Jake Bates Kicks Panthers to 18-16 Victory over Battlehawks

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by Roman Bruno

DETROIT, Michigan (March 30, 2024) – In a tightly-contested affair, the Michigan Panthers defeated the St. Louis Battlehawks 18-16 on Saturday, March 30 in their United Football League opener at Ford Field. Jake Bates nailed a 64-yard field goal with three seconds remaining to win the game for Michigan.

Despite both teams getting into opponent territory, neither offense could come up with points in the first quarter.

The Panthers stout defense picked up where they left off last season. Breeland Speaks made an impact early, tallying his first sack of the 2024 campaign on A.J. McCarron to force a St. Louis third-and-long. Safety Kai Nacua also picked up a sack towards the end of the first.

The Battlehawks defense made plays when they had to with a Mike Rose interception off Panthers quarterback E.J. Perry.

Michigan put together a nice drive to begin the second quarter. Perry connected with Devin Ross through traffic for a catch-and-run for 42 yards to get to the St. Louis six-yard line. The drive halted on the very next play as Perry threw his second interception of the game, this time to Qwynnterrio Cole.

St. Louis capitalized on the turnover, capping off a 16-play, 87-yard drive with a 36-yard Andre Szmyt field goal to give the Battlehawks a 3-0 lead heading into halftime.

Defense still showed up for the Panthers in the second half. Daniel Wise sacked McCarron for Michigan’s third of the contest. St. Louis was forced to punt on their first possession out of the half.

Michigan’s offense came alive when it needed to. The Panthers picked up a quick 40 yards on two consecutive passes from Perry to wide receivers Trey Quinn and Marcus Simms. Two plays later, Perry hit tight end Cole Hikutini for a 41-yard catch-and-run. Perry finished the drive himself with a four-yard touchdown. Michigan converted the one-point attempt to lead 7-3.

The Battlehawks drove deep into Panther territory looking to take the lead to begin the fourth quarter, but they were stuffed on fourth down. Walter Palmore made the play, stopping St. Louis running back Jacob Saylors from getting the first.

After a Michigan punt, St. Louis went back to work. McCarron connected with Sutherland for a five-yard score to end a six-play drive. The Battlehawks attempted a two-point conversion to extend their lead but failed, leaving it a 9-7 game in favor of St. Louis.

Panthers running back Wes Hills carried the offense on their ensuing drive, rushing for 18 and 24 yards on consecutive attempts to get into the redzone. With five minutes remaining in the contest, Perry gave the Panthers the lead with another touchdown run, this time from eight yards out. Michigan converted the two-point attempt with a Perry pass to Ross to lead 15-9.

St. Louis drove down the field looking to win the game. After driving into Michigan territory, McCarron hit Marcell Ateman deep for 25 yards on fourth down to keep the game alive. The Panthers forced St. Louis into another fourth down, but McCarron found Ateman for a five-yard touchdown pass to tie the game. McCarron then found a wide open Sutherland on the one-point attempt to take a 16-15 lead with 49 seconds left.

With no timeouts remaining, the Panthers drove into field goal range. On fourth down from the opposite 46-yard line, Bates played hero for Michigan, winning the game on his leg.

Perry completed 12/24 passes for 176 yards and two interceptions in addition to two rushing scores. McCarron of St. Louis completed 24/37 passes for 216 yards and one touchdown.

Hills led the way for the Panthers on the ground, rushing for 85 yards on 11 attempts. Wayne Gallman was the leading rusher for the Battlehawks with 40 yards on 13 attempts.

The leading receiver for Michigan was Ross with 2 receptions for 46 yards. Ateman caught 6 balls for 60 yards and a touchdown for St. Louis. 

The Panthers (1-0) will host the Birmingham Stallions (1-0) next Sunday at Ford Field. Kick off is set for 12 PM ET. The Battlehawks (0-1) will host the Arlington Renegades (0-1) in their UFL home opener, kickoff scheduled for 7 PM CT.

POSTGAME NOTES

  • Jake Bates 64-yard field goal was the longest field goal of his career and the longest field goal in recent spring football history and ranks as the second longest field goal in Ford Field history, behind Justin Tucker’s 66-yard field goal in 2021.
  • While primarily used as a kickoff specialist in college, Bates kicked extra points for the Houston Texans during the 2023 preseason. He hadn’t kicked an impactful field goal since high school.
  • Bates started his collegiate career as a soccer player at Central Arkansas before transferring to Texas State for football and ending his career at Arkansas, earning First-Team All SEC honors as a kickoff specialist
  • EJ Perry moves to 2-0 in regular season games with the Panthers dating back to last season.
  • Nine different Michigan receivers caught a pass in the game, but no one made more than two receptions.
  • Wes Hills led all rushers with 85 yards on 11 attempts in his first game as a Panther. Hills led the USFL in rushing during the 2023 season.
  • Kai Nacua led the game with 11 tackles, including a sack and two tackles-for-loss
  • Daniel Wise collected a game-high two sacks in his first game as a Panther.
  • Defensively, Michigan held the potent St. Louis passing attack to 199 total yards and recorded 3.5 sacks in the game.

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