By Ben Wayer of Big Dudes in the Trenches
Heading into week 3 we are starting to see some separation between the good teams, the middle of the road teams, and the bad teams. But how many of them actually have a record that represents where their team really ranks? For the Vipers, unfortunately their 0-2 record was very representative of how they’ve played thus far, at least on offense. For LA, their 0-2 record is a bit of a misnomer as their offense is incredibly high powered and has the ability to score at will. With the return/debut of their starting quarterback Josh Johnson last week, it was only more apparent that this team will come around. Heading into this week in fact, the Wildcats hosting the DC Defenders is actually my game of the weekend. Would it hold up to my expectations, or would another game surpass it? Only one way to find out. Let’s get into the week that was in the XFL.
In the first game of the weekend we have the winless Tampa Bay Vipers, hosting the undefeated Houston Roughnecks. This game is gonna be a lapper right? Not to fast my friend; in the first game of the weekend we have our game of the week! Tampa came into the game with more questions than answers on offense with week 1 start Arron Murray once again out with a foot injury, and their offense came in still with no touchdowns for. Starting at quarterback for Tampa was Taylor Cornelius, and his first drive would an early 3-0 lead and after that field goal the fans started to grumble, almost a “here we go again” groan. After getting a stop the second drive saw Cornelius under center again and when that drive went nowhere fans were chanting for USF alum Quinton Flowers to come in. Houston would score a quick touchdown on the first pass of their second drive from PJ Walker to Cam Philips, who could not have been any more wide open. After a successful 3 point conversion, the first non-penalty-aided 3 point success in league history, the Roughnecks led 9-3. On the ensuing possession the fans got their wish and Flowers came in under center, where he would stay until the last drive of the first half, but we will get to that later. After trading meager possessions, the Vipers would get their first offensive touchdown of the season in the second quarter on a run by Flowers. After a successful 1 point conversion the Vipers regained the lead 10-9. But that lead would not last long as the Roughnecks would answer using the pass to open up the run and take a 15-10 lead. A Houston field goal would make it 18-10 and the Vipers needed points before the half. That brought Cornelius back into the game. The move puzzled me, but having to move all the way downfield with 47 seconds left, and Flowers had been primarily run first all game, it kinda made sense. Once again aided by the XFL post 2 minute warning clock rules, and a defensive PI, the Vipers got into the endzone on a Cornelius sneak as time expired, and after the 2 point conversion we were tied at halftime. There were reports before the game that Viper coach Marc Trestman had lost the locker room. After that half of play, I think we can put that rumor to rest.
The second half would start with the Roughnecks receiving the kick, and any Walker and company again moved the ball with ease, capping the drive off with a pass to Phillips and 2 point conversion to take a 26-18 lead. Houston looked to be taking all the momentum back after a defensive stop, and then had the ensuing drive aided by a controversial no fumble call. Walker dove at the end of a 30 yard run and threw the ball behind him in celebration. Problem was, he was never touched, and a whistle was not immediately blown. The Vipers picked up the ball and thought they would at least get possession after calling a timeout to get the officials more time to look at the play. Unfortunately for them it was determined that Walker gave himself up on the dive and was thus ruled down, and the play dead. The drive though, would stall, and Houston looked to kick a field goal to extend their lead. But it went very wide right as if the universe was making up for that decision by the officials. Tampa would take over and make sure to keep the game close with Cornelius connecting with Williams for the Vipers first passing touchdown of the season. After an unsuccessful 2 point conversion it was 26-24 Roughnecks and would stay that way as we went to the 4th quarter. Tampa would start the quarter with the ball and good field position following a bad punt by Houston to end that ended the 3rd. All the Vipers could muster up was a field goal however, and they regained a 1 point lead, 27-26. Houston, would score on the very next drive though on a pass from the dynamic duo, Walker to Philips. A 2 point 2 point conversion would make it 34-27. Tampa would drive all the way to the Houston one on the ensuing drive. But three straight plays would result in no points. If you ask me, Flowers should have come in on the third down because with the pass plays they were trying, at least he could make a play with his feet if needed. Cornelius looked lost, and on the 4th and goal play did nothing but run backwards and throw to the middle of the field. Luckily it wasn’t picked off. For the second time in the game, the Roughnecks were backed up on their own goalline, and for the second time, the Vipers let them off the hook. Tampa would get a stop though, and they’d get the ball back as we went to the two minute warning. Starting with great field position and 1:55 left in the game, Cornelius looked to repeat his first half heroics and drive for a touchdown and potential game tying/winning PAT. But, it wasn’t meant to be as Cornelius threw a pick with 1:12 left in the game. Houston would get one 1st down to lock it up and then transition to the victory formation and win the game 34-27. Tampa Bay gave everything they had, and wasted a few prime opportunities of their own. The fans still desperately want Quinton Flowers in at quarterback, it could have made a difference this game, but it could also be bias as he is a USF product, the school is located in Tampa and plays at Raymond James. I’m not entirely convinced the quarterback question is answered for the Vipers. Houston continued their offensive dominance, but this game shows that any team in this league can win any week, no matter what the records say going into it. Houston covers the 6.5 spread, and with the over/under at 45.5, the over hits.
