BattleHawks falter in DC with self-inflicted loss

BattleHawks quarterback Jordan Ta’Amu gets dragged down during a matchup with the DC Defenders. (Credit: XFL.com)

WASHINGTON DC – A game where not many things went well for the BattleHawks ended in a 15-6 loss to the DC Defenders, both teams move to 3-2 on the year.

Coming into the week, DC was on the verge of their season having all the wheels fall off. While they might not have all their answers, their defense helped will them to victory. Before the end of the first quarter, DC head coach Pep Hamilton made a quarterback change pulling quarterback Cardale Jones after just two possessions. Jones went 0/2 with an interception.

This significant event would ideally be the writing on the wall for the BattleHawks to take advantage of the change at quarterback, they did anything but.

Execution Short Fall 

Kenny Robinson stepped in front of Cardale Jones’s pass keeping the ball off the turf. The BattleHawks offense took over with momentum on their side. The running back duo of Matt Jones and Christine Michael started the day strong driving 53 yards to the DC 11-yard line.

From this point on in the game, self-inflected wounds in the form of penalties with be the crux of the BattleHawks troubles the remainder of the game. A false start pushed St. Louis back 5 yards. An injury to Center Brian Fulkerts took him out most of the game and the offensive line struggled with pass protection all afternoon.

The opening drive building on all the momentum stalled out, and the BattleHawks would settle for a Taylor Russolino field goal.

On the ensuing kickoff, Russolino failed to kick the ball in the air past the 20-yard line. In the XFL, this results in a substantial penalty allowing the Defenders to start at the St. Louis 45-yard line. In his first series under center, new DC QB Tyree Jackson stepped up for the Defenders. What was once a pass heavy team turned predominantly to the run game. Jhurell Pressley would run it twice for 33 yards and Jackson capped off the drive with a 9-yard TD pass to Khari Lee giving DC a 6-0 lead.

From the interception momentum building drive ending in only a field goal to the new opposing QB marching right down the field for a quick and easy looking TD, the momentum of the game official shifted towards DC and the BattleHawks would play on their heels the remainder of the game.

The following St. Louis drive mirrored their previous drive. The BattleHawks moved the ball down the field, this time getting to the DC 17, before picking up another penalty for a false start, stalling the drive, and settling for another Russolino field goal. This tied the game at 6 and would be the last time the BattleHawks would add to their score.

DC would put together three additional drives ending in 3 points each behind the leg of Defenders Kicker Ty Rausa. Rausa finished the day hitting 3/4 field goals from 52, 50, and 22 yards.

Story of the Game

In his post-game press conference, Coach Hayes summed the day up well saying “We weren’t very good. We shot ourselves in the foot obviously with penalties, could never get a rhythm.”

The St. Louis offense is built off the run game, chipping away 2-4 yards each play setting up a manageable third and short situation. All year the offense has executed this successfully while leading the league in third down conversion percentage.

Penalty after penalty set the offense with a lot of second and third down and longs. The offense could not keep up nor did OC Chuck Long change his play calling to accommodate the setbacks. Coaching had its share of trouble today. Coach Hayes punted from the DC 39-yard line, the punt resulted in a touchback and the ball was taken out to the DC 35 yard line, a net of 4 yards on the punt. The XFL touchback rules are meant to encourage coaches to go for it on 4th down in those situations.

While players are ultimately responsible for the penalties they commit, it does reflect on the discipline and preparedness the coaching staff instills in them. Coach Hayes’s BattleHawks have been the most penalized team all year.

The offensive line struggled for really the first time this season. Ta’amu was rushed several times on the day with the offense relying on short quick passes that were quickly contained by the DC defense. Ta’amu had a season low 60% completion rate on 15/25 passing for 174 yards. The Defenders frequently got to Ta’amu reeling in 4 sacks on the day.

The receiving core didn’t offer Ta’amu too much support either. Tight End Marcus Lucas had only 2 catches on 6 targets with 2 drops. De’Mornay Pierson-El didn’t get going either, he had 2 receptions and had a net of -1 yards on the day.

Jones and Michael were more efficient in the backfield this week than last. Jones ran the ball 13 times on the day for 70 yards and Michael had 12 runs for 69 yards. Each back was able to pull off nice chunk plays frequently going for 8-12 yards before drives would stall. 

The injury bug battered the BattleHawks on the day as well. Center Brian Folkerts would return to the game after suffering an ankle injury, good news for Ta’amu and the line if he is indeed healthy. Punter Marquette King suffered an injury on a blocked punt when his kicking leg jammed in the blocker, we are still waiting for word from the team on his status.

