One of head coach Anthony Becht’s favorite mantas is for St. Louis to “lock the gates” at home. When the clock expired on the Battlehawks’ 22-8 win over the Houston Roughnecks at The Dome on Saturday, edge rusher Pita Taumoepenu and the defense held the keys.

St. Louis held its opponent under 20 points for the third straight week and locked Houston out of the endzone for three quarters – giving the offense room to hit big plays on an otherwise uneven afternoon.

“My coach always talks about, it doesn’t matter what the offense do, we’re gonna take care of our part as a defense,” Taumoepenu said after he continually pressured Roughnecks’ QB Reid Sinnett into hurried throws.

“Basically, it started in practice – being able to communicate, be able trust each other, go out there and execute our techniques. I try to execute my fundamentals to the best of my ability, letting the guy right next to me understand I’m gonna be there for you. When the play comes my way, I’m gonna make it – and he’s gonna do the same thing.”

“I think we had our longest stretch with no points (allowed), with 77 straight minutes – which is the best the franchise has had…and they had our backs in a lot of situations in this game as well,” Becht said.

Momentum had shifted to the Roughnecks early in the fourth quarter.

Mark Thompson capped an 80-yard drive with 16-yard touchdown run to put Houston on the scoreboard and trim St. Louis’ advantage to a one-possession game. On the next possession, the Battlehawks were stopped on third-and-1 near midfield, and Becht decided to go for it on fourth down.

Roughnecks’ DE Chris Odom stuffed Jacob Saylors on fourth down and Houston had prime field position for a potential game-tying drive. Saylors led the Battlehawks with 18 rushing yards on eight carries, as St. Louis struggled to find it’s ground game.

Taumoepenu buried Sinnett as he released a pass on third-and-12 that was caught by linebacker Willie Harvey but ruled incomplete. Houston was forced to punt.

Sinnett finished 19-of-34 for 135 yards as Houston managed just 217 total yards.

“That’s where the trust comes in on why we’re so aggressive,” Becht said. “Because I believe in our offense, number one, and also believe in our defense to pick the slack up.”

The trust and aggressiveness proved crucial to St. Louis’ first score.

McCarron & company faced fourth-and-4 from the Houston 43-yard line early in the second quarter. A.J.  threw a dart over the middle to Steven Mitchell for six yards and a first down. Four plays later, McCarron found Hakeem Butler for a 17-yard touchdown.

“Stevie Mitchell had a great game, he had made a couple big catches up to that point, and he was in a groove. A.J. went to him and put a good ball there for him, and he made the play,” Becht said.

“When it works, hey it’s a great play call, right? When it doesn’t, you can start talking about the ‘what-if’s’. We’re going to play aggressive; I’m trying to win games. We’re trying to score points. And we need to put the pressure on teams. Right now, on fourth downs – some of those gutsy-er calls – we got a pretty good conversion percentage. I’m going to continue to roll with that until it starts going the other way.”

McCarron completed 24-of-37 for 255 yards and three touchdowns and one interception. Mitchell was on the receiving end of a one-yard toss on the final play of the first half that gave STL a 14-0 lead at intermission. Butler (6 catches, 134 yards, 2 TDs) grabbed a 36-yard bomb in the fourth quarter to put the game away. He leads the UFL with five touchdowns this season.

St. Louis (5-1) is in control of the XFL Division after San Antonio (4-2) lost to the D.C. Defenders on Sunday. The Battlehawks travel to Alabama on Saturday to face unbeaten Birmingham in what appears to be a likely championship game preview.

For McCarron, it’s a homecoming of sorts.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how many Alabama fans root for St. Louis, or how many of them root against me – so it will be a fun atmosphere either way,” McCarron said.

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