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A 'Special' day in St. Louis

Taylor Russolino had three FGs on Sunday, including one from 58 yards.

ST. LOUIS -- On a day when St. Louis rejoiced about being a pro football town again, it was the special teams that rose up and created the plays that made the difference in a 29-9 win over the New York Guardians that resulted in the 2-1 St. Louis BattleHawks being tied for first place in the XFL East with the DC Defenders.

How special were the special teams:

Let us count the ways.

  • Kicker Taylor Russolino had three field goals, including one from 58 yards that gave the BattleHawks a 26-3 lead in the third quarter.
  • There was a blocked punt by wide receiver Carlton Agodosi that was recovered by linebacker Shaq Jones and returned 19 yards to the New York 17-yard line. Five plays later, running back Matt Jones scored from inside the 1-yard line and the 2-point conversion pass from wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El to wide receiver Alonzo Russell gave the BattleHawks a 23-3 lead.
  • Defensive back and return man Joe Powell took a kickoff in for a touchdown from 84 yards out off of a reverse from Keith Mumphery to put St. Louis up 12-3. Powell got to the right sideline and burst past the bulk of New York’s pursuit before dragging a final tackler into the end zone. It was the first kick return for a TD in the XFL.

BattleHawks coach Jonathan Hayes credited a raucous crowd for its support.

“I want to express my thanks and the team’s thanks to all who came out,” he said. “That really ignited our players and got us excited. It really made it difficult for the other team.”

Hayes was especially pleased for Powell. 

“I thought the reverse was awesome,” he said. “It was great to get it called. When Joe hit that next gear I was like, ‘Oh man, this could be a good one.’"

“It really got the stadium ... well, I couldn’t hear myself think when he was running down the sideline."

“Joe will do anything you ask him to do. I didn’t know he had that other gear. Needless to say, it was great to see. Joe’s such a soft-spoken guy. He always shows up on game day. That’s why I love the guy. He’s a special person. I was happy for him.”

Said Powell, “We’ve been practicing it all week and guys have been blocking it really well. I saw the hole and went for it. Once I got the ball, I heard the crowd and when I thought I saw the opening, I ran down the sideline as fast as I can because I knew I had a chance to score.”

See the first-ever XFL kickoff return

After remembering he scored six kickoff return touchdowns during his career with three Arena Football teams, the Globe Tech product amended it by smiling and saying, “I knew I was going to score.”

The game-changing plays from the kickoff return team, punt coverage team and field-goal team is why Hayes added, “Our special teams were a three-phased game today.” 

Not bad on a team where numerous coaches share duties because Hayes, who was a special teams and tight ends coach when his coaching career began in 1999 at Oklahoma, didn’t hire a coach to focus only on the BattleHawks special teams.

Many of the players in the XFL are well-traveled, perhaps none more so than Russolino. He’s never been in an NFL training camp, but has played in the Canadian Football League, Arena Football in China and other indoor teams. The 30-year-old believes he’s now found his home with the BattleHawks while holding out hope a NFL team will take notice.

“That’s a career best for me,” he said. “I’ve always known I have that type of ability, but I have to give it to my staff and coach for them to trust me. It’s the main reason I can have success in a situation like that.”

He might also be wondering if punter Marquette King will fulfill a promise he made in a radio appearance they made together last Wednesday along with long snapper Tanner Carew.

When it was noted in the interview that when King was with the Oakland Raiders he once sent a balloon bouquet to kicker Sebastian Janikowski after he set a record, King was asked what might happen if Russolino were to break the XFL record.

The obviously offbeat King said, “If he breaks it, I’m going to get him this little blowup doll.”

Russolino might want to tread lightly when he arrives at his locker this week at the BattleHawks’ team facility.