Long snapper Tanner Carew also suffered an injury. Carew’s absence was felt on the day when the new long snapper almost sailed the snap, King the holder was able to bring the high snap in, but the rhythm of Taylor Russolino was thrown off resulting in his first missed kick of the year.

In a game where the BattleHawks were poised to take a commanding lead in the East brought the team back to the pack. The East has a three-way tie for first with DC, New York, and St. Louis all sitting at 3-2.

The talent and game play for the BattleHawks remains solid. St. Louis isn’t facing an identity crisis or crumbling on either side of the ball. Largely from today, it was penalties and undisciplined execution that cost them the win.

The BattleHawks remain on the road next week traveling to Tampa Bay to take on the Vipers. The Vipers are 1-4 on the year and are coming off a tough loss in a shootout against LA after losing 41-34. Tampa has a ton of fight and challenged in almost every game on the year.

As always…

Fight and Fly on, BattleHawk Nation.

XFL BattleHawks stay hot with win over Dragons

BattleHawks safety Will Hill makes an interception. (Credit: XFL.com)

ST. LOUIS — In front of a nearly sold out crowd of 27,527, the City of St. Louis showed up again to the cheer their hometown football team. Week 4 saw the St. Louis BattleHawks improve to 3-1 on the year after a 23-16 win over the Seattle Dragons, who fall to 1-3.

The BattleHawks controlled the game for much of the late afternoon showdown. This team has found a groove in every game so far this season. Their identity as a run-first team sets the tone for the offense with balanced and effective dose of Jordan Ta’amu and the passing game. On the other side of the ball, the defense continues to show up across the board and largely limit the opposing offense. This week was more of the same.

First Half Success

St. Louis set the tone in the first quarter largely behind the arm of Ta’amu. On their second drive of the game, Ta’amu connected with four different receivers as the BattleHawks marched down the field for a 96-yard drive. 75 of the yards were via the passing game while the other 21 came from the legs of Ta’amu. Back to back pass plays of 27 yards put the BattleHawks on the board. The first was to Carlton Agudosi on a deep ball and capped off with a catch-and-run by De’Mornay Pierson-El. St. Louis doubled their PAT completion after Ta’amu and Marcus Lucas connected on the 2-point conversion giving St. Louis a 8-0 lead.

On their next drive, the Dragons mostly halted the run game and brought Ta’amu down for the only sack on the day for either team. Like he’s done all year, BattleHawks kicker Taylor Russolino finished the drive with another impressive 48-yard field goal to put the team up 11-0. Russolino has perfectly executed his kicks all year sitting at 7/7.

After Seattle started with great field position due to a kick out of bounds, the BattleHawk defense was able to stifle their drive and hold the Dragons to a field goal. Seattle had a hard time moving the ball for the entire first half. Brandon Silvers started the day as quarterback for the Dragons and under his reign, Seattle only mustered up 69 yards of combined offense and only 27 in the air.

The last scoring drive of the half was a signature St. Louis drive. 12 plays, 78 yards, and burning over 7 minutes of game clock. Aided by a Seattle roughing the kicker penalty that would have ended the drive on a three and out, St. Louis had a fresh set of downs and chipped away at the field. Ta’amu connected with Brandon Reilly and L’Damian Washington for 21 and 17 yards. Keith Ford capped off the drive with a 13-yard scoring run.

Seattle’s Second Half Shake Up

Seattle went into the break on the receiving end of a lopsided game down 17-3. Looking for some sort of disruption in the second half, head coach Jim Zorn made a quarterback swap sending Brandon Silvers to the Bench and letting BJ Daniels have a chance to lead the Seattle offense.

It was a tale of two halves in this game. The spark of BJ Daniels helped the Dragons try to claw their way back into the game. In the second half, Daniels sparked the offense for 184 yards himself including 84 on the ground. His dynamic ability as a passer and runner began to give the St. Louis defense fits. The Seattle offensive adjustment was a step ahead of the defense and Daniels was hard to contain.

On Seattle’s two second half scoring drives their run game started to churn. On the second of their drives, the heightened defensive attention to the run game opened a hole in the secondary. Daniels connected with Alonzo Moore on a deep ball for a gain of 57 yards, the longest play given up by the BattleHawks defense this year. Shortly into the fourth quarter Seattle had cut the lead down to four, 20-16.

St. Louis only managed two field goals in the second half. Defensively, Will Hill stepped up as the Dragons were driving later in the fourth trying to take the lead. On a Daniels pass deep over the middle, the experienced Safety read the route for his second interception on the year. Which like game one, would seal the deal for the BattleHawks.

