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XFL Conference Championship Preview: St. Louis Battlehawks vs. San Antonio Brahmas

The last time a playoff game was hosted at The Dome at America’s Center, Anthony Becht was five years away from playing for the St. Louis Rams. A.J. McCarron was a 13-year-old in Alabama. 

Julius Peppers, a year removed from being named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, and the Carolina Panthers were headed to town to face the St. Louis Rams. Jake Delhomme's squad withstood the test of the Marc Bulger-led Rams. This team was far from “The ‘Greatest Show on Turf” Rams. The next decade-and-a-half was close to the lamest.

The legacy of the Rams looms heavily over the city’s new football team, the UFL’s Battlehawks. Chants often break out at-home games with some harsh words about Stan Kroenke, the Rams’ owner who moved the team to Los Angeles. ‘The Dome,’ is illustrious in neither name, design, or appearance. It’s been outdated for years before the Rams left.

Sunday night, the Battlehawks will look to begin establishing a legacy outside of the shadow of their stadium’s past tenants. The UFL’s top market team will host the San Antonio Brahmas for the XFL conference championship game, with a trip to the league’s championship game, also in St. Louis, on the line. 

This will be the third time the Battlehawks face the Brahmas and the second time within seven days. San Antonio traveled to the gateway city last Saturday and fell to the Battlehawks in a 13-12 nail-biter. The win secured the Battlehawks' top spot in the XFL division.

St. Louis made the trip to San Antonio in week 3, coming away with a 31-24 win in a stout defensive performance.

The defense has been the story for St. Louis in both wins over the Brahmas. The offense, one of the best in the league, has had two of its worst performances when facing the San Antonio defense. In the two games, McCarron, the team’s star quarterback, has a combined stat line of 29-for-51, 267 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.

The Battlehawks and the Brahmas are two of the best defenses in the league. The Brahmas allow the fewest total yards (2,567), and the Battlehawks the third-lowest (2,598).

The Battlehawks are sound on all three levels of the defense. Pass rushers Willie Harvey and Pita Taumoepenu hold down the front. Linebackers Mike Rose and Willie Harvey have been reliable all season. In the secondary, cornerback Kameron Kelly and safety Qwynnterrio Cole are both in the top ten in the league for interceptions.

Last week, Kelly grabbed an interception, and the duo of Harvey and Feeney combined for four tackles for loss and two sacks.

The St. Louis defense was nearly flawless in the first half last Saturday. On their first six drives of the game, San Antonio punted three times, was intercepted, fumbled, and had a field goal blocked. The St. Louis defense's stop ultimately decided the Battlehawks' victory on a two-point conversion.

Offensively, both teams have been more rocky this season. The Battlehawks were without McCarron for two weeks, leading to backup Manny Wilkins receiving the starting nod. However, they have been one of the best in the UFL when the offense has been at full force. A stacked wide receiver corps is headlined by Hakeem Butler, who was named the league’s offensive player of the year.

The Brahmas have also dealt with quarterback injuries this season, with Chase Garbers returning last week after spending nearly a month on injured reserve. Garbers split time with Quentin Dormady in the previous week’s game. 

Like last week’s matchup, expect Sunday to be a low-scoring affair decided by a few plays. Even if they seem insignificant at the time, every single point matters in the UFL with the league’s rules for PATs.

The winner of this game will face off against the USFL conference championship game winner between the Birmingham Stallions and the Michigan Panthers next Sunday in St. Louis. Sunday’s game is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will be broadcast on FOX. 

Cover Image via: Brien Aho/UFL/Getty Images

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