In addition to there being just three games left in the regular season, the “tamale” hot St. Louis Battlehawks have a chance to break attendance records historically, at home for 3 weeks.’Editor.‘
St Louis went into the game under pressure to respond to the Seattle Sea Dragons’ win in Vegas on Friday night, but also with the knowledge that a victory would see them move within one game of division leaders, the DC Defenders, following their shock defeat in Orlando last night.
Houston, on the other, came into this looking to avoid a third consecutive defeat to opposition from the North. The Roughnecks had seen their perfect start end with road defeats in Seattle and DC over the past couple of weeks, and were in desperate need of a response. They had a new quarterback under center, with Cole McDonald replacing the injured Brandon Silvers, but the former Hawaii standout struggled with his accuracy and decision-making throughout, and St Louis took advantage.
The Battlehawks did not get off to an ideal start though, turning the ball over on the very first play of the game. John Daka stripped the ball from running back Brian Hill, and CJ Brewer recovered it to set Houston up at St Louis’ 28. Houston failed to capitalize though, gifting possession back to the visitors when McDonald’s pass intended for Justin Smith was picked off by Brandon Sebastian at the four-yard line.
The Battlehawks turned that takeaway into points into the first points of the game. McCarron went to the air for the majority of the 13-play, 96-yard drive, completing passes to a multiple receivers as he spread the ball around. He missed an open Darius Shepherd on what would have been a sure-fire touchdown, but responded with a 12-yard completing to Greg Jennings and then went back to the same receiver on the next play for 14-yard TD that put St Louis up, 6-0.
Houston responded with a touchdown of their own. McDonald and former Hawaii teammate Cedric Byrd combined for a couple of good gains, and Brycen Alleyne burst through a hole for a big 27-yard gain on the ground as the Roughnecks moved into striking distance. A pass interference call then set Houston up at the one-yard line, and after a couple of Max Borghi runs failed to find the endzone, McDonald found Deontay Burnett for the one-yard score that levelled it up at 6-6.
St Louis were then gifted great field position for their next possession, as Hunter Duplessis’ kickoff fell short of the 20-yard line and set up the visitors at the Roughnecks’ 45-yard line. And just like their last possession, they punished Houston’s mistake. McCarron backpedalled before hoisting the ball up for giant receiver Hakeem Butler, who leapt above the defender to pull the ball in for a five-yard touchdown. McCarron then went back to Butler for a successful two-point conversion.
Houston responded with a solid drive that saw McDonald go back to Byrd and Burnett, before a couple of good runs from Alleyne and Dejoun Lee put them inside the 10. A killer holding call wrecked their momentum though, and the Roughnecks were forced to settle for a 25-yard field goal from Duplessis to pull it back to 14-9.
Both teams traded possessions in the close minutes of the second half, but it was Houston’s failure to convert on fourth down that proved costly. The Roughnecks made the questionable decision to call timeout before going for it on 4th & 8 from their own 49-yard line with six seconds to go in the half. That meant St Louis still had a few seconds and timeouts to work with when they got the ball back, and after Butler moved them to the Roughnecks’ 41 with a second remaining, Donny Hageman nailed his XFL record-setting 59-yard field goal to make it 17-9 to the Battlehawks going into the half.
Houston came out for the second half looking to issue a response, but McDonald’s struggles with accuracy and decision-making continued to plague the Roughnecks as they punted on their first two possessions. St Louis were having their own issues on offense too, and they had a major scare when McCarron went to the blue tent after landing awkwardly while being tackled. The veteran QB only missed a couple of plays though, much to the relief of the visitors. He was unable to get the Battlehawks’ offense rolling again though, and that resulted in a scoreless third quarter.
Houston got a helping hand to start their first possession of the fourth, as Willie Harvey was hit with a needless unnecessary roughness penalty, but just like the third quarter they had nothing to offer offensively. Thankfully for them, the defense did. Scean Mustin forced another fumble from Hill, and Will Likely returned it 35 yards for the ‘scoop and score’. McDonald was sacked on the two-point conversion though, meaning the Roughnecks trailed 17-15 with little over 10 minutes remaining.
St Louis needed a response on offense, and they got it. Hill attempted to make amends for his second turnover with a couple of big plays to get the drive going. His 16-yard reception on 3rd & 14 gave the Battlehawks a fresh set of downs, and he then ran for 15 yards as the visitors progressed to midfield. McCarron then completed two more third down passes on the drive, with the second one, a 10-yarder to Shepherd, resulting in a touchdown. A holding flag then gave St Louis a second chance at a one-point conversion, and Hill took it, going in from a yard to make it 24-15 with 3:54 on the clock.
It was now or never for McDonald and the Houston offense, and they made a solid start to their possession thanks to good runs from the quarterback and Borghi, either side of a 13-yard completion to Byrd. That early promise quickly faded though. An inaccurate pass forced the Roughnecks to go for it on fourth down, and McDonald then extended the play for as long as he could before throwing an incomplete pass that ended Houston’s hopes of a comeback.