In our second game of the weekend we saw a battle of 1-1 teams as the Dallas Renegades went to Century Link Field to take on the Seattle Dragons. Landry Jones came out of the gates slow, but his Dragons counterpart Brandon Silvers did not. The first half was all Dragons. Silvers was making plays and passes like a mad man, he did throw one interception, but Jim Zorn was once again the calming voice of reason on the sideline for his quarterback and helped him shake it off. But how did the game actually shake out? Let’s get into it.
The Dragons kicked off the scoring with Silvers hitting Proehl for a 21 yard touchdown over the middle on their very first drive. With the score 6-0 Dragons after a failed 2 point conversion, the Renegades answered with a touchdown of their own, Jones to Nagal over e middle for the 12 yard strike. Their 2 point conversion also failed and it was 6-6, and it would stay like that through the end of the first quarter. In the second teams would trade punts, then interceptions as Silvers threw his, and then Jones threw one of his own on the next drive.
Difference was, the Dragons cashed in on their interception as Silvers would lead his team down the field and find Farrow over the middle for a 19 yard touchdown pass. Another failed 2 point conversion made the score 12-6. On the ensuing drive Landry Jones would be picked off again, this time it was inside the two minute warning though. With about 40 seconds left and the benefit of the XFL clock rules I was fully expecting the Dragons to at least try to move the ball downfield for a field goal attempt. But Zorn would get conservative and settle to go in at half up 12-6.
We were lucky enough to hear some of Renegades coach Bob Stoops’s halftime speech, and whatever else he said combined with adjustments on both sides of the ball, worked, and worked well. The Renegades absolutely dominated the second half. Seattle started the half with the ball, and their first drive was the only drive where they had relatively any success, and they didn’t score, so does it really matter? Dallas on the other hand took their first possession to the house on a 10 yard pass from Jones to his tight end Parham to cap off an excellent drive. After yet another failed 2 point conversion we were tied 12-12. The Dragons would have 3 straight 3 and outs, during which time the Renegades would add to their lead, and never look back. A field goal from MacGinnis made it 15-12 Dallas at the end of 3, and on their first drive of the 4th quarter Jones would find Parham again, this time for a 65 yard score. Again a failed 2 point conversion, but the score became 21-12 visitors. The final 3 and out by Seattle left the Dragons in desperate need of a big play, and on the Renegades first offensive play, they would get it. With the ball at his own 35, Landry Jones dropped back to pass but was hit, and stripped of the ball. Finally some life for the Dragons. But it didn’t matter as Seattle squandered the field position and went 4 and out deep in Renegades territory. Dallas would be content to keep the ball in the ground and the clock running the rest of the way as they drove the ball down field and settled for a field goal to make the score 24-12 which would be our final. Dallas covered the 4.5 point spread and with the line at 42.5, the under hit. So what helped Dallas slay the Dragons? Conservative play calling. Now I hate a 3rd and long screen pass, but I hate third and long routes run short of the sticks even more, and that’s what Seattle did the entire second half. Their defense wasn’t ready to defend against the Renegades run game either with their pass first offense, and the combination was killer in Seattle on that day.
Day 2 of the weekend started with the home opener in St. Louis as the Battlehawks hosted the New York Guardians. This game was an absolute mess for the Guardians. Starting quarterback Matt McGloin sustained an injury on the first drive, and would struggle much like he did last week the rest of the half. Marquise Williams played the second drive for New York while McGloin tried to see if he could continue, and he did for a time at least, but McGloin would not see the field the second half as it was Williams that took most of the snaps under center. But Williams had struggles of his own and at one point had 7 plays from inside the 6 yard line late in the game, and could not get the ball in the endzone. After that drive failed to yield points the third quarterback of the day, Luiz Perez would get his chance. He was the only quarterback to have any sustained success, if only for one drive. He led the Guardians down the field for their only touchdown of the game in the 4th quarter on pass to Austin Duke, the 3 point conversion would fail. If it weren’t for a field goal earlier in the game they would have gone 7 and a half quarters without any point. Kevin Gilbride was heard and seen talking on the sidelines with wide receiver Mekale McKay about how he was needed to step up as a leader for the team and that things hadn’t worked out how they thought it would in that department. The woes of New York were not limited to lack of scorking, they couldn’t run the ball on offense, they couldn’t stop the run on defense, and they gave up two huge special teams plays, but we will get to those in a minute. The other thing that defined the Guardians in this game was a complete lack of discipline. Several personal foul penalties against, so many in fact that the starting center Silberman, was warned by officials that he would be gone from the game with his next one. He was benched instead. There are a ton of issues that need to be addressed with this team right now if they ever want to get back in the win column.
