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BattleHawks spoil Stoops' return

St. Louis QB Jordan Ta'amu steps up in the pocket to complete a pass on Sunday against Dallas.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It wasn’t pretty. Much like the weather, the XFL season opener between the Dallas Renegades and St. Louis BattleHawks was far from perfect.

Not that the BattleHawks are complaining. Leaving with a 15-9 victory on an overcast and drizzly Sunday at Globe Life Park has a way of warming the soul.

“We fought very hard,” St. Louis coach Jonathan Hayes said. “Defense played really well, offense ran the ball when we needed to, and we really set the tone of the game.”

Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu’s 9-yard strike to wideout Alonzo Russell in the back of the end zone early in the fourth quarter proved the difference on the scoreboard. That was hardly the whole story.

Defensive coordinator Jay Hayes’ unit deserves plenty of credit for slowing down the Dallas “Air Raid” attack. The Renegades managed only three field goals, spoiling the return to the sideline for Renegades coach Bob Stoops.

Ta’amu did enough in his professional debut. The Ole Miss product completed 20 of 27 passes for 207 yards and added 77 yards on the ground, with his lone touchdown pass with 13:18 left giving St. Louis a 12-9 lead.

St. Louis had its own struggles, but converted 6 of 12 third downs. Ta’amu’s ability to extend plays helped lead to both touchdown drives.

“One of my strengths was being able to use my legs when I had nothing down field,” he said. “That kind of opened up our offense a lot. They had to worry about our receivers, our great running backs and the quarterback on top of it. Being able to use my feet was another weapon.” 

“One of my strengths was being able to use my legs when I had nothing down field,” he said. “That kind of opened up our offense a lot. They had to worry about our receivers, our great running backs and the quarterback on top of it. Being able to use my feet was another weapon.”

Jordan Ta'amu about the difference for the St. Louis offense

The Battlehawks rolled up 191 yards rushing.  Running back Matt Jones racked up a team-high 85 yards on 21 carries.

Keith Ford chipped in with a 16-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

Dallas managed only 267 yards on 59 plays, an average of 4.5 yard per pop. The Renegades had only two plays of more than 13 yards.

“You can’t allow big plays because big plays dictate the momentum of the game,” said BattleHawks safety Dexter McCoil, who had a sack and eight tackles. “You get points off big plays.”

Add it up and the BattleHawks were the only road team to win on XFL Opening Weekend.

Dallas offensive coordinator Hal Mumme’s signature “Air Raid” didn’t take flight. Maybe it had something to do with backup quarterback Philip Nelson starting in place of Landry Jones. St. Louis’ defense also played a part.

Nelson wasn’t bad. The East Carolina product dinked and dunked somewhat effectively -- he completed 33 of 42 passes -- but the lack of downfield throws allowed the BattleHawks to keep plays in front of them. Nelson had only 209 yards on those 33 completions.

Renegades QB Phillip Nelson on the run during Sunday's game.

The Renegades punted five times. The only three drives to make a dent ended in field goals.

“Too many field goals get you beat,” Stoops said. “You’ve got to be able to put the ball in the end zone and we didn’t do that.”

Stoops refused to pin the loss on Nelson. “Some of the inconsistency isn’t on him,” Stoops said.

Jones, who was cleared to play, could be back in the lineup Sunday at the Los Angeles Wildcats (3 p.m. ET, ABC).

It had been 1,133 days since Stoops last coached a game. His tenure at Oklahoma lasted 18 years and included a national title before a surprising retirement in 2017.

The lure of the XFL proved too strong and made too much sense. Not only could Stoops maintain his lifestyle of the last three years, he’s scratched that competitive itch just a three-hour drive from Norman, Okla.

And while he called being back “great,” the experience wasn’t just about the getting off the couch.

“I came in all in, expecting to win,” he said. “I’m not doing this for any other reason. I want to win and win big.”

Hayes has known Stoops for nearly 40 years going back to their playing days together at Iowa. Hayes also got his first coaching job on Stoops’ staff at OU. Their history together may have paid off for Hayes.

“I had a little insight into his thought process,” Hayes said. “I felt he was going to make this a defensive struggle, or try to, and we were up to the challenge today.”

The day started slowly for each side. The scoreless first quarter featured three punts and a turnover.

Renegades Bob Stoops returns to the football sidelines for the first time since retiring at Oklahoma University

Stoops punted once despite needing less than a yard. St. Louis had a promising march thwarted in Dallas territory on Christine Michael’s fumble.

The defensive battle began to thaw in the second period. Dallas sandwiched a pair of Austin MacGinnis field goals around the game’s first touchdown from the BattleHawks.

St. Louis took a 6-3 lead on Ford’s nifty scoring run late in the second quarter, breaking through a scrum around the line and racing across the goal line. MacGinnis’ second kick tied it 6-6 going into the half.

Dallas took a 9-6 midway through the third on a 23-yard field goal. The Renegades never seriously threatened to score again.

“We’ve got to be able to convert in the red zone,” Stoops said.

The BattleHawks went up for a good on an 11-play, 83-yard drive that ended with Russell’s 9-yard grab in the back of the end zone early in the fourth. BattleHawks kicker Taylor Russolino capped the following march with a 48-yard field goal.

St. Louis looks to remain undefeated in Texas with Sunday’s visit to the Houston Roughnecks (6 p.m. ET, FS1).