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St. Louis Battlehawks Earn Thrilling Win Over Arlington Renegades In Front of Record Crowd

Football fans in St. Louis want to make sure their voice is heard. After an ugly breakup with the Rams, during which fans felt they were being ignored, the support for the St. Louis Battlehawks has been the best in the league.

Filling the Barn

On Saturday, the 40,317 fans in attendance for the Battlehawks' home opener were certainly heard as St. Louis defeated Arlington in a 27-24 thriller.

The crowd, which set the record for the most in attendance for a spring football game, saw the power of their voice late in the game. The noise clearly affected quarterback Luis Perez as he tried to lead the Renegades' offense on a game-winning drive with under two minutes left. Arlington had to settle for a 46-yard field goal, hoping to break the tie at 24.

But again, the fans in St. Louis made their voices heard, and Taylor Russolino missed the kick, giving the Battlehawks' offense a chance to win the game.

Though quarterback A.J. McCarron created fireworks for the St. Louis offense for most of the game, running back Mataeo Durant seized the moment. The former Duke Blue Devil broke free for a 41-yard rush to put the Battlehawks at the Renegades' 11-yard line with less than 1:40 remaining.

Following Durant's run, St. Louis's work was effortless. Following McCarron's kneel-down, kicker Andre Syzmt made a 23-yard field goal to secure the Battlehawks' first victory of the season.

Another Nailbiter

Though the game's finish was close to the nauseating speed of St. Louis native Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," the game started with the leisure of the blues music the city is known for. On the Battlehawks' first drive, they gained a whopping -1 yard. Neither team scored in the first.

But the final three quarters were a constant exchange of eye-popping plays. Of the last 13 drives, 10 scored points.

The quarterback matchup between Luis Perez and McCarron lived up to the anticipation for the two highest-regarded signal callers in the league. On the day, McCarron went 19-for-29 for 248 yards and two touchdowns, while Perez went 21-for-29 for 233 yards and one touchdown.

The peak entertainment from the dual came in a crucial sequence near the end of the third quarter that set up the tense finish.

On a 3rd-and-9 at St. Louis 20, Perez had launched a pass to receiver Tyler Vaughns in the left corner of the end zone only to be broken up by cornerback Brandon Sebastian. Though head of officiating Mike Pereria said on the broadcast that he thought there was limited contact from Sebastian, officials flagged him for pass interference, putting Arlington at the five. Perez then laid up a perfect pass for tight end Sal Canella, who brought it down for a touchdown.

Canella's touchdown created a 17-14 lead that was almost instantly erased. On the first play of the next drive, McCarron rainbowed a 53-yard pass for receiver Marcell Ateman, who only had to cross green turf to reach the end zone and give St. Louis a 21-17 lead.

On the first drive of the fourth quarter, Perez methodically crafted a response, completing passes of 14 and 43 yards before De’Veon Smith rushed three yards into the endzone.

A field goal from St. Louis on the following drive tied the game at 24. The St. Louis defense stepped up again to force Arlington to stop, allowing Durant to shine on the final drive.

After being inactive in Week 1, Durant rushed for 104 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown against Arlington. He was a catalyst for the St. Louis offense, allowing the 'Hawks to open the playbook up. St. Louis was ineffective in the run game in Week 1, but once Durant broke off a 16-yard run early in the second quarter, the Arlington defense had to respect it. This allowed St. Louis to go into the up-tempo pace that it thrives in.

Two plays after Durant’s 16-yard run, McCarron connected with Ateman for a 24-yard touchdown, the game's first score. After a six-reception, 60-yard performance in week 1, Ateman became even more of a weapon in week 2, going for four receptions, 114 yards, and two touchdowns.

Defensively for the Battlehawks, edge rusher Pita Taumopenu quickly made his name known to St. Louis fans. The 2023 XFL Defensive Player of the Year came away with a key third-down sack on the Renegades' first drive, pushing them out of field-goal range. Taumopenu constantly used his elite athleticism to disrupt the Arlington offense instantly. He ended the day with two sacks and five tackles.

With Taumpoenu, McCarron, Ateman, and Durant, an exciting brand of football is being played in St. Louis for the first time in quite a while. The fans in St. Louis again have a reason to cheer.

St. Louis will hit the road again next weekend to take on the (2-0) San Antonio Brahmas at The Alamodome.

Cover Image via: Getty Images/Dilip Vishwanat/UFL

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