If you are a St. Louis football fan, then today was absolutely the day for you. The Dome was absolutely rocking. The crowd was way into this game. Already with a 6-3 lead, the Battlehawks would make XFL history on the kickoff following the Guardians second quarter field goal and return the kickoff to the house, the first in XFL history. They needed a little trickery to get it done though as a reverse on the return sprung Matt McCrane for the long return. Even though no tickets were sold in the upper deck, the lower bowl was sold out, and The Dome was absolutely ELECTRIC. The Battlehawks defense would force a 3 and out on the ensuing possession for New York, and then block the punt on 4th down giving their run first offense extremely good field position and the St. Louis run game would continue its dominance and find the endzone for the second time of the game, giving the Battlehawks a commanding lead of 23-3 that they would take into the half. St. Louis was able to coast most of the second half, adding a 58 yard field goal in the 3rd, and a 36 yard field goal in the 4th for a final of 29-9 in football’s return to the city. The Battlehawks covers the 10.5 point spread, and the under hit with the line at 41.
This game was a lot more than the action on the field though. As I’ve mentioned a few times the crowd was phenomenal. Chants split across the stadium of “BATTLE-HAWKS” were heard several times on the TV broadcast. At one point a fan sign that read “BIG VINCE ENERGY” was zoomed in on, and one of the fans holding the sign could be heard yelling “We’re still here Stan,” referencing LA Rams owner Stan Kronkie who moved the team from St. Louis 3 years ago. There was also an exchange between a young girl and defensive tackle Casey Sayles who traded a football for a box of thin mints from the girl. Personally, I’m not a St. Louis sports fan at all, but the atmosphere of this game, and the excitement from the fans are what this league, and sports in general, are all about.
The final game of the week saw the Los Angeles Wildcats host the undefeated DC Defenders. I had this game circled as the game of the week. I knew LA was better than their record, and I thought DC was the most complete team in the league. I was ready for an amazing game. What I got was an absolute blow out, off the backs of a defense that forced 5 turnovers (4 interceptions, 1 blocked punt). But if you missed the game and are thinking it was DC dominating, you would be wrong. That’s right, Cardale Jones not only threw 4 interceptions this game, he lost his first start since high school, and finished the game on the bench. I’ll give it to him and DC Head Coach Pep Hamilton though, down 27-3 going into halftime both Jones and Hamilton were very calm and relaxed on the sidelines. Both sure of the teams talents and ability to come back from the deficit. Except that wouldn’t happen. On the Defenders first two possessions of the second half, Jones would throw an interception deep in LA territory, with the second one being his last play of the game.
LA handled their business on offense almost as well as they did on defense, and that was with minimal production from their star receiver from the previous games, Nelson Spruce. Josh Johnson connected with Tre McBride for two touchdown passes and threw a third on a swing screen to running back Martez Carter, who went into the endzone with a front flip after telling the sideline reporter he would do a flip if he scored again (he already had one rushing touchdown in the game.) Carter would add another rushing score in the 4th and when you add all those to the 1 yard rushing TD from Larry Rose early in the first, and one successful 2 point conversion you get 39 points. DC would get a touchdown for pride late in the 4th quarter from 3rd string running back Nick Brossette to make it 39-9, the final, and continue to show heart by going for the onside kick with the game well out of reach. LA would pick up the win as 8.5 point underdogs, and the over would hit with the line at 44.5.
While the crowd wasn’t nearly as large as it was in St. Louis, it was still plenty loud and the Wildcats players appreciated the support. Early sideline interviews saw players thanking the fans for their patience and telling them how they were coming. Boy, was that an understatement. Like I’ve said, I expected this Wildcats team to come out to play this week. But I don’t think a single person expected the stomping that took place. This was the largest margin of victory this year, the most turnovers forced by a single team, and the most points scored by a single team. A team, by the way, that was winless going against the early favorites to run the table. Simply incredible the turn around by the Wildcats in the early stages of the season.
So that’s the week that was, what did you all think? I for one am loving it. Last week pinned out about how I expected it to, and this week was an absolute curveball as far as gameplay. The XFL is only getting better as the season goes on, I’m here for it. I hope you all are as well. Can’t wait to do this again on Saturday!