An officiating non-call at the start of the fourth quarter put a screeching halt to a comeback attempt by the St. Louis Battlehawks, who committed costly turnovers and penalties in a 28-24 loss at Houston in Sunday evening XFL action.
“We played well enough to win, but we didn’t deserve to win,” Battlehawks head coach and general manager Jonathan Hayes said in his post-game press conference.
St. Louis trailed the Roughnecks 21-6 at halftime. Following a 44-yard field goal by Houston kicker Sergio Castillo to start the scoring, the Battlehawks answered with a 25-yard touchdown on a screen pass from quarterback Jordan Ta’amu to running back Matt Jones that made it 6-3.
Houston responded on a passing TD from quarterback PJ Walker to receiver Cam Phillips to give the Roughnecks a 9-6 edge after one quarter.
The Roughnecks dominated the second quarter. Cody Brown intercepted a Ta’amu pass and ran it all the way to the St. Louis one-yard line, resulting in a rushing score. Walker then connected with Phillips again to put Houston up comfortably at the half.
The third quarter belonged to the Battlehawks, however. Their defense stood tall against the Roughnecks offense to allow Ta’amu and the offense to battle back.
Ta’amu connected on a one-yard TD pass to De’Mornay Pierson-El, which was followed by a four-yard Ta’amu TD scramble to cut Houston’s lead to just 21-18 entering the final quarter.
With the Battlehawks down just a field goal and driving, a controversial non-call by XFL officials put an end to the momentum.
Ta’amu looked like he had a free play on what appeared to be an obvious offsides by Houston, so he threw a deep pass that was intercepted by Jeremiah Johnson and returned 66 yards deep into St. Louis territory. The Roughnecks capitalized on the gift with Phillips’ third TD reception of the game to make it 28-18.
“Our players felt it was offside… but, like I told them, if there’s no whistle, you have to keep playing,” Hayes said.
St. Louis refused to give up, as Ta’amu connected with receiver L’Damian Washington on a 36-yard TD pass in the final two minutes. A two-point conversion attempt failed, and Houston was able to run out the clock from there.
After tallying 78 yards in penalties during their week one win, the Battlehawks were penalized eight times for 61 yards on Sunday.
Ta’amu put together another stellar showing, going 30-for-37 passing for 284 yards and three TDs and rushing for another score. He did throw his first two interceptions of the season, however.
Jones racked up 69 total yards and two TDs. Pierson-El had nine catches for 50 yards and a score in addition to a strong return game.
Up next for the Battlehawks (1-1) is their home opener at the Dome at America’s Center this Sunday at 2 p.m. against the New York Guardians.
“Tough loss… We will bounce back,” tweeted Dexter McCoil Sr., one of St. Louis’ top tacklers. “Glad to get home in the Dome in front of our home crowd.”