Performance Breakdown

Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu set the tone for the offense all day. He recorded career high 16 carriers on the ground leading the team in both attempts and yards with 63. Ta’amu continues to dish the ball out efficiently as well, he was 20/27 for 264 yards. Ta’amu completed 74% of his passes on the day and on the year has a league best 75% completion rate. On the day, Ta’amu accounted for 327 of the offenses 392 yards.

St. Louis’s ball carrying duo of Matt Jones and Christine Michael struggled moving the ball all day on the ground. Jones had 15 carries for 20 yards while Michael had 12 carries for 27 yards. Keith Ford returned for the BattleHawks after missing the last two weeks due to injury. Ford had 3 carries for 23 yards and a touchdown.

I am torn on the offensive performance this week. The almost 400 yards is an impressive number. But their run game was less than stellar. Jones and Michael had 27 combined carries for 47 yards. That is a lot of touches for little gain. Ta’amu had his most carries on the year, his number was called often likely from OC Chuck Long seeing something in the Seattle defense they were able to exploit. From a running back standpoint, the run game has not been the most effective or efficient part of the offense even though it is the team’s identity.

Though not showing in the numbers, it seems like the offense is doing exactly what it is designed to do. Short runs and passes setting up a manageable 3rd and short. They’ve done this all year and have been able to execute as well. On the year, they are sitting at a 52% conversion rate on 3rd down. The Super Bowl winning Kansas City Chiefs converted on an NFL league best 48% of 3rd downs.

Game Balls:

Offense: QB Jordan Ta’amu (2)

Defense: S Will Hill (2)

St. Louis has established themselves as one of two teams at the top of the league. The team has shown improvement week in and week out on both the offensive and defensive fronts, the only team in the league to do so.

The City and fan base has a lot to get behind as we approach the halfway point of the season. With another packed Dome the atmosphere was vibrant and booming. BattleHawk football is fun and a great team to stand behind.

Next Sunday March 8 at 2pm CT, the BattleHawks travel to the nation’s capital to take on the faltering DC Defenders. DC has bottomed out after two straight weeks of losing football. DC will look to bounce back fighting to keep their morale up in this showdown in the East.

As always, Fight and Fly On, BattleHawk Nation.

XFL BattleHawks down the Guardians in packed Dome

BattleHawks Joe Powell rounds the corner in the first ever XFL kickoff returned for a touchdown. (Credit: XFL.com)

ST. LOUIS – The highly anticipated return of football to the great City of St. Louis did not disappoint, not one bit. 

Fan’s packed the parking lots downtown early Sunday morning. That means tailgating, partying, and football.

The St. Louis BattleHawks improved to 2-1 after handily taking down the New York Guardians 29-9, New York falls to 1-2 on the year. 

For St. Louis, the game was full of exciting plays across the offense, defense, and special teams. For New York, the game leaves them with even more questions at quarterback than they started with this week and an offense that could not get going for a second straight week. 

A Day of Firsts

On the day of their first home game, the BattleHawks put on a special show for the fans adding both team and league firsts.

On their first possession, the St. Louis backfield duo of Matt Jones and Christine Michael ran the team down the field for a quick opening drive touchdown. Jones, who has missed parts of practice each of the last two weeks with a knee injury, ripped a season long 47-yard rush. Michael capped off the drive with a 14-yard touchdown run.

This is the second straight week the BattleHawks have opened up the game with an opening drive touchdown. Credit to Coach Hayes and OC Coach Long for their preparation going into games. 

St. Louis pulled off the first kickoff return for a touchdown in the league. Early in the second quarter, Keith Mumphrey received a kick from New York’s Matt McCrane. BattleHawks drew up a reverse as Mumphrey tossed the ball to teammate Joe Powell. Powell took the ball all the way to the house, tiptoeing down the sideline before diving in for the score. 

Special Teams were not done there. Two series later after the defense held the McGloin led offense to a three-and-out, St. Louis’s Carlton Agudosi got through the line to block the punt by Justin Vogel. Shaq Jones finished the play for the BattleHawks by recovering the blocked punt, the first of the year for St. Louis. 

On the subsequent offensive drive with a short field to work with, St. Louis took it in for a quick score on a Matt Jones touchdown run. This was the first rushing TD on the young season for the BattleHawks lead back. And that’s not even the biggest highlight of this series. 

