By Howard Balzer
What happened Sunday in Washington that resulted in the BattleHawks losing to the DC Defenders 15-6? Let us count the ways.
It is clear in the disappointing loss that left three teams tied for first place in the XFL East that everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the BattleHawks.
*On their only scoring drives of the game that resulted in two field goals, the BattleHawks reached the 11- and 19-yard lines and wound up going backward on each final sequence. On the first, shortly after Michael Miller replaced an injured Brian Folkerts at center, he promptly had a bad shotgun snap and false start. The latter came on second-and-8 from the 9-yard line and the next play was a 3-yard loss. Taylor Russolino kicked a 35-yard field goal with the line of scrimmage the 17. That gave the BattleHawks a 3-0 lead.
After the Defenders scored the only touchdown of the game, a possession aided by a Russolino kickoff that failed to reach the 20-yard line and by rule gave the ball to DC at the St. Louis 45-yard line, the BattleHawks drove from their own 15 to the Defenders 19, but bogged down again. On third-and-8, guard Dejon Allen was guilty of a false start and after an incompletion, Russolino hit a field goal from 40 yards to tie the game at 6. On their six plays in those final sequences before the field goals, the BattleHawks gained a total of 1 yard.
Allen was in the game because of the injury to Folkerts. Miller departed after his issues and Bruno Reagan moved from left guard to center with Allen entering the game at left guard. In a span of nine plays, he had three false starts. The final one came on first down after the BattleHawks blocked a punt and gained possession at the DC 37-yard line. That possession ended at the Defenders 40.
*The BattleHawks had six possessions end in DC territory and were 0-for-3 in the red zone.
*Entering the game, the BattleHawks were first in the league on third-down conversions (51.6 percent), but Sunday was a disaster. They managed first downs on just 4-of-16 third downs and the successes were all with two yards to go or less. There was only one third-down conversion in the second half and of the 12 failures, nine were with at least seven yards to go and seven of 10 yards or more (10, 12, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17). On one sequence, quarterback Jordan Ta’amu was sacked by defensive end/linebacker Anthony Johnson on third-and-10, but a reprieve gave the BattleHawks another shot when Johnson was flagged for being offside. On third-and-5, Johnson was legit this time, officially getting one of the four sacks of Ta’amu in the game.
*As the BattleHawks, who outgained DC 319-256, tried to claw their way back, they drove from their own 28 late in the third quarter to the DC 14 after a remarkable catch by wide receiver L’Damian Washington for a 29-yard gain. However, running back Matt Jones and Ta’amu were both stuffed on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 from the 5-yard line.
*Then, in the fourth quarter, needing a touchdown and 3-point conversion to tie, a 40-yard play to Washington moved the ball to the DC 34. A second-and-5 completion to Marcus Lucas appeared to be good for a first down, but officials marked the ball a yard short. On third-and-1, running back Christine Michael got the first down, but grabbed the facemask of cornerback Deion Harris resulting in a 15-yard penalty that moved the ball back to the 38-yard line. Ta’amu scrambled for 13 yards on third down, but was 1 yard short. On fourth-and-1, Jones was stopped again for no gain.
Ta’amu, who entered the game fourth in the league in rushing with 186 yards, had 31 Sunday, but 25 came on long third-down attempts: the 13-yarder and one for 12 yards on third-and-17.
*Adding insult to injury, punter Marquette King had a punt blocked that led to DC’s final field goal and he was injured on the play. On a third-quarter possession that stalled at the DC 20-yard line, Russolino missed his first field-goal attempt of the season after nine consecutive hits. Contributing to the miss was a high and off-line snap by long snapper by Tanner Carew, who might have been affected by an injury.
After the game, head coach and general manager Jonathan Hayes had no updates on the injuries to King and Carew and in his 43-second postgame session with the media, opened by saying, “We shot ourselves in the foot” and ended by concluding, “Besides that, at least the sun came out today. It was a beautiful day.”
St. Louis, New York and DC are now all 3-2 in the XFL East. Tampa Bay is 1-4. Technically, DC is in first place because they have defeated both the BattleHawks and Guardians. The BattleHawks beat New York. With the season at the halfway point, each team in the division has at least three division games remaining and the final three weeks of the regular season feature all division games. The top two teams in each division will meet in the playoffs the weekend of April 18-19 with the championship game in Houston on Sunday, April 26. Here are the remaining five games on each team’s schedule:
ST. LOUIS (4): at Tampa Bay, LA, at New York, Tampa Bay, DC
DC: (3): Dallas, at Houston, Tampa Bay, at New York, at St. Louis
NEW YORK (3): Houston, at Seattle, St. Louis, DC, at Tampa Bay
TAMPA BAY (4): St. Louis, Dallas, at DC, at St. Louis, New York
Meanwhile, in the XFL West, the undefeated Houston Roughnecks have a commanding three-game lead over their closest pursuers: Dallas and LA at 2-3 and Seattle 1-4. Those teams will be fighting it out for second place a playoff game in Houston