Houston sports fans were treated to some playoff football when the XFL South Division Championship kicked off at 6 pm Saturday in TDECU Stadium. The Houston Roughnecks (7-3) hosted the Arlington Renegades (4-6) in a rematch of the previous week’s season finale. Over 13,000 fans attended the match, but they left disappointed as the Renegades upset the Roughnecks to win the South.
The loss ended what had been a memorable season for the Roughnecks, one of the top teams in the XFL. (The XFL is an innovative, interactive pro football league, partly owned by megastar Dwayne Johnson. It functions largely like the NFL: two teams of 11 players each compete on a rectangular field with goalposts at each end. The offense, the team with possession of the football, attempts to score points either by running with the ball or passing it; the defense works to stop them from scoring and get the ball themselves. The league features distinctive rule changes, including a modified kickoff and a tiered point system for extra points after touchdowns.)
The Roughnecks entered the match as heavy favorites, but the Renegades outplayed them in nearly every area. On Arlington’s opening possession of the game, they marched down the field on a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive. The Renegades scored the only points of the first quarter when quarterback Luis Perez connected with receiver JaVonta Payton for a 14-yard touchdown. Houston’s two possessions in the opening quarter resulted in a turnover on downs and a punt.
The Renegades led 6-0 at the end of the first quarter. And they extended their lead early in the second. Perez heaved the ball to JaVonta Payton, who ran untouched into the end zone for a 59-yard touchdown. He found the end zone again for a successful two-point conversion. Arlington went up 14-0 with 13:41 left in the second quarter.
Quarterback Brandon Silvers started the game for Houston, going 3/6 for 22 yards. But he was replaced by Cole McDonald in the second quarter. McDonald threw to wide receiver Tavonn Salter for 11 yards, moving the ball to the six-yard line. Then he scrambled to the one, and running back Jeremy Cox rushed in for a one-yard touchdown. McDonald passed to receiver Deontay Burnett for a two-point conversion. Houston trailed Arlington 14-8 with seven minutes left in the half.
Renegades QB Luis Perez continued to shine, carving up Houston’s defense on play after play. He threw his third touchdown of the day when he found wide receiver Brandon Arconado, who leapt up to make an end-zone catch.
The two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Renegades jumped out to a commanding 20-8 lead with 4:57 left before halftime. They got the ball back after the Roughnecks’ next drive came up empty. And they capped their next drive with a field goal. Arlington kicker Taylor Russolino drilled a 31-yard attempt to give the Renegades a 23-8 lead at halftime.
Both teams went scoreless at the start of the second half. After Houston’s second punt, Renegades receiver Tyler Vaughns handled the return. Roughnecks linebacker Chauncey Rivers forced a fumble, which was recovered by Roughnecks long snapper Brian Khoury. Their offense took over, confounding the Arlington defense with a deft trick play in which McDonald rushed for 13 yards. That helped get the Roughnecks in the red zone. And after their drive stalled, kicker A. Jones made a 32-yard field goal with 5:42 left in the third quarter.
After a high-powered first half, the Renegades offense slowed down in the second half. Perez led Arlington down the field on one drive, but Houston linebacker John Daka sacked Perez for a loss of seven yards. Arlington was forced to punt. The Roughnecks trailed 23-11 after three quarters.
The Roughnecks entered the fourth quarter down by two scores. And Houston’s hopes of mounting a comeback were dashed late in the quarter, when Cole McDonald tossed an interception that essentially sealed the game. Arlington’s DeVante Bausby picked off a pass intended for Michael Bandy, securing victory for the Renegades. A 19-yard field goal by Arlington made the final score 26-11.
The Arlington Renegades won the South Division Championship; they’ll face the D.C. Defenders in the XFL Championship on May 13. After the game, Roughnecks head coach Wade Phillips congratulated the Renegades on their championship win. “Luis Perez came in and obviously helped them at the end of the year – that really changed the makeup of their team. I thought he played well,” Phillips said in a postgame press conference. “Getting behind like that in the first half was really the key; they played really well in the first half. We didn’t play as well. I thought we fought back in the second half; it was a pretty even second half, really. But we were too far behind in the first half, so… a disappointment. But I’m proud of our team.”