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D.C. Defenders Fall to Battlehawks for the Second Time

Defenders celebrate a made FG earlier in the season
© UFL | DC Defenders 2024

It started as good news for the D.C. Defenders Sunday in The Dome at America’s Center. Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu was cleared to play in this must-win affair. On the opposite side of the field, Battlehawks QB and MVP Candidate AJ McCarron was out with an ankle injury. The rematch was going according to plan and suddenly it was not.

First Quarter: Slow and Stingy

The first quarter was methodic from the kickoff. Each team showcased a variety of personnel changes and schemes to try and get an advantage over the other. The scoreboard would show that the Defenders led 3-0 thanks to a Matthew McCrane field goal, but the play on the field was a push at best. Both defenses found ways to frustrate the offense and Battlehawks Safety Kameron Kelly got his second takeaway on the season after an errant throw from Ta’amu.

Scoring Drive: D.C. - 8 Plays | 24 yards | 48-yard FG by K Matthew McCrane (D.C. 3 - STL 0)

Second Quarter: Battlehawks Bounce Back

The second quarter saw both teams continue to dig and claw in search of a safe lead. The Defenders’ defense brought continuous pressure to first-time starting QB Manny Wilkins and left wide receiver Hakeem Butler doubled over from big hits twice. The Defenders’ defensive efforts were commendable, but St. Louis won this quarter, capping it off with a 1-yard bruising run by running back Jacob Saylors.

Scoring Drives: 

STL - 12 plays | 52 yards | 26-yard FG by K Andre Szmyt (D.C. 3 - STL 3)

STL - 7 plays | 26 yards | 2-yard TD run by RB Jacob Saylor [1pt conv failed] (D.C. 3 - STL 9)

D.C. - 9 plays | 45 yards | 49-yard FG by Matthew McCrane (D.C. 6 - STL 9)

Third Quarter: Start Your Engines

The second half began with electricity as the Defenders’ opening drive showed signs of the electric offense fans remember from 2023. The drive again showed a diverse use of different personnel and offensive schemes. It was a broken play, however, that would showcase the most exciting play of the quarter. Ta’amu, being his shifty self, avoided a sack and found tight end Alex Ellis on a 30-yard pass for a touchdown.

Not to be outdone the Battlehawks responded with a 55-yard drive that also concluded with a touchdown. Albeit a quick five plays, the Battlehawks were able to find big gaps in the Defenders’ defense with the legs of QB Wilkins and the reemergence of day one starting RB Wayne Gallman II. They answered the Defenders’ drive with a bruising 7-yard run by Gallman II.

Scoring Drives:

D.C. - 9 plays | 63 yards | 30-yard TD rec QB Ta’amu to TE Alex Ellis [2pt conv good] (D.C. 14 - STL 9)

STL - 6 plays | 55 yards | 7-yard TD run by RB Wayne Gallman, II [2pt conv good] (D.C. 14 - STL 17)

Fourth Quarter: Defenders Dig Deep

During the final quarter the Defenders’ decided to play their best football of the game, despite an early turnover by QB Ta’amu who threw his second interception of the day, this time to FS Qwynnterrio Cole. The Defenders’ defensive unit stood strong and held the Battlehawks to a field goal. The stop was vital to giving the Defenders a chance to reclaim the lead. They did so the next drive as QB Ta’amu and WR Ty Scott linked up for their second touchdown in as many weeks.

Battlehawks offensive coordinator Bruce Gradkowski saved his best misdirection play for the ideal time. With 4:11 left in the game and down one point he called a fake end-around screen pass, and it worked like a charm. The big play led to the final touchdown and go-ahead score by Gallman II.

Scoring Drives:

STL - 7 plays | 9 yards | 37-yard FG by Andre Szmyt (D.C. 14 - STL 20)

D.C. - 12 plays | 73 yards | 17-yard TD rec QB Ta’amu to WR Ty Scott [1pt conv good] (D.C. 21 - STL 20)

STL - 5 plays | 44 yards | 1-yard TD run by RB Gallman, II [2pt conv failed] (D.C. 21 - STL 26)

Key Play

Late in the 4th quarter during a must-score drive for the Battlehawks, a fake end-around screen to Gallman II set up like a well-planned bank heist and immediately put the Battlehawks into scoring position. This play led to the go-ahead touchdown, and it would prove to be the final blow to end the Defenders’ chances.

Most Valuable Players

D.C.- QB Jordan Ta’amu 23-40 | 196 yards | 2 TDs

STL- QB Manny Wilkins 9-18 | 126 yards | 79 yards rushing

Defenders Playoff Picture

The Defenders season will go on, but their playoff hopes are officially shattered. The Defenders needed to win their remaining games to keep any playoff hopes in their control. With the loss on Sunday and a win by conference foe San Antonio over Arlington, the Defenders are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

With two games remaining coaches and players are looking to end on a positive note and hopefully find some consistency in a season that has left much to be desired.


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