Luis Perez leads Arlington Renegades to improbable XFL Championship Victory

Arlington Renegades quarterback Luis Perez releases a pass in the XFL Championship game against the D.C. Defenders at the Alamodome on May 13th, 2023 in San Antonio, TX. (© Alex Bierens de Haan/XFL)
Arlington Renegades quarterback Luis Perez releases a pass in the XFL Championship game against the D.C. Defenders at the Alamodome on May 13th, 2023 in San Antonio, TX. (© Alex Bierens de Haan/XFL)

Entering the XFL playoffs, many fans believed the Arlington Renegades didn’t deserve one of the four spots due to their underwhelming performance during the regular season, in which they finished 4-6. Instead, fans wanted to see the 7-3 St. Louis Battlehawks, but the XFL’s two-team-per-divison system prevented that.

Thus, the underdog Renegades played the Roughnecks first in their division championship, and instead of going out easily as many expected, Arlington put together their best collective display of the season to clinch a spot in the XFL Championship. Two weeks later, they’re XFL Champions against all odds, thanks to their 35-26 win over the D.C. Defenders tonight.

Luiz Perez & the Renegades’ turnaround

Watching the Renegades during week nine against the Defenders, it was evident they had something special in Luis Perez, whom they acquired during week seven via trade with the Vipers. On the playoff bubble, Arlington fell to D.C. 28-26 in overtime. But their 17-0 second-half run and Perez’s 335-yard performance were positive takeaways. Two weeks later, after an embarrassing loss to the Roughnecks in a meaningless game during week ten, Perez & co. won when it mattered in the division championship in a rematch with Houston. Perez once again dazzled with 289 yards and three passing touchdowns in the biggest game of his pro football career. 

Tonight, Perez once again proved the doubters wrong, tossing three touchdown passes and 288 yards as he led his squad to victory, rightfully earning XFL Championship MVP honors. And while many points were scored by both sides, Arlington never trailed against the favored Defenders. 

Defenders’ struggles

Although they trailed throughout the contest, the Defenders’ deficit never fell below two possessions, meaning a comeback was always well in the realm of possibility. A 52-yard touchdown run from Abram Smith on the first drive of the second half reeled D.C. within eight points, but the Renegades responded with another methodical drive that ended in a rushing touchdown from Leddie Brown to extend their lead back up to two possessions.

Later in the same quarter, Josh Hammond’s 72-yard receiving touchdown was canceled out by another touchdown from Leddie Brown and then a field goal set up by Jordan Ta’amu’s thrown interception in D.C. territory. At this point to many, it was evident that time was running out for the trailing Defenders in the fourth quarter, who were clearly just outschemed. 

Ironically, Ta’amu struggled all game with being pressured and threw two interceptions, including one in the red zone that abruptly halted an otherwise good-looking drive for D.C. during the second quarter, a lost opportunity at scoring. Conversely, Perez threw a clean sheet despite the constant pressure Gregg Williams sent. Not only that, the Renegades only sent Marquette King out to punt once, compared to the Defenders punting three times.

Out of the gate

Wasting no time, the first score came on just the second play of the game thanks to an electric 41-yard catch-and-run from Sal Cannella that had the Arlington fans in attendance loud and on their feet. From there, the defense forced a three-and-out behind two incomplete passes and a run for negative yardage – unheard of for the Defenders’ offense which has been excellent at setting the tone early. 

The next offensive drive for the Renegades again ended in points, after 16 systematic plays that took up nearly nine minutes in the first quarter. It was clear that Arlington had all the answers they needed against D.C.’s struggling secondary, which was missing shutdown corner Michael Joseph. 

Meanwhile, the rushing attack also did its job in keeping the Defenