A.J. McCarron said his injured ankle likely requires surgery after the Battlehawks season ended with a 25-15 loss to San Antonio in the XFL Conference Championship game at The Dome at America’s Center on Sunday.

“Just moving the way I was before that Birmingham game (in Week 7), I was able to extend plays and I felt strong, felt great being able to move. After that, even shooting it up (with painkillers) I just didn’t feel the same, so it was tough.”

Then his two sons, wearing blue No. 10 jerseys, entered the press room and his emotions turned raw.

“Having my boys in here – trying to show them you got to be able to push through (stuff), especially at a young age,” he said.

“Listen, I care – even when it was the XFL – I care a lot about this league. Why I came back, I don’t need the money, but I think being able to show the guys how to do it right, how to be a pro – it’s no secret, I want to be part of this league. I still think I can play at a high level; I think I’ve shown that this year…I think this league has a great opportunity to grow.”

The best market in the UFL hosts the league championship game next weekend but it promises to be a solemn affair without the hometown team. The Brahmas offense gained a season-high 410 yards and head coach Wade Phillips’ defense smothered St. Louis on third downs (2-for-12) in a game San Antonio led from wire-to-wire.

“I’m sick that we couldn’t get this for our players, our coaches, and our fans,” Battlehawks head coach Anthony Becht said. “I think simply for us, when I look at the game, it was a little lack of focus to start the game. That lies on me at the end of the day.”

Locals that wanted to see the Battlehawks fly needed a ticket to Sunday’s Blue Angels airshow at Spirit of St. Louis airport instead. Jacob Saylors ran for 79 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry, but McCarron managed five completions for 53 yards in the first half and finished 19-of-29 for 179 yards and a touchdown.

“We really like 12 personnel, we felt like we could run the ball. We just didn’t tie it together with our passing game. We should have stuck with our irons there, the best player on the field for us was Jacob Saylors – we tried to mix it up with some passes and do some things. We had a fumble early and kind of cost us.”

Anthony McFarland Jr. rushed for 115 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown that put San Antonio ahead 19-3 in the third quarter. St. Louis finally got off the mat on the next drive when McCarron put the ball on Hakeem Butler’s outside shoulder, and the Battlehawks playmaker made a splendid one-handed grab inside the Brahmas’ five-yard line.

McCarron’s pass to Jake Sutherland moments later stayed in the tight end’s hands long enough to break the plane before being knocked free. After a quick booth review, the touchdown counted but St. Louis’ two-point try failed.

For a moment, it looked like the tide had turned.

On the first play of the Brahmas ensuing possession, Pita Taumoepenu scooped Chase Garbers’ fumble and sprinted 10 yards for touchdown. At last the 30,273 inside The Dome were buzzing. But San Antonio responded with 31-yard field goal from Ryan Santoso and held a 22-15 advantage after three quarters.

Despite 45 minutes of disjointed football, St. Louis had opportunities in the fourth quarter.

Dravon Askew-Henry’s brilliant tackle on third-and-1 forced a punt and St. Louis pushed to the Brahmas’ 33-yard line when McCarron checked down to Darrius Shepherd for a 38-yard gain. But the drive stalled, and McCarron was sacked on third down. Andre Szmyt missed a 50-yard field goal and frustrations mounted as time got short.

San Antonio took over with 6:06 to go and STL needed a stop. But San Antonio bled four minutes and moved 33 yards into field goal range. Santoso booted a 45-yarder and with 1:50 remaining, St. Louis was down two scores and fans quietly headed for the exits.

It was a stark contrast to the mood hours earlier.

Torry Holt received a long warm reception and with Mike Martz in the building too, the BattleDome was rocking. But pregame pageantry gave way to St. Louis jitters, and then disaster.

St. Louis took the ball and after two plays gained no ground, McCarron scrambled and would have hit a wide-open Butler for a big gain and first down, but the ball skipped off the hands of St. Louis’ top receiver.

The Brahmas offense went right to work.

Jontre Kirklin was rot hot in the fourth quarter of the Battlehawks’ Week 10 win, and the week off didn’t cool the Brahmas’ top threat. Kirklin caught three passes for 40 yards as San Antonio march into the redzone. But Garbers threw over the middle and Kameron Kelly picked it in the endzone to rescue St. Louis’ defense.

The Battlehawks were quick to squander momentum.

A little trickery went awry when the exchange between McCarron and Shepherd ended up on the turf, and then into the arms St. Louis’ nemesis Teez Tabor – who provided the locker room material leading up to kickoff. Garbers connected with Marquez Steveson for a 15-yard touchdown strike and a 7-0 Brahmas lead.

McCarron & company stayed in a funk.

Saylors bullied for a 7-yard gain on St. Louis’ first play, but another gadget play busted with McCarron dropped for no gain on second down. The Brahmas sacked A.J. on third down and concerns mounted with another three-and-out.

As a disastrous first quarter wound down, St. Louis had the Brahmas in a third-and-8 pickle, but Freedom Akinmoladun jumped offside, and San Antonio converted the third-and-3 to keep the drive alive.

On the first play of the second quarter, Garbers made the mistake hurt.

He found Justin Smith for an 11-yard pitch and catch that turned into a walk-home 63-yard touchdown. The Brahmas enjoyed a 13-point lead and comfortably quiet environment.

Desperate to establish something on offense, St. Louis found footing on the ground. Wayne Gallman gashed the Brahmas for an 11-yard gain after running back Steven Mitchell picked up 21 on a short pass. McCarron lofted a beauty to Butler who caught it in the endzone but with a foot out-of-bounds. St. Louis got on the board though, with a 46-yard field goal from Szmyt.

A flat, ugly, downright awful first half got even worse on the final play.

With St. Louis miles from field goal range, McCarron rolled from the pocket and completed a pass to Jacob Saylors for 12 yards, but he was thrown to the turf and stayed down for several minutes as the teams headed to the locker room. McCarron was the last one through the tunnel, walking gingerly on the injured ankle that kept him out of two games late in the season.

A.J. gave it a go in the second half but the offense remained stuck in park. After the teams traded punts to open the half, San Antonio put the dagger in.

A personal foul penalty pushed the Brahmas back 15 yards but that only padded McFarland’s rushing stats. McFarland burst untouched through the Battlehawks front and sprinted 63 yards for touchdown and a 19-3 lead.



Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505