The oracle of the “Greatest Show on Turf”, Mike Martz, handed the game ball to Battlehawks’ head coach Anthony Becht prior to kickoff Sunday afternoon.
Perhaps the fireworks that followed inside The Dome at America’s Center were inevitable. Unfortunately for the 33,142 hoping to see St. Louis clinch a playoff spot, the visitors put on the show.
Ben DiNucci threw a pair of touchdowns – a dazzling one to Jahcour Pearson for 68 yards and the other after a 42-yard completion to Josh Gordon on fourth down – and the Sea Dragons beat the Battlehawks 30-12 to complicate the playoff picture entering Week 10.
“That really hurts man, Battlehawks’ fans shown a lot of love all year – and to come out here and disappoint them and not make the playoffs and do that for the city, it kind of sucks,” said receiver Darrius Shepherd after scoring St. Louis’ lone touchdown.
“We’re going to try to get it done next week.”
St. Louis will secure a spot in the North division championship against D.C. if Seattle loses to Vegas next week.
The Battlehawks can also clinch with a victory over Orlando even if Seattle wins, but STL will need a margin of victory in Week 10 that is 19 points more than Seattle’s.
“I thought our juice wasn’t really where it needed to be as well, that’s on me,” Becht said.
“We had a great week of practice too. I’ve been in them weeks when you have great weeks of practice…and you’re scratching your head, how’s this possible?”
The answer to that question – a frustrating afternoon full of missed opportunities.
Pearson weaved through the Battlehawks on his way to the endzone to put Seattle ahead 20-9 early in the second half. Pearson finished with seven catches for 115 yards and the score.
Becht challenged the play on the grounds Seattle committed a holding penalty – replays appeared to show Battlehawks’ defensive tackle Lacale London was impeded, but officials allowed the touchdown to stand.
After blazing 22 mph on a fake punt touchdown last week, Gary Jennings lined up at running back, and he gained 23 yards on the ground to put St. Louis in scoring position on the ensuing drive.
On first down from Seattle’s 29-yard-line, McCarron rolled from the pocket and saw defensive back Chris Payton-Jones abandoning Marcell Ateman to pressure the throw. Ateman stood with nothing but green turf in front of him – but McCarrons’s throw floated off Ateman’s fingertips.
“Is No. 5 (Payton-Jones) going to come up, is he going to go back? Is he going to jab at me and then go back? So I tried to place (the ball) on the safe side, leave it to where you can catch – I don’t know if he might have stumbled a little bit coming out of (his break),” McCarron said.
“That was a touchdown, if we would’ve connected on that, it was a walk-in,” Ateman said.
A penalty and sack further stalled St. Louis and Donny Hageman drilled a 54-yard field goal to make the score 20-12 and keep the Battlehawks in striking distance.
Seattle missed a 52-yard attempt early in the fourth quarter and the ‘Hawks looked poised for another late comeback win.
The Battlehawks moved into enemy territory but consecutive incompletions to Hakeem Butler put STL into a fourth-and-5 situation. McCarron connected with Ateman for a 4-yard gain, one yard shy of the first down marker.
Seattle gave STL a final chance when Lukas Denis made an over-the-shoulder interception in the endzone. St. Louis took possession down by eight with 5:35 to play.
But McCarron’s pass on first down bounced out of Shepherd’s grasp and into the arms of Seattle’s Bryce Thompson. Seattle capitalized when DiNucci dashed for an 8-yard score with four minutes left.
Few in the crowd were still around when Dominik Eberle kicked a 36-yard field goal as time expired to give Seattle the final 30-12 margin. Those points will be critical if tie breakers are needed to settle the score next week.
“Clearly they know the rules, they got to score points – it’s going to be that kind of a tiebreaker,” Becht said.
McCarron went 18-for-32 for 186 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. DiNucci threw for 260 yards and two scores, and he added 38 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground.
Seattle drove 74 yards in 13 plays on the game’s first possession and scored on T.J. Hammonds’ 9-yard rush. Lindsay beat Battlehawks’ defenders to the edge to convert the 2-point try and Seattle led 8-0 with 7:35 left in the first quarter.
St. Louis answered with Donny Hageman’s 45-yard field goal.
Seattle appeared to land another haymaker when DiNucci threw a 53-yard touchdown, but the play was nullified by a penalty on the Sea Dragons. Seattle punted and pinned the Battlehawks at the STL 8-yard-line.
With Martz looking on, St. Louis’ offense started to bob n’ weave.
Ateman outmuscled defenders and picked up 38 yards on third down to give STL breathing room. Three plays later, McCarron play-faked, stepped up in the pocket, and delivered to Darrius Shepherd wide-open along the sidelines. Shepherd exploded through three Seattle tacklers and extended the ball over the goaline to complete a 42-yard touchdown.
The 2-point try to Proehl was incomplete and STL held a 9-8 advantage.
On the next possession, DiNucci was sacked by Elorm Lumor that forced a Seattle punt. But STL couldn’t keep the momentum going as the offense went three-and-out.
STL had Seattle in fourth and short near midfield when DiNucci found Josh Gordon for 42-yards. On the next play DiNucci scrambled and found Jordan Veasy to give Seattle the lead for good.