The D.C. Defenders (2-1, 1-0 in the East) traveled across the country Sunday to Carson, California for a meeting with the Los Angeles Wildcats (1-2, 0-2 in the West.) D.C. was outclassed in all three phases and was bested by 30 points at the Dignity Health Sports Park.
The Defenders entered the game having handily beaten New York, 27-0, in Week Two. They boasted the XFL’s best point differential (+39) and premier passing offense, an air attack that experienced difficulty the entire evening.
“[The game] didn’t get away from us,” D.C. head coach Pep Hamilton said after the game. “We never had it. I felt like we had our backs against the wall the entire game. It’s our job to really settle our guys down and make the adjustments that we need to make to stay in the game, and we didn’t do that today.”
Wildcat signal-caller Josh Johnson, making his second start after being hobbled by a thigh injury that kept him out Week One, took full advantage of a pass interference penalty called on a third down, keeping alive his team’s opening drive.
On the awarded first down, the quarterback took the snap from under center at the D.C. 40, feigned a handoff to his running back, and rolled before floating a deep pass to Tre McBride. McBride, swapped by D.C. during training camp for former Washington Redskins wideout Rashad Ross, pulled the ball in with his back to the endzone then turned and lunged into the endzone for six.
McBride, the son of current Quartermaster General of the United States Army Douglas McBride would catch another touchdown later in the half.
After passing for 499 yards and throwing only one interception in his first two starts, Defender quarterback Cardale Jones began the game by tossing picks on two of D.C.’s first three drives.
The thieves, cornerbacks Arrion Springs and Mike Stevens, were understudies filling in for injured first-stringers Jaylen Dunlap and Harlan Miller.
After McBride’s second score, the Defenders displayed what could be argued as the unluckiest series of any in the young season. Jhurrel Pressley muffed the kickoff, giving his offense a go of it from its own 6. The headsets malfunctioned, disallowing communication between Hamilton and his players. Finally, with 5:25 left in the second period, punter Hunter Niswander didn’t even bother trying to punt the football, coughing it up and setting the Wildcats up four yards from the D.C. goal-line.
Two plays later, L.A. tailback Martez Carter would slip by the hip of his left guard for his first XFL touchdown, stretching his team’s lead to 27-0 after a successful one-point conversion.
The Defenders provided a glimmer of hope before going into the break, as kicker Ty Rausa split the uprights with 30 seconds remaining.
At halftime, Jones’ had gone 6-13 for two interceptions and 39 yards. As Jones had trouble, Josh Johnson showed why 13 NFL franchises found him useful enough to sit in their quarterback meetings. The 33-year-old cousin of Marshawn Lynch distributed the ball for 128 yards and two scores, hitting on 10 of 16 attempts.
D.C. received the football to begin the second half and drove as far as the Wildcats’ 27. The drive was killed by another interception, this time into the hands of safety Jack Tocho. The turnover again led to points on the other end, as a seven-play, 81-yard march was capped by an 18-yard touchdown pass to Carter.
A fourth pick—and yet another Wildcat touchdown, led to Cardale Jones being pulled in favor of former University of Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson. Jones closed his day 13-26 for only 103 yards for a rating of 20.7, the lowest of any quarterback with at least 20 attempts in a game this season.
“He is our starting quarterback,” Hamilton said of Cardale Jones after the game, eliminating any rumors of an in-season competition.
“I’m enjoying the process, even after a loss,” Jones said. “It’s not a real testament to our team. The real testament is to see how we bounce back Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday in practice getting ready for Tampa Bay.”
LSU product Nick Brosette would scamper 38 yards for a touchdown in the middle of the fourth quarter. The score would do little to raise the spirits of a team that will now enter Week Four unsure of itself.
Sharing time in the backfield, Brosette (75 yards), Khalid Abdullah (47 yards), and Donnel Pumphery (40 yards) were each granted eight carries. Tight end Khari Lee would lead the Defenders in receiving with 38 yards on three grabs, while Rashad Ross would catch one of six targets for 17 yards.
The Defenders defense, a strong suit that got off the plane in Southern California averaging three takeaways a game, failed to force a Wildcat turnover. Through the air, the Defenders allowed Johnson 278 yards, a 72% completion rate, and a 148.0 rating, the closest to perfect of any passer through three weeks. McBride would finish with five catches for 109 yards, two yards more than the entire D.C. receiving corps combined.
Conversely, L.A. took five balls, the most in any game this year.
He who holds the honor of scoring the first defensive touchdown in Defenders history, Bradley Sylve, finished the game with a tackle. Defenders tackle Anthony Johnson was absent from the stat lines.
“We have a good football team,” Hamilton reminded the press. “They were the better team today. We didn’t help ourselves with […] the untimely penalties, the turnovers, and all of the above.”
The Defenders will look to rebound Sunday at 7 p.m. in another away matchup against a team who has yet to secure a victory, the Tampa Bay Vipers.
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.