Leading up to Sunday’s kickoff at Houston, St. Louis head coach Anthony Becht told his players that, to be a great team, the Battlehawks needed to play winning football more consistently.

“Last week we played three great phases: offense, defense, and special teams,” Becht said. “I challenged them this week to do the same.”

The pregame speech delivered by quarterback A.J. McCarron’s son, Tripp, captured by the ESPN broadcast was equally succinct.

“You better throw good today,” Tripp told his dad.

McCarron completed 26-of-34 passes and tossed three touchdowns to pad his XFL-leading total (17) and St. Louis played inspired football for 60 minutes to secure a 24-15 win over the Roughnecks at TDECU Stadium.

Darrius Shepherd paced St. Louis with seven catches for 70 yards and a touchdown. Nate Meadors (11 total tackles) and Brandon Sebastian led a ferocious Battlehawks’ defense that pitched a shutout in the second half. Donny Hageman booted a 59-yard field goal to set the XFL record for longest attempt made.

Offense. Defense. Special teams.

And a quarterback that throws good.

April 2, 2023: The St Louis Battlehawks against the Houston Roughnecks at TDECU Stadium on April 2nd, 2023 in Houston, TX.
(© Thomas Campbell/XFL)


“That’s what we have to have, complimentary football,” Becht said. “Nobody points fingers on our team, whatever the situation is, whatever the challenge is, whatever the celebration is – we’re all in this together.”

“In order for us to get where we needed to be, we had to win this game.”

St. Louis (5-2) stumbled out of the gate when running back Brian Hill fumbled on the first play from scrimmage and Houston recovered at the Battlehawks’ 27-yard-line. But Sebastian intercepted Roughnecks’ quarterback Cole McDonald at the STL 4-yard-line to send Houston away emptyhanded.

Pinned under the shadow of its goalposts, St. Louis’ offense responded with the most impressive drive of the season.

McCarron completed 8-of-11 passes – with six completions for gains of 10 yards or more, and another for 9 yards – as the Battlehawks methodically marched on a 13-play odyssey that traversed the length of the field.

Five different receivers contributed on the drive; the last reception belonged to Gary Jennings on a 14-yard fade to the corner pylon for a touchdown.

“I love this roster, this skill-position roster we have is really deep,” Becht said. “We’re nine deep at receiver, that’s how good we are.”

On the ensuing possession, Roughnecks’ running back Brycen Alleyne gashed St. Louis for 27 yards to put Houston on the doorstep and McDonald found Deontay Burnett for a 1-yard touchdown pass to tie the game 6-6.

St. Louis took advantage of a short field and needed just five plays to move to Houston’s 5-yard-line. On third and goal, McCarron lofted a pass for the back of the endzone and Hakeem Butler outmuscled Houston cornerback A.J. Hendy to put STL back in front.

McCarron and Butler connected for the 2-point try and the Battlehawks led 14-6.

Hunter Duplessis kicked a field goal for Houston to trim St. Louis’ lead and as time dwindled on the first half, it appeared that 14-9 would be the tally at halftime.

But St. Louis took possession at midfield and McCarron found Butler for an 8-yard gain, then Becht called timeout with one second left on the clock.

“Every second is precious – they gave us six seconds right before the half and I want to utilize every second,” Becht said.

“I turned around and looked at Donny (Hageman), I was like, ‘Donny, you got this?’ He said ‘yeah, I got this coach.’ I looked him in the eyes, I was like alright, I believe you,” Becht said.

Hageman was true to his word, and his kick from 59-yards out scraped over the goalpost to give St. Louis a 17-9 halftime lead.

The Roughnecks pulled within two when defensive back William Likely returned Hill’s second fumble of the game 35 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. But McCarron found Shepherd for 10-yard score with 3:54 to play that iced the win for St. Louis.

The Battlehawks kept pace with division rivals D.C. (6-1) and Seattle (5-2) in the XFL North playoff picture. The top two teams will advance to the XFL playoffs. St. Louis lost twice to D.C. but beat Seattle in Week 2 and the Battlehawks will host the Sea Dragons at The Dome at America’s Center on April 16.

Houston (4-3) remains atop the XFL South despite the setback.

The Battlehawks final three regular season games will be played in St. Louis, beginning with the Vegas Vipers (2-5) visit on Saturday at noon.


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