louis in a first half that saw the Battlehawks keep the ball for nearly 20 minutes. (The Defenders being 1-of-5 on third down helped in that regard.) Self-inflicted wounds by each team were cutting deep enough to hold the score to 14-14 at the break.

The Defenders’ Matthew McCrane opened the third quarter scoring with a 41-yard field goal right towards the beer snake, and the Defenders led 17-14. St. Louis answered with a 23-yard McCarron TD pass to tight end Jake Sutherland, and when the two-point conversion failed, it was 20-17 for the visitors. Sutherland, a Michigan native, hadn’t caught a touchdown pass at any level since he was at Morehead State back in 2017. Battlehawks head coach Anthony Becht was a tight end in the NFL for 11 seasons, so forgive him when he beamed like a proud father from the sidelines.

But then Ta’amu engineered a 12-play, 81-yard drive capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by the quarterback himself. With 3:00 left in third, that toggled the Defenders back on top, and when the two-point conversion was completed to Lucky Jackson, D.C was ahead 25-20 (despite being down to a third string center due to injury.)

Eighty seconds later Devin Bellamy stripped McCarron of the football and the Defenders were in business again at the St. Louis 24. The drive led by D’Eriq King failed to gain much ground, and McCrane came on for another successful field goal to make it 28-20 as the teams headed to the fourth.

The final quarter of this particular game had been circled all week as the flashpoint of the XFL weekend. Fourth quarters to date had seen no points at all allowed by the Defenders, and St. Louis had produced two miracle late-strike comebacks.

With King on the field for D.C., everyone in the stadium expected run, run, run. But it was King passing to Chris Blair for the critical insurance score with 6:02 to play. The two-point conversion attempt was delayed in order to clean thrown lemons off the field (only in the XFL, kids) and when it failed, the score stayed 34-20. The now-expected Battlehawks battle-back would need at least two touchdowns, and Darius Shepard’s second long kick return of the afternoon made it possible; McCarron was able to start the next ‘Hawks drive at the D.C. 30. But on a fourth-and-2, a sideline pass to the towering Hakeem Butler never made it to the receiver’s back shoulder. From there, the Defenders wrapped it up, having netted 231 second-half yards to the Battlehawks’ 82.

McCarron voiced frustration with the officiating in the postgame presser, noting his team has yet to draw a defensive pass interference penalty three games into the season. “I’ve never played football in my entire life and had (a stretch of three games) without one pass interference (call),” he said.

The only hiccup at the end was a Ta’amu fumbled snap with 22 seconds left. McCarron quickly found Steven Mitchell Jr. for a touchdown, and the two-point conversion to the same player made it 34-28. That meant the ‘Hawks, the only team so far to have converted a fourth-and-15 in lieu of an onside kick, had a shot at Road Miracle #3. But Davin Bellamy sacked McCarron and that was that (other than an episode of the Jerry Springer Show breaking out in the final seconds meriting three ejections.)

St. Louis standouts included McCarron (26-for-42, 262 yards, four touchdowns) and Butler (nine catches, 105 yards). For D.C., Ta’amu threw for 196 yards, Jackson had four catches and both Abram Smith and Ryquell Armstead rushed for 50+ yards. (Those two are emerging as a dynamic duo along the lines of, well, pick your favorite. Jordan and Pippen. Beavis and Butthead. Farley and Spade. Fey and Poehler. Harold and Kumar. Newman and Kramer. Have you guessed the author’s age yet, by the way?)

Defenders punter Daniel Whelan was a weapon, averaging 53.5 yards including a long of 61. And maybe more than anything else, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ second-half adjustments were on point. Even though the Defenders had four takeaways, the veteran defensive coordinator told ESPN in the game’s final minutes he was disappointed it hadn’t been more. The final tally of two picks, two fumble recoveries, four sacks, a third win and a near-3,000-cup beer snake have helped make the Defenders the talk of the league so far. The victory punctuated the highest-scoring game in the league to date this season – an intense staredown of the teams that share practice facilities in Mansfield, Texas.

The loss won’t dim the enthusiasm for the Battlehawks’ first home game this Sunday at The Dome at America’s Center. The team just announced it’s opening the 300-level of the stadium due to the huge demand for tickets. Oh, and the game that awaits St. Louis six days after its long-awaited home opener? Their rematch with D.C. Buckle up, buttercup.

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