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St. Louis Battlehawks Stunned by Michigan Panthers with 64-Yard Game Winning Kick

Jake Bates hasn't kicked a field goal in a game since high school in 2017. But Saturday, the Michigan Panthers called upon him to kick a 64-yard field goal that would win the game against the St. Louis Battlehawks.


Miraculously, he made it. But St. Louis had called a timeout before he had done so. No problem. He seamlessly booted it through the uprights again, securing Michigan's 18-16 win over St. Louis in the first week of the UFL season.


In some ways, the last play of the game was just like the first. When E.J. Perry took his first dropback of the season, he threw the ball right into the hands of Willie Harvey. It would've been an easy pick-six, and Harvey knew it as the ball bounced off his palms.


The first play didn't have as many consequences as the last, but the Battlehawks' emotional downfall was the same, with them feeling like they had it right in their hands, only to be let down moments later.


Before Bates' unexpected heroic moment, the game looked like it would go down as a remarkable comeback from St. Louis. After only scoring a field goal in the first three quarters, the Battlehawks scored touchdowns on their final two drives.


Before Bates' kick, the biggest miracle of the day was an acrobatic catch from receiver Marcell Ateman on a 4th-and-10 to keep the Battlehawks' scoring drive alive in the final two minutes. Quarterback A.J. McCarron had placed the ball only where Ateman could grab it on the left sideline after scampering around in the pocket.


Four plays later, McCarron connected with Ateman again for a touchdown that put St. Louis up 16-15 with just 49 seconds remaining.


"When we needed it most, offense put drives together, made plays when we needed to," McCarron said.


McCarron put matters into his own hands in the fourth quarter after becoming frustrated with poor offensive line play early on. With a short-timer in the pocket, McCarron could not read the defense or get set for a pass on most plays. Battlehawks' head coach Anthony Becht had to condense his playbook to short, quick passes, putting a lid on the explosive potential of playmakers like Ateman, Hakeem Butler, and Darrius Shepherd.


The Battlehawks also had little luck in the run game. In total, St. Louis only rushed for 62 yards on 20 carries. After a Battlehawks run was stuffed on a 4th-and-goal early in the fourth quarter, McCarron implored on the sideline that the ball be put in his hands.


His veteran experience was fully displayed on the two scoring drives late in the game. On the day, McCarron threw for 216 yards on 24 completions, two touchdowns, and a quarterback rating of 98.5. The stat line won't make any headlines, but it is impressive, considering he went 2-for-5 on passes in the first quarter for seven yards.


"They played us a lot more zone (coverage) than what we thought," McCarron said. "That's the toughest thing about week 1 because you don't have any film on them so all you can go off of is their previous games which were last year. They played us a little different, I thought we made good adjustments."


Like McCarron, both teams had lethargic offensive starts. Of the game's first nine drives, seven ended with a punt and two with interceptions from the Battlehawks. The Battlehawks' secondary caused Panthers quarterback E.J. Perry to make many throws into tight windows, and the Michigan front seven gave St. Louis constant problems.


"I felt like their defensive line really set the tone throughout the game and stopped the run," Becht said. " (It) made us one sided and i think for us, when we're good, we're balanced and we gotta be better at that."


Though the Battlehawks' passing game came alive in the second half, the Panthers controlled the pace of the game through the legs of running back Wes Hills. The USFL's 2023 leading rusher constantly bruised the St. Louis defense. This was evident when, in the fourth quarter, Hills rushed for 43 yards on just three carries before Perry rushed into the end zone to give Michigan a 15-9 lead. On the day, Hills rushed for 85 yards on 11 carries.


Hills' legs powered the Panthers through the game, but ultimately, the right leg of an unknown commodity won the game for Michigan.


St. Louis will look to recover next Saturday in their home opener against the (0-1) Arlington Renegades.


Cover Image via: Luke Hales/UFL/Getty Images

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