HOUSTON – In the most exciting game of the weekend, the Houston Roughnecks and St. Louis BattleHawks traded jabs for four quarters of hardnose football. In the end, Houston (2-0) held on to top St. Louis (1-1) with a final score of 28-24.
Two of the best quarterbacks in the league squared up and showed their stuff. Houston is led by the shifty PJ Walker. Walker was with the Colts alongside former NFL QB Andrew Luck. Andrew gave Walker high praise encouraging his dad, and XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck, to let Walker try out for the league. Andrew and Oliver both made good decisions as Walker has been one of the most fun players to watch over the first 2 weeks.
And St. Louis’s own Jordan Ta’amu, the fleet-footed strong-armed 22-year old who is the youngest starting QB in the league.
Week 2 saw St. Louis stick to their game 1 identity being a run-first team, carrying the ball 43 times for 126 yards. Rush attempts accounted for 54% of their plays this week, down from close to 60% week 1. The BattleHawks likely would’ve kept that 60% run/pass ratio had they not been down the entire second half.
Matt Jones battled a knee injury during the week which impacted his carry total on the day. He also looked to have reaggravated his knee early in the second half. He ended the day with 16 carries for 44 yards. Christine Michael picked up carries this week with Jones nursing an injury and Keith Ford out for the game. Michael put up a similar line with 15 rushes for 38 yards.
BattleHawks quarterback Jordan Ta’amu impressed most of the day. He went 30/37 for 284 yards, 3 TDs, and 32 more yards on the ground. The blemish on his stat line is the two interceptions.
Houston’s Cody Brown and Jeremiah Johnson brought in the two picks for the Roughnecks. Interceptions are bad enough, but both guys added big returns after the inceptions to the St. Louis 1 and 6-yard lines, respectively. The Roughnecks didn’t miss a beat on offense following the interceptions adding two touchdowns with only a short field to work with.
Trading First Half Punches
The opening drive for the Roughnecks started with a 37-yard kick return by Houston’s Ajene Harris. Houston moved the ball this series but the BattleHawk defense held them to a 44-yard field goal.
The BattleHawks answered the Roughnecks opener with an opening drive touchdown for themselves. Both Matt Jones and Christine Michael started in the backfield with Jones getting the first carry of the day.
The drive was highlighted by a 27-yard connection between Keith Mumphrey and Ta’amu and finished off with a short pass to Jones for a nice 25-yard catch and run touchdown to give St. Louis a 6-3 lead.
Not stopping there, Houston responded with a 6 play 66-yard drive ending in the end zone on a PJ Walker pass to Cam Phillips putting the Roughnecks up 12-6; this duo went on to connect for 3 TDs together on the night.
St. Louis struggled to move the ball for the remainder of the first half. There next four drives went punt, punt, interception, turn over on downs. They went into halftime down 21-6.
Opening drives to start a game are usually scripted/ predetermined as part of a team’s gameplan. St. Louis opened their first drive by utilizing four straight plays with a man in motion, and 6 of 9 plays on the touchdown scoring drive. The remainder of the half saw very little motion. For something to be planned and executed well on the first drive and then thrown out for almost the remainder of the game wasn’t something you like to see.
Second Half Sparks
Coming out to start the second half, the BattleHawks strung together a 13 play drive. Ta’amu and Pierson-El connected for a 23 yard gain, the pair finished off the drive connecting on a 1-yard reception to make the score 21-12.
After the BattleHawks defense forced a 3 and out, the offense marched back down the field for another 13 play drive capped off by a 4 yard run by Ta’amu. This closed Houston’s lead to 3, 21-18.
Not to be overlooked in the game is the BattleHawks defense. Week 1 they didn’t give up a touchdown against the Dallas Renegades. Many people brushed this off since the Renegades were without starting QB Landry Jones.
Don’t let the 28 points-against be the nail in the coffin for this unit. 13 of those points only required the Roughnecks to move the ball a combined 7 yards. Houston was moving the ball well in the first half picking up big chunk plays of 33 and 20 yards.
As good as the offense was in the second half, the defense was a half-step ahead of them to close out the night. The biggest play they gave up in the second half was a 15-yard scramble by Walker, the drive ended in Houston punting.
Sacks were elusive on the night largely due to PJ Walker’s awareness in the pocket. Andrew Ankrah was the only one able to record a sack on the day, also bringing home a team-high two tackles for a loss. Cornerback Darius Hillary also played a great game on defense. Hillary was tracking the ball well barely missing two picks, he was jumping the routes like crazy.
The controversial point in the game came with less than 11 minutes left in the 4th quarter. A perfect punt by Houston’s Austin Rehkow and a pair of offsides by the offense had the BattleHawks back up to their own one-yard line. After clawing their way into Roughneck territory, Ta’amu and the offensive line saw Roughneck MLB Frank Ginda jump offsides. Assuming the refs saw the play and called it, Ta’amu had a free play and threw the ball up to the receiver with the deepest route. Not a single ref threw their flag and Ta’amu’s lob was picked off.
Ta’amu throws the ball in this situation thinking the play has only upside and any negative play will be taken off the board due to the defensive penalty. The no-call reversed the course of the game with 7 point swing in favor of the Roughnecks.
This season, XFL refs have called games very well. The use of the replay official in the booth has added transparency and is appreciated league-wide. It will be interesting to see how the XFL responds to this potentially game-changing call, arguably the biggest on the year so far.
The BattleHawks would drive and score one more TD with less than 2 minutes remaining in the game to make it 28-24. But the damage was done and Houston hung on to win a thriller, 28-24.
In the end, Houston won the turnover battle 2-0 and that was the difference-maker this week. The teams competed for all four quarters and we all got to see a great game a football.
The BattleHawks come home next Sunday, February 23rd for their home opener against the New York Guardians.
Expect The Dome to be full and the stadium to be popping because football will be back in St. Louis!
Fight and fly on, BattleHawk Nation.
Mike is a freelance writer and loyal sports fan. He is a current contributor to all things St. Louis BattleHawks. Originally from Ohio, he grew up a Cleveland fan and connects with the Midwest. He understands the connection sports team have to their communities and is excited to watch the connection between the XFL and St. Louis.