Home Editor's Picks St. Louis Battlehawks Launch 2024 Campaign Saturday At Michigan

St. Louis Battlehawks Launch 2024 Campaign Saturday At Michigan

Analysis: STL Brings Wealth Of Experience, Talent To First UFL Game

by Brian Ledford

After much pre-season hype and ballyhoo, the St. Louis Battlehawks launch their 2024 United Football League (UFL) season campaign this weekend on the road.

Saturday’s tilt against non-conference foe Michigan Panthers takes place Saturday at 3 p.m. at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. The game can be seen live locally on KTVI-TV, Channel 2.

The Battlehawks, who finished 7-3 in the XFL’s final season of 2023, is a member of the four-team XFL Conference while the Panthers finished with a 4-6 record last season in the United States Football League (USFL) and is a member of the UFL’s USFL Conference this cycle.

St. Louis’ road opener is the start of their ten-game UFL docket and the meeting with the Panthers will be their lone regular-season meeting with them this year.

Faithful Battlehawks’ fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when the UFL named the locals as one of the octet that will compete this spring. Adding to the positive vibes was when the League named St. Louis as the host site of their championship game, earmarked for the Dome at America’s Center on June 16.

No doubt, that’s a lot of faith that the UFL has in St. Louis’ love of football. After all, the team easily topped the XFL’s home attendance last season: an average of 35K fans per local game.

With a clean slate, the Battlehawks take to the field in Detroit Saturday with numerous key components from last season’s squad as well as some major acquisitions over the past few weeks that makes them prime contenders to compete on home turf for June’s UFL finale.

Optimism is high, as it should be.

Here are some things to watch for in the Battlehawks’ season opener at Michigan.

AJ McCarron’s Return At Quarterback – The Battlehawks re-acquiring the services of the 33-year-old gunslinger in February – who recorded 24 XFL touchdown passes in 2023 – immediately put this season’s team into solid ground. As one with NFL experience, he brings stability and veteran leadership to a very pivotal position. He has many more targets to work with this season and that could pay huge dividends heading against a Panthers’ unit defensive that is cobbled, at best. A well-liked member of the Battlehawks’ faithful, McCarron’s strong start in UFL Week 1 is not out of the question.

Pita Taumoepenu’s Immediate Impact On Defense – Last year’s XFL Defensive Player of the Year (from the defunct Vegas Vipers) was the Battlehawks’ immediate snare last December. The linebacker led the XFL in forced fumbles (4), was second in sacks (7.5) and recorded 26 tackles during the regular season. These were impressive numbers for a League that was heavily-involved in pass-oriented offenses. His presence in the backfield should keep the Panthers’ run-game at bay.

Receiver Depth – Not only does McCarron find familiar Battlehawks’ teammates Hakeem Butler (51 catches, 599 yards, team-leading eight touchdowns in 2023) and Darrius Shepherd (36 catches, 363 yards, 6 TDs) in the fold but former XFL Seattle receiver Blake Jackson (440 yards, 2 TDs) adds some extra power. Battlehawks’ tight end Jake Sutherland (2 TDs) should also contribute significant yards.

Special Teams – The aforementioned Shepherd netted XFL’s Special Teams Player of the Year honors last season, thanks to 27 returned kicks for 701 Yards. Returning Battlehawks punter Sterling Hofrichter had a solid 40-yard average in 36 punts last season while former Syracuse standout Andre Szmyt joins the team as place kicker and should be able to accurately post points when needed.

Potential Pleasant Surprises – Starting running back Wayne Gallman posted six endzone romps with the New York Giants in 2020 and aims to establish a potential ground game. Safety Dravon Askew-Henry started ten games with the USFL’s New Jersey Generals last season and recorded 32 tackles and a pair of interceptions. Look for this pair to open eyes early

OUTLOOK FOR GAME ONE: If they win the coin-flip prior to Saturday’s kickoff, I would hope the Battlehawks would defer and start the game on defense. I feel that Michigan, much like all newly-minted UFL teams, would be unstable on opening possession. I would prefer to have the Battlehawks’ defense, paced by Taumoepenu and a really-solid secondary, set the game’s overall tone.

I also feel that the Battlehawks could post a late first-half push for final points prior to halftime and then take their ensuing second-half opening possession and collect a red-zone score, resulting in a 14-point swing. That’s good enough for a buzzkill in Detroit and a Week 1 UFL win.

Conversely, Michigan really struggled offensively last season, ranking last in the USFL in scoring for 2023. They don’t have much to make a push this year, even with open drafting.

PREDICITION: I project this to be a lopsided game early, which should favor the Battlehawks under McCarron’s helm. I feel like this one’s apples and oranges. With so many offensive/defensive weapons, there’s too much flowing in St. Louis’ favor. Panthers will reach double-digits late in the fourth when the Battlehawks field the second team. Good as a celebratory win for the locals, honestly a snoozer for those that watches nationally.

PROJECTED ACM FINAL SCORE: St. Louis Battlehawks 38, Michigan 10.

The Battlehawks’ home opener takes place at the Dome Saturday, April 6 vs. Arlington.

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By trade, he is a six-time, regional Emmy Award-winning news videographer/editor for KTVI/KPLR-TV. By hobby, he is a writer for Arch City Media, dating back to February 2014. Emphasis is on featuring and promoting local women's sports, but will cover anything that is not reported by traditional media outlets. Also a contributor to local concert reviews.

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