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Home Field Advantage on the Line for St. Louis Battlehawks Against Arlington Renegades

The road to winning the first-ever UFL Championship continues this week for the St. Louis Battlehawks, who travel to face the Arlington Renegades (1-7) this Saturday. 

Last week, the Battlehawks clinched a spot in the playoffs with a win over the D.C. Defenders despite the absence of starting quarterback A.J. McCarron. This weekend, home-field advantage is on the line. A St. Louis win over Arlington, and a San Antonio Brahmas loss to Birmingham Stallions would make the road to the championship run through St. Louis. The Battlehawks and the Brahmas are already set to be the two opponents in the XFL conference championship, and Birmingham and Michigan are on the USFL side. The Battlehawks will also face the Brahmas in the final regular season game next week. 

The most important question for St. Louis’ matchup in Arlington this weekend is again the status of McCarron, who suffered an ankle injury against the Stallions in Week 7. He has been limited in practice this week.

Backup Manny Wilkins stepped up in McCarron’s place last week and did enough for St. Louis to secure a 26-21 win. Wilkins is a dual threat and sound decision-maker, but McCarron is one of the top candidates for the league MVP award. Having the veteran on the field with playoff stakes on the line would be crucial for coach Anthony Becht’s squad.

Arlington's championship hangover has hit hard. After winning the XFL Championship, the Renegades are now one of three teams with just one win on the season. But as Becht mentioned last week, the Renegades have improved as the season has gone on, and their record is somewhat deceiving. 

In their seven losses, the Renegades’ average margin of defeat has been just 5.9 points. In week 2, the Renegades took the Battlehawks down to the wire game in St. Louis, which came down to a game-winning kick from Andre Szymt. Additionally, the Renegades are fourth in the league in scoring with 179 points. They’re sixth in points allowed with 196.

The offensive success is thanks to the arm of quarterback Luis Perez, the UFL’s current leader in passing yards with 1,835. His 12 passing touchdowns are only behind Birmingham’s Adrian Martinez and McCarron. 

The Renegades’ offense also features three receivers in the top 10 for receiving yards with Tyler Vaughns (383), J.P. Payton (379), and tight end Sal Canella (375). The leader of the receiving core, Vaughns, is a crisp route runner who seems to pull a rabbit out of his hat to make a highlight-worthy play at least once each game.

The Renegades’ defense is led by star Vic Beasley, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. The former Atlanta Falcon is currently fifth in the league with five sacks. 

The Renegades’ defense struggled to contain the St. Louis run game the last time they met. Running back Mataeo Durant rushed for 104 yards and one touchdown in the Week 2 game.

The Battlehawks have split running duties between Durant, Jacob Saylors, and Wayne Gallman throughout the season. However, the run game has suffered in the last few weeks, mostly due to injuries along the St. Louis offensive line.

The workload for the St. Louis run game Saturday will likely depend on McCarron's status. Wilkins was the Battlehawks' leading rusher last week, but Becht might go with a more run-heavy game plan to take pressure off either Wilkins or an injured McCarron.

With McCarron’s status up in the air, the Battlehawks are just -3.5 point favorites for Saturday’s game on DraftKings. A win and a San Antonio loss this week would allow St. Louis to rest its starters next week. Oddly enough, San Antonio would reap the same benefit. However, clinching home-field advantage for the conference championship game would be invaluable to St. Louis, who has led the league in attendance by a wide margin all season long. With that on the line, St. Louis has plenty to fight for in their season's final road trip.

Cover Image via: Jeffery Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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