‘Underdog’ BattleHawks Dump Dallas in Opener

By Howard Balzer

If there was one thing over the top during the first weekend of the XFL, it was the persistent discussion about underdogs and favorites as if those wayward souls putting out point spreads, over/unders and future bets actually knew what they were talking about and had any idea what the numbers were based on.

The St. Louis BattleHawks sure didn’t care. Or perhaps they did somewhat with the perception they were big underdogs in the season opener against the Dallas Renegades, or that they might be one of the worst teams in the league and Dallas one of the best.

Consistency certainly isn’t anything the numbers indicated. During the BattleHawks’ 15-9 victory over the Renegades, one graphic had the team as the second favorite at 6/1 to win the league championship.

BetOnline.ag had the BattleHawks at 7/1 along with Los Angeles and Houston, behind Dallas, DC and Tampa Bay at 7/2. However, that same site had St. Louis’ over/under for wins tied for last in the league with Seattle at 3.5. Figure that one out. Never mind because no one can.

None of it made any sense, and anyone with an ounce of logic knocking around their heads should have known that these teams were playing together for the first time, and while much of the perception was likely based on quarterbacks, the reality is that no one could know how they might play behind offensive lines that the lines makers probably didn’t even know their names.

OK, I get it. The league wants the discussion about gambling because it can drive interest. Plus, the XFL is collaborating on betting information with vsin.com (Vegas Sports Information Network) and iHeart radio.

Still, they don’t have to beat everyone over the head with it. After all, were the BattleHawks truly 9.5-point underdogs against Dallas, a team playing without its starting quarterback Landry Jones?

Not really, and it showed, as the BattleHawks’ offensive and defensive lines won the war in the trenches.

Head coach Jonathan Hayes was confident about that, and he said after the team’s final practice Friday (as reported by the Post-Dispatch), “Probably the most important part of any football team is its play along the offensive and defensive lines. The way they go is the way we’re going to go. I truly believe that.”

He was also asked about his team being alleged underdogs, and said, “First of all, how do they determine it? I have no idea who they surveyed. I can’t worry about those things. I have too much other stuff to concern myself with.”

Dallas totaled just 267 yards on 59 plays (4.5 per snap) and while quarterback Phillip Nelson managed to complete 33 of 42 passes, those completed throws gained just 209 yards, which is a paltry 6.3 per completion.

Meanwhile, BattleHawks quarterback Jordan Ta’amu passed for 209 yards on 20-of-27 passing, including a bullet to wide receiver Alonzo Russell at the back of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown with 13:18 to play in the fourth quarter and a lead (12-9) that the team never relinquished.

Ta’amu’s 37-yard run set up the score, and he had 77 rushing yards on nine attempts. For the game, he accounted for 286 of the BattleHawks’ 374 yards.

He said, “It was definitely exciting to go out there and play with live bullets coming at you. One of my strengths is being able to use my legs when there is nothing down field. That opens up our offense a lot.”

Much of the skepticism was probably because of Ta’amu’s lack of experience and pro pedigree. He did well as a senior in 2018 at Ole Miss, but didn’t sign with an NFL team until training camp last summer with the Houston Texans and wasn’t with them very long.

But now, everyone knows about Ta’amu, and it will be up to the team to build on what they accomplished as they head to Houston to play the Roughnecks in Week 2.

Houston defeated Los Angeles 37-17 Saturday behind 272 yards passing and four touchdown tosses from quarterback P.J. Walker, who bounced on and off the Indianapolis Colts practice squad for a couple seasons.

He and Ta’amu are young and learning and exciting to watch, so next weekend’s game should be an intriguing look at two of the league’s potential rising stars.

BattleHawks Bites: The BattleHawks outgained Dallas 374-267 and most important converted 6-of-12 third-down plays to the Renegades’ 1-for-10. In addition, the BattleHawks had two touchdowns in three red-zone trips while Dallas failed to score a touchdown in two trips inside the 20. … While interviewing wide receiver L’Damian Washington on The Hardline Friday, he was asked about the team’s running backs, Christine Michael and Matt Jones. Washington said to keep an eye on Keith Ford. Dallas didn’t. Ford rushed for 26 yards on four attempts and scored the team’s first touchdown on a 16-yard run. Jones had a strong day with 85 yards on 21 carries, while Michael wasn’t a factor, in fact totaling no yards on seven rushes.

Wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El had four receptions for 64 yards and Russell had 3-for-49. … The defense held Dallas to 58 rushing yards on 12 attempts. … Leading tacklers were cornerback Darius Hillary with nine and safety/linebacker Dexter McCoil and linebacker Terence Garvin with eight. Garvin also had one of the team’s four sacks and he added two tackles for loss in the running game.