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DC Defenders cool off the St. Louis BattleHawks to stay unbeaten at Audi Field

Led by Jhurell Pressley's 107 rushing yards, the DC Defenders utilized their ground game to beat the St. Louis BattleHawks for first place in the XFL East. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

It wasn’t pretty, but the revitalized DC Defenders jumped from third place into a three-way tie for first place in the XFL East with a 15-6 win Sunday over the St. Louis BattleHawks.

A quarterback change and a gritty performance kept the Defenders (3-2) unbeaten at Audi Field after they struggled in consecutive losses in their first two road games the previous two weeks.

Quarterback Cardale Jones tossed an interception in the first quarter, his sixth in his past three games, and was replaced by backup Tyree Jackson, who capped his first drive with a nine-yard touchdown pass to tight end Khari Lee.

Jackson replaced Jones in the fourth quarter in DC’s two losses, but Defenders Coach Pep Hamilton said his plan Sunday was to replace Jones with Jackson after three series. Jones’s interception came on his second series, and Hamilton made the switch then. Jackson finished 9 for 14 for 39 yards and the touchdown pass to Lee, and he also rushed seven times for 32 yards. Jones finished 0 for 2 with the interception.

DC kicker Ty Rausa tacked on three field goals in the second half, including one from 52 yards and one from 50 yards, to account for the rest of the Defenders’ scoring.

The Defenders’ passing game had helped them earn their first two victories last month, but they beat the BattleHawks, who entered Sunday alone atop the East, at their own game.

DC running back Jhurell Pressley rushed for 107 yards on 15 carries, becoming the Defenders’ first 100-yard rusher in a game, and the Defenders rushed for 229 yards on 41 carries overall.

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DC’s defense kept the dangerous BattleHawks (3-2) in check, holding St. Louis, which entered Week 5 as the league’s second-highest-scoring team with an average of 22.8 points per game, to a pair of field goals by Taylor Russolino.

St. Louis running back Matt Jones, who played for the Washington Redskins from 2015 to 2016 and entered Sunday as the XFL’s second-leading rusher, was held to 70 yards on 13 carries. Dual-threat BattleHawks quarterback Jordan Ta’Amu, the reigning XFL star of the week, completed 15 of 25 passes for 174 yards.

“The defense did a masterful job of slowing down what I felt like was one of the premier offenses in the XFL and their quarterback,” Hamilton said. “He’s been a tremendous playmaker all season, and we were able to affect the quarterback and make a ton of plays.”

The Defenders improved to 3-0 at Audi Field, and on a picturesque afternoon at Buzzard Point on Sunday they played in front of a raucous announced crowd of 16,342.

“I’ve played a lot of football in the NFL, high school, college or whatever, but these fans are different,” Defenders safety Rahim Moore said. “I don’t know if the XFL is paying these dudes to be this loud, but the energy is just crazy. … That energy gives us hope. It’s a wonderful feeling to see that. When we make plays, they’re just into it.”

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