Home FootballSt. Louis BattleHawks Battlehawks XFL Week 5 Recap & Looking Ahead

Battlehawks XFL Week 5 Recap & Looking Ahead

by XFL

The highly anticipated “grudge match” between these two sudden rivals lived up to expectations with the Defenders stampeding for 248 rushing yards and improving to 5-0. St. Louis (3-2) almost pulled off that late-game magic for which they’ve become known, but the ‘Hawks partisan crowd receded into the Missouri night having witnessed an 8-point loss. At the same time, the University of Missouri’s basketball team was losing to 15-seed Princeton in the NCAA basketball tournament. As they say, Missouri loves company.

First things first: It had been a busy week on the transaction wire for D.C. DT Gabe Wright was activated off the reserve list – he had been suspended for his part in the end-of-game brawl with the Battlehawks two weeks ago – while DT Denzel Chukwukelu was released and DT Fadol Brown, a key piece, was placed on IR. The ‘Hawks also released WR Josh Malone and C Sam Cooper was waived from the Reserve List. The receivers room got a makeover with the signing of Raymond Calais and the activation of Jazz Ferguson off IR. Calais is a RB/WR hybrid who ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at the 2020 NFL combine and has NFL experience with the Rams.

St. Louis was active as well, as the ‘Hawks activated CB Tim Harris from IR and signed DT Erik Hansen while releasing DT Damion Daniels and TE Jordan Thomas.

With the roster shuffling complete and the specter of the Week 3 late-game brawl between the teams a fading memory, this one was a taut defensive struggle off the jump; scoreless five minutes in to the second quarter. A Donny Hageman field goal gave the home team a brief lead but former Baylor standout Abram Smith jetted for the longest run play the league had seen all year. His 62-yard romp into the end zone gave the Defenders a lead they would never lose.

Smith added a second TD just before halftime to give D.C a 14-3 lead and flummox St. Louis head coach Anthony Becht. “We just keep having these slow starts,” he lamented after the game. “We’ve simply got to find a way to get in rhythm before it’s too late. Playing from behind every week is not sustainable.”

Smith’s third score of the night came in the third quarter and this time, his mad dash went for a full 70 yards as opposed to 62. A stacked right side of the O-line had opened a huge hole and a jab step at midfield put a safety in spin cycle, and that was that, as the Defenders’ lead was now 20-6. “All credit to the o-line, the boys up front,” he told the media after the game. “But then as a runner, you make a guy miss, that’s your job. I knew I had speed but maybe I didn’t know I had that much.” One player who believes is Chris Cooper, the aforementioned spin-cycled safety who after Smith pulled his roadrunner act.

A.J. McCarron did manage to strike back with a 15-yard touchdown pass to George Campbell, but after an exchange of punts the Defenders answered with a D’Eriq King touchdown run to make it 28-12. McCarron counterpunched with a 50-yard strike over the top of the D.C. secondary – an exciting catch and run by Steven Mitchell Jr., and the home team was back to within one score with 4:19 remaining,

But whatever hopes the big crowd had for another miracle Battlehawks comeback were dashed when Michael Joseph intercepted McCarron with just under a minute left, allowing the Defenders to run out the clock. (That’s four picks already for Joseph, one off the league lead.) The punishing D.C. run game had controlled the line of scrimmage, controlled the clock, and now the Defenders control their own destiny in the XFL North.

Lost in the sauce, Darrius Shepherd had a season-high and XFL-best 80-yard kickoff return to open the second half for St. Louis after a 52-yard return in the second quarter. Shepherd has totaled 345 return yards combined on eight attempts vs D.C. this season. Brian Hill continued to run well for St. Louis (14 carries, 79 yards) and Hakeem Butler had another monster game at wide receiver (9 catches, 86 yards).

But the Defenders were the story. Smith’s 218 yards made headlines, but dive beneath the surface and a couple truths emerge. 1) While 132 of those yards were collected on two carries, even if you take those away, 86 yards on 21 attempts is a really nice night. 2) The value of a powerful and cohesive offensive line cannot be overstated. Give D.C. Director of Player Personnel Von Hutchins full marks if not a big raise for cobbling that unit together on short notice.

Attendance note: After setting an XFL record by drawing 38,310 fans to The Dome at America’s Center for the Week 4 game, the Battlehawks once again opened the 400 Section of the Dome and this time drew 35,868. (Considering kick time was concurrent with March Madness and the St. Louis City SC soccer match, that’s really something.)

Had they won, the Battlehawks would have rewarded the crowd with the forging of a first-place tie in the XFL North. Instead the ‘Hawks and Seattle are now each two games back with only five to play.

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