Following Jones’s touchdown, QB Jordan Ta’amu shuffle passed the ball to De’Mornay Pierson-El who connected with Alonzo Russell in the end zone for the BattleHawks first success point after conversion.  And to boot, it was a well called 2-point conversion. Prior to this conversion, St. Louis was 0-8 on attempts this season. 

BattleHawks Safety Kenny Robinson hauled in his first professional interception. On the last pass we would see from Guardians starting QB McGloin, Robinson brought in the erratic pass. Robinson is the XFL’s only player who is eligible for the NFL draft this year.  

The big plays don’t stop there. St. Louis kicker Taylor Russolino got in on the action with the first XFL kick over 57 yards hitting from 58 yards out. Russolino also drilled kicks from 39 and 36 yards on the day. 

And last but certainly not least, the fans in St. Louis, all 29,554, filled The Dome on this the first home game of the BattleHawks season. A sold out crowd in the lower bowl made their presence known throughout the game. The stadium was filled with chants throughout the game from ‘BATTLE-HAWKS’, ‘KROENKE SUCKS’, and simply drowning out the Guardians from hearing their play calls. Fans showed up and did their job. 

Guardians Search Continues

New York came into St. Louis following a disappointing shutout week 2 in DC. The Guardians we’re able to manage 9 points against the BattleHawks. It took a drive from third-string QB, Luis Perez, halfway through the fourth quarter to score the team’s first touchdown in almost two full games.

The Guardians started the game with Matt McGloin under center. McGloin got banged up in the first quarter giving way to Marquise Williams. McGloin would get back into the game in the second quarter but his day ended at the end of the first half on the Kenny Robinson interception. Williams led the Guardians after the half but could not generate any sort of offense. 

During a goal-line stand by the St. Louis defense, Williams opted to pass the ball three straight times. The access the XFL gives fans to the game answered the question as to why New York passed the ball when their pass game wasn’t working. A sideline interview with NY QB coach G.A. Mangus said the plays were called with alerts giving both a run and a pass play as options. Mangus admitted at least one play should’ve been a run. With a QB with little first-team reps, play calls need to be succinct so the man under center can focus on executing plays not deciding them. 

Luis Perez would finish off the trio of Guardian quarterbacks to take snaps under center on Sunday. Perez orchestrated the only New York touchdown capitalizing on good field position starting on the St. Louis 40 yard line. 

Balance Across the Board

From the long and diverse week of firsts, it is clear this week’s win was a full team and city effort. St. Louis kept true to their run-first offense. Coach Long dialed up more than double the number of runs (37) compared to the number of passes (18).

Jordan Ta’amu donned the captains ‘C’ on his jersey this week, the first appearance on any BattleHawks jersey this season. Ta’amu mixed in a couple of his, now signature, escape from the pocket plays during the game. But overall, it was a quiet day for Ta’amu. The good news is that this team can play well without Ta’amu needing to light up the stat sheet. 

Another strong showing from the BattleHawks defense this week helped limit the Guardians to only 9 points. The D-line racked up 3 sacks on the day, Andrew Ankrah continues to impress bringing in his second sack on the year, Casey Sayles and Will Clarke each brought in their first sack. DC Coach Jay Hayes’s unit won the turnover battle 1-0, St. Louis is 2-0 when they win or tie on the turnover front. 

Credit the Guardians for putting up the most yards against the BattleHawks defense. This is the first time St. Louis has given up more than 300 yards (307) on defense and totaled less than 300 on offense (273). Though having given up the most yards on the year, it’s a testament to the ‘no quit’ mentality this team has. When New York was putting together strong drives, the St. Louis defense didn’t give in, stopping the opposing offense time after time on the day. 

Late in the game, it would have been nice to see St. Louis open their playbook to let Ta’amu air out the deep ball trying to stretch the field. We’ve also seen a handful of plays with fleet-footed backup quarterback Nick Fitzgerald in the first two weeks but nothing this week. A three-score lead in the fourth quarter seems like an appropriate time to test out the playbook. 

After wins, I normally assign an offensive and defensive game ball. This week I’m mixing up the categories.

First Game Ball: The Special Teams Unit; for the kickoff return, punt block, and 58-yard field goal 

Second Game Ball: The Fans; The Dome was rocking on Sunday and the team thrived off the energy. 

St. Louis, welcome back to the football scene. You didn’t miss a beat.

Didn’t get enough XFL today? BattleHawks are back in the Dome next Saturday, February 29th to take on the Seattle Dragons. New York heads home to take on the now red hot LA Wildcats. 

Fight and Fly On, BattleHawk Nation.