Last week, the Houston Roughnecks and Arlington Renegades met in a battle of unbeaten teams. This week, the DC Defenders and St. Louis Battlehawks will do the same. Led by AJ McCarron, the Battlehawks walk into the nation’s capital feeling incredible after pulling of back-to-back fourth-quarter comebacks. Most recently, Don Hageman III of the Battlehawks hit a game-winning field goal with two seconds left on the clock. Meanwhile, the Defenders are feeling good after getting a much-needed spark from D’Eriq King in the second half to take down the Vegas Vipers.
The Battlehawks and Defenders are pulling in fans from across the nation’s capital to Audi Field for the Sunday afternoon matchup. On Saturday, the Defenders made the decision to open up the top rows at Audi Field for the big game. To top it all off, the XFL has reversed its ban on the fan base’s infamous “Beer Snake” heading into the big game. Per usual, Def Pen’s Ryan Shepard will be live from Audi Field throughout the game to provide news and updates.
First Quarter | DC Defenders – 14 v. St. Louis Battlehawks – 8
Shortly before kickoff, the DC Defenders declared the following players inactive for today’s game: Mike Maietti, Briley Moore, Ty Clary, Caraun Reid, Pooka Williams and Artavis Pierce. Meanwhile, the Battlehawks will take the field without the services of Manny Wilkins, George Campbell, Damion Daniels, Christian Olmstead, Jordan Thomas and Daishawn Dixon.
And we’re off! The DC Defenders live up to their name with an outstanding defensive performance on the opening possession. Stifling the Battlehawks on first and second down, St. Louis was forced into a tough fourth and long situation that only led to six yards. While this is a promising early sign, the Battlehawks have proven to be a second-half team throughout the first two weeks. In their first two games, the Battlehawks have scored a combined three points in the first quarter.
Last week, Jordan Ta’amu struggled heavily against the Vegas Vipers. In two quarters of play, he completed less than 50% of his passes for 109 yards and no touchdowns. Ultimately, Reggie Barlow was forced to put D’Eriq King in the game to spark the offense and put 18 unanswered points. With the Battlehawks coming to town, a lot of pressure was put on Ta’amu’s shoulders. Thus far, he’s risen to the occasion. Early in the Defenders’ first possession, he connected with Chris Blair for a 58-yard pass that put his team in the red zone. From there, he was able to finish the drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Wolf.
While the offense has had its moments in the first two games of the season, the Defenders have been incredible on the defensive side of the ball. In week one, the Defenders forced two picks and a game-winning fumble. One week later, the Defenders shut down the Vipers’ offense and held Vegas scoreless in the second half as D’Eriq King and company put up 18 unanswered points. This week, the Defenders continue to roll as Michael Joseph picks off AJ McCarron and runs it 41 yards into the endzone. Through less than seven minutes, the Defenders are up 14 and looking strong at home.
DEFENDERS PICK-SIX ?@XFLDefenders | @XFL2023 pic.twitter.com/VwchEACksq
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) March 5, 2023
AJ McCarron and the St. Louis Battlehawks have responded with a strong eight-play, 73-yard drive. The former University of Alabama quarterback was able to handle DC’s pass rush much better on his latest drive, completing five of six passes for 64 yards. With the Battlehawks back in the game, let’s see how the Defenders respond.
The Defenders have not been able to duplicate the success of their opening drive. Following the Battlehawks’ first touchdown drive, the Defenders have responded with two fumbles on consecutive drives. Fortunately, the Defenders have been able to keep AJ McCarron on his heels and prevent him from getting into a rhythm.
Second Quarter | DC Defenders – 14 v. St. Louis Battlehawks – 14
After a brief break, the McCarron-led offense was able to pick up at the Defenders’ 22-yard line. In one play, the Battlehawks were able to inch closer to the goal line with a 19-yard completion to Darrius Shepherd. Unfortunately, the promising drive fell apart when Brian Hill fumbled the ball near the goalline and the Defenders recovered.
Unfortunately, the Defenders were not able to do much with Jordan Ta’amu leading the way on offense. Through nearly 10 quarters of football, the Ta’amu has accounted for one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown while completing just 46% of his passes. In this same time span, the offense has only scored 16 of its 54 points so far this season. Just last week, backup quarterback, D’Eriq King, helped the Defenders score 18 unanswered points in the second half. If Ta’amu continues to struggle, it may be time to make a big change under center.
GET IT D ??????#DefendDC | #XFL2023 pic.twitter.com/AFerevoPqY
— D.C. Defenders (@XFLDefenders) March 5, 2023
It appears that the Defenders are looking for a change in their offensive scheme. D’Eriq King has taken over for Jordan Ta’amu at quarterback. Unfortunately, his first drive was not all that successful. Taking over at their own 10-yard line, the Defenders couldn’t pick up the first down and were forced to continue the game of punts that has begun at Audi Field. After an explosive first quarter, things have come to a standstill in the nation’s capital.
Concluding a sluggish second quarter that saw the Battlehawks and Defenders trading punts, AJ McCarron led the Battlehawks on a nine-play, 75-yard drive to take the lead. Heading into the half, the Battlehawks and Defenders are tied up at 14 points.
Third Quarter | DC Defenders – 28 v. St. Louis Battlehawks – 20
The second half has kicked off much as the first half did. The Defenders received the kickoff and immediately went to the air for a 29-yard bomb to Lucky Jackson. Jackson’s big catch followed by an eight-yard from Abram Smith put the Defenders in position for a field goal that would put them back up by three.
The St. Louis Battlehawks have wasted no time taking their shot at the Defenders in the second half. Darrius Shepherd set St. Louis up nicely with kick return that will take AJ McCarron and company to the Defenders’ 25-yard line. In two plays, McCarron would connect with Jake Sutherland for a 23-yard touchdown.
DEFENSE IS ???#DefendDC | #XFL2023 pic.twitter.com/t1dJzy4qWn
— D.C. Defenders (@XFLDefenders) March 5, 2023
The Defenders’ offensive unit has looked disjointed at times throughout the first three weeks. Switching quarterbacks, missed throws and inconsistent run plays have made the Defenders quite interesting to watch week to week. This week, things have been no different. D’Eriq King came into play a few snaps after Ta’amu appeared to struggle throughout the first quarter and change. To start the second half, Ta’amu bounced back with not one, but two scoring drives. His latest drive took nearly six minutes off the clock and put the Defenders up by five in the final minutes of the third quarter. Could this be Defenders coming on strong yet again?
Fourth Quarter | DC Defenders – 34 v. St. Louis Battlehawks – 20
The Defenders have turned this game around completely. Moving D’Eriq King into the quarterback spot, the Defenders were able to pound the ball into the heart of the St. Louis defense. The 12-play, 67-yard drive capped off with a four-yard pass to Chris Blair. With six minutes to go, the Defenders are back up by 14 points.
And that’s all folks! The DC Defenders bounce back from a three-point deficit in the second half to score 17 unanswered points. Next up? The DC Defenders will return to Audi Field to take on the Vegas Vipers.