The D.C. Defenders (1-0), led by former Ohio State standout passer Cardale Jones, used all three phases to—let me be the first to say it, slay—the Seattle Dragons (0-1), 31-19, at Audi Field in the nation’s capital.
Kicker Tyler Rausa, formerly a Boise State Bronco, pinned the “new” XFL’s first points onto the board with a 34-yard field goal over seven minutes into the opening quarter.
The son of St. Louis Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” member and 16-year NFL vet Ricky Proehl, Austin Proehl reeled in a 14-yard pass from Memphis Express great Brandon Silvers for the Dragons’—and the XFL’s—first touchdown. After a failed one-point attempt, the scoreboard read 6-3.
Defender safety Rahim Moore Sr. hopped a Silvers pass nearly five minutes into the second quarter, but Jones and the D.C. offense couldn’t capitalize, punting after moving the ball only three yards further.
With 6:56 left in the half, Defender cornerback Elijah Campbell blew in from the left edge around a personal protector and batted a punt attempt from Seattle punter Brock Miller’s boot, then chased the loose football into the hands of linebacker Jonathan Celestin for a touchdown.
Within the second quarter’s final minute, Trey Williams took a checkdown toss from Silvers 13 yards for another Seattle touchdown, this time with a successful one-point conversion to give the Dragons a 13-9 lead. A botched kickoff, however, gave D.C. an opportunity to put a few more points on the board before the halftime.
“All kickoffs have to go beyond the 20-yard-line,” informed viewers when Ernesto Lacayo’s kick fell shy of the mark and Rashad Ross collected it.
The ball, as a rule, was placed at the Dragons’ 45-yard-line. All it took was an eight-yard scramble by Jones to put Rausa in position to pull the game within one, which he did with a 54-yarder that split the uprights.
Both tailback Jhurrell Pressley—a 14-yard off-tackle rush—and former Pittsburgh Steeler Eli Rogers—an over-the-shoulder 27-yard grab—made plays on the opening possession of the second half for the Defenders.
The play of the game, and maybe even the weekend, came next.
Jones snapped the ball from the shotgun and handed it off to the FBS’ all-time leader in rushing yardage, San Diego State product Donnel Pumphery, on what appeared to be a stretch play. The former fourth-round NFL Draft pick then flipped it to Rogers, who gave it back to Jones. The quarterback, making his first start since October of 2015, found tight end Khari Lee, who wheeled past two Dragon defensive backs for a score.
Down 19-13, it took Silvers and Proehl only three plays to connect for another touchdown, this time with the receiver pulling in pass and racing down the sideline for 57 yards.
Three series later, Jones found former Washington Redskin Rashad Ross deep on fourth down to tally what would end up being the game’s go-ahead score.
With 12 minutes left in the game, Silvers would target Proehl once more, who slipped breaking on his route. There to snag the ball was defensive back Bradley Sylve, who returned the ball 69 yards to the endzone, making the score 31-19.
The Dragons would drive to the Defenders’ 3-yard-line on the next possession, but a miscommunicated handoff would lead to another D.C. takeaway.
Seattle’s Silvers was knocked out of the game with an ankle injury with little over a minute left, and B.J. Daniels was unable to convert the following fourth-down play.
“There was just so many unknowns,” Hamilton said, not counting Jones, who finished 16-of-26 with 235 yards and two touchdowns, as one of them. “It was good for our guys to compete against another team and actually tackle people to the ground.”
Eli Rogers, whose mother passed away in the week leading to the game, caught six balls for 73 yards. On the other side, Proehl pulled in five receptions for 88 yards.
“We all love football,” Defenders head coach Pep Hamilton said, bringing to mind the league’s slogan. “We’re dying to have an opportunity to come together and enjoy something that’s been a favorite pastime for us for quite some time.”
“Lord knows, what would we be doing right now if we didn’t have football?” Rahim Moore Sr. said after the game.
“It was important for us to, of course go out and find a way to win the football game,” said Hamilton. “But I talked prior to the game about us having a desired identity. And now I think we have actual fingerprints.”
Brendan is a junior journalism major at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. Along with contributing to XFLBoard.com, he serves as the Assistant Campus Life Editor and has written over 100 stories for his school’s award-winning student publication, The Rocket. He has also contributed to the newspaper’s sports section for what will be six semesters; covering games, writing game previews and recaps, and features.