Hitmen 13, Enforcers 0
CHICAGO (AP) — If only Dick Butkus had suited up.
The XFL and February football made their belated Soldier Field debuts in a freezing drizzle Saturday night and the outcome had a familiar look: Chicago lost.
The New York/New Jersey Hitmen got the lone touchdown of a sloppily played game to slog past the Chicago Enforcers 13-0, leaving the Enforcers as the only team in the fledgling league without a victory.
The matchup of winless teams drew a respectable-sized crowd of 14,856, most of whom stood throughout and stayed to the end despite temperatures in the 30s, steady rain and an icy breeze blowing off Lake Michigan.
How chilly was it? In between flashy dances in slinky black leather, the vaunted cheerleaders spent much of the game in parkas.
After going without a touchdown for a second straight game and managing just 68 yards total offense, the Enforcers (0-4) took steps to ensure fans don’t abandon them. They announced they will let all of Saturday’s fans in to the next home game for free as a reward for braving the elements.
Joe Aska, activated from the practice squad for the game, scored on a 1-yard run with 2:47 left in the third quarter after Tawambi Settles’ interception and short return. Leo Araguz kicked two field goals.
It was Chicago’s first look at the XFL after three games on the road. Despite opening remarks from Hall of Fame linebacker Butkus, the XFL’s director of football competition, the Enforcers evoked comparisons — unflattering to both — with the other football team that plays home games at Soldier Field.
“They’re just like the Bears — they stink,” said 16-year-old Mike Zakaras of Naperville.
The Bears have finished last in their division the last two years and haven’t made the playoffs since 1994. The Enforcers entered the game allowing a league-worst average of 29 points.
But for other football-starved fans it was pure delight.
“Nothing’s better than going to a football game in the winter and having a hot dog and a beer,” said Kit Mann, 40, of Connersville, Ind. “Mud, snow, freezing rain — that’s real football.”
The Enforcers were missing their top player, running back John Avery, with an injured quadriceps and the result was an anemic offensive showing. Avery was the XFL leader with four touchdowns, 313 rushing yards and an average of 5.2 yards per carry.
New York/New Jersey (1-3) opened the scoring on Araguz’s 19-yard first-quarter field goal and survived a last-second second-period threat to preserve the 3-0 lead.
Following a pass interference call that gave the Enforcers the ball at the Hitmen 1 with one second left in the half, Chicago coach Ron Meyer spurned a chance for the tying field goal and decided to go for it. But LeShon Johnson was stuffed at the line for no gain — the only serious threat for the Enforcers, who managed just six first downs.
Settles’ interception came after the ball slipped out of Enforcers’ quarterback Tim Lester’s hands near the Chicago goal line.
“It was really a miracle pick because I busted the assignment,” Settles said. “I was in the right place at the right time.”
Araguz’s 37-yard field goal with 3:39 left in the game finished the scoring.
The Hitmen only mustered 184 total yards, led by Aska’s 59 yards rushing and Wally Richardson’s 84 yards passing.
“We made some plays, we really did,” New York/New Jersey coach Rusty Tillman said. But “we were fortunate a couple of times they didn’t capitalize on our mistakes. We’re very fortunate to win the game.”
Meyer said Avery’s loss was “monumental.”
“The loss was gut-wrenching,” he said.
NY/NJ Hitmen 3 0 7 3 13 Chicago Enforcers 0 0 0 0 0 First Quarter NY Chi Time Scoring Play 3 0 6:13 Leo Araguz 19 Yard Field Goal Third Quarter NY Chi Time Scoring Play 10 0 0:00 Joe Aska 1 Yard TD Run (Ryan Collins 1 Point Pass from Wally Richardson) Fourth Quarter NY Chi Time Scoring Play 13 0 11:50 Leo Araguz 38 Yard Field Goal Team Stats NY/NJ Chicago Rushes - Yards 33-117 20-54 Passing Yards 81 2 Return Yards 71 104 Comp - Att - Int 9-13-0 5-19-1 Sacks - Yards Lost 3-7 9-53 Punts 6 6 Fumbles - Lost 1-1 1-1 Penalties - Yards 7-80 6-40 Individual StatsRushing NY/NJ Player Carries Yards TDs Joe Aska 25 66 1 Michael Blair 3 26 0 Wally Richardson 3 18 0 Keith Elias 2 7 0 Chicago Player Carries Yards TDs LeShon Johnson 16 48 0 Paul Failla 1 7 0 Tim Lester 3 -1 0 Passing NY/NJ Player Att Comp Yards TDs Ints Wally Richardson 13 9 88 0 0 Chicago Player Att Comp Yards TDs Ints Tim Lester 14 5 55 0 1 Paul Failla 4 0 0 0 0 Andy Crosland 1 0 0 0 0 Receiving NY/NJ Player Recs Yards TDs Zola Davis 3 45 0 Michael Blair 2 20 0 Fred Brock 1 12 0 Marcus Hinton 1 5 0 Ryan Collins 1 4 0 Joe Aska 1 2 0 Chicago Player Recs Yards TDs Aaron Bailey 1 22 0 LeShon Johnson 2 15 0 Willie Tate 1 14 0 Lovett Purnell 1 4 0 Missed Field Goals NY/NJ Player Length 32 Chicago None Fumbles NY/NJ Player Fumbles Wally Richardson 1 Chicago Player Fumbles Roell Preston 1 Fumbles Lost NY/NJ Player Fumbles Lost Wally Richardson 1 Chicago None Interceptions NY/NJ Player Ints Yards Tawambi Settles 1 3 Chicago None Punt Returning NY/NJ Player Returns Yards Tyree Talton 1 9 Mike Archie 1 16 Kirby Dar Dar 2 12 Chicago Player Returns Yards Roell Preston 4 43 Kickoff Returning NY/NJ Player Returns Yards Butler B'ynote 1 31 Chicago Player Returns Yards Roell Preston 3 61