The Arlington Renegades outplayed the D.C. Defenders in every facet of the game and captured the XFL championship with a 35-26 win in front of 22,734 in the San Antonio Alamodome.
It wasn't the NFL, but there were plenty of wagering options available. Overall, it wasn't bad for a spring football league which is something that has a high level of interest among a niche of football fans who will always prefer that sport over any other option.
The 2023 XFL was a reboot of the league led by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson with his ex-wife, Dany Garcia, as CEO. The last iteration of the league folded after five games of the 2020 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The original XFL was launched in 2001, spearheaded by Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation, in partnership with NBC. That version lasted just one season.
Arlington and DC had met less than a month ago in the regular season on April 16 in DC with the Defenders needing overtime to secure a 28-26 win. Overtime in the XFL consists of each team getting 3 alternating chances to score 2 points from the opponents' 5-yard line.
Arlington had limped into the playoffs with a 4-6 regular season record and a 3-3 division mark. The Renegades never won back-to-back games until the playoffs. They knocked off Houston (7-3, 6-0) in the semifinal, 26-11, as a 7.5-point dog on April 29 with only 13,568 spectators on hand. The Roughnecks had won both previous encounters by scores of 23-14 in Houston in week 2, and 25-9 in the regular season finale in Arlington.
D.C. was the league's best team all season, going 9-1, 6-0 before advancing to the title game with a 37-21 win over Seattle in front of 18,684 in the nation's capital. The Defenders play their homes at Audi Field, a soccer stadium that only holds 20,000.
A football team in the playoffs is something that DC has only seen once since 2016 when the NFL's Washington Football Team lost in the Wild Card round to Tampa Bay. Now known as the Commanders, the odds at FanDuel say Washington is the least likely team to win the NFC East.
The head coach of Arlington is Bob Stoops, who entered the College Football Hall-Of-Fame in 2021 and led Oklahoma to the national championship at the end of the 2000 season. He announced his retirement from the Sooners on June 7, 2017, but has since coached the XFL's Dallas Renegades in 2020.
In between his stints with the Dallas-turned-Arlington Renegades, he even returned to the Oklahoma sideline as the interim head coach for a 47-32 win over Oregon in the 2021 Alamo Bowl which, of course, is played in the stadium at which he was victorious on Saturday night.
San Antonio's own Mateo Lopez, age 8, sang the national anthem. An article on SportingNews.com explains that Lopez has been a mariachi performer since age 4 and has sung the Mexican anthem at the 2022 MLS All-Star Game, as well as U.S. national anthem at a 2022 Boston game at Fenway last year.
Arlington had the ball for all but 3 plays of the first quarter, scoring two touchdowns in the period for a 14-0 lead. The Renegades scored on the opening drive with a 41-yard pass from Luis Perez to Sal Cannella, and added a 9-yard TD pass from Perez to Tyler Vaughns after a DC 3-and-out.
It looked like DC would cut into that lead on the next possession, but Joe Powell caught a deflected pass in the endzone for an interception and a touchback. Thirteen plays later, Arlington converted that turnover into a 29-yard field goal by Taylor Russolino.
A kickoff mistake gave the Defenders excellent starting field position at their own 45 and, this time, they converted the drive into points with Abram Smith's 2-yard run with only 32 seconds left until halftime. That drive was interrupted for several minutes when a photographer took a punishing accidental hit on the sideline and was eventually taken off the filed on a stretcher.
DC kicked the ensuing kickoff out-of-bounds and helped set up Russolino's 51-yard field goal a 20-6 lead at the half.
The second half began with some fireworks by DC when Abram Smith broke off an untouched 52-yard dash up the middle, but another failed 2-point conversion left the score at 20-12.
NOTE: For those who haven't followed a single second of an XFL game, it should be noted here that there are NO extra point kicks in the league, but rather the choice of running a conventional play from the 2-yard line for 1 point, or from the 5-yard line for 2 points, or from the 10-yard line for 3 points. In lieu of an onside kick, a team gets one try make 15 yards from its own 25-yard line and keeps the ball for a new possession if successful.
Arlington then embarked on a 12-play journey back to paydirt that took 6:49 off the clock and culminated with a 7-yard TD run by Leddie Brown, his first of the season. The Renegades went for one point, but the run attempt came up short.
After an exchange of punts, the Defenders' quick-hitting offense scored on a 71-yard pass from former Ole Miss QB Jordan Ta'amu to Josh "Hot Sauce" Hammond. A successful 5-yard run by Abram Smith for the PAT made it 26-20. Smith, however, was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after the play, and DC topped that off with another kickoff mistake to set up Arlington at the Defenders' 35-yard line. One play later, Brown scored his 2nd touchdown of the year on a 35-yard pass from Perez and a 32-20 Arlington lead.
Two plays later, the Renegades had the ball again after Brandon Rusnak made a spectacular interception and 28-yard return.
After tipping the ball to himself, Rusnak ran for 7 or 8 yards and stumbled to the ground. Realizing he had not been touched, he got back to his feet, broke two tackles and dragged other defenders before finally being brought down at the Defenders' 23-yard line. Nearly four minutes later, Russolini kicked his third field goal for a 35-20 edge with 9:56 to play.
DC then went 3-and-out and Arlington ate up over 6 minutes of clock before a fumble at the DC 22 gave the Defenders some hope. With only 2:02 left in the game, Ta'amu led the team on a 7-play drive to make it 35-26 with a 24-yard pass to Hammond. The 2-point conversion pass was caught, but outside the back of the endzone. Ta'amu was intercepted on the possession control play and the game was over.
Perez, the Arlington QB, was named the game's most valuable player after completing 26-of-36 throws for 288 yards and 3 touchdowns. His biggest claim to fame before Saturday night was leading Texas A&M-Commerce to the D2 championship in 2017 over West Florida.
DC's Ta'amu was 16-of-30 for 245 with 2 scores and 3 picks. Ta'amu played college ball at Ole Miss and was the SEC's No. 2 quarterback in passing yards for the 2018 season when Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa led the conference.
DC's Abram Smith was the game's leading rusher with 90 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 13 carries. He also had 2 catches for 17 yards. Smith was the league's leading rusher. In college, he saw very little action at Baylor as a running back from 2017 to 2019 so he moved to linebacker in the Covid-shortened 2020 season and posted 48 tackles with 5 TFL's and a sack. But he returned to running back for 2021 and exploded for 1,601 yards and 12 touchdowns.
DC's "Hot Sauce" Hammond was the game's leading receiver with 127 yards and 2 scores on 6 catches. The former Florida Gator was an undrafted free agent with the Jaguars who played in two games and posted no stats. In his four years at Florida, he had 87 catches for 1,138 yards and 6 touchdowns, in addition to 134 yards rushing and 2 more scores.
That's the question that waits be answered. In all likelihood, we would say 'yes'. The next question would be rather or not there would be any expansion beyond the current 8 teams, or relocation of any of the existing teams.
As for attendance, St. Louis, which greatly desires to be an NFL city once again, blew all of the other clubs away with an average home crowd of 35,104. All of the other teams trailed by 20,000 or more. Here's the complete list:
As for TV viewership, the playoffs had to be deemed as somewhat disappointing with an average of just 575,000 viewers for each game on ESPN. But for cable TV, those kind of numbers aren't doomsday. However, a regular season USFL game was on Fox as direct competition to the second playoff game and posted higher numbers with 776,00 viewers, per xflnewshub.com.
The championship game TV ratings were unknown at publication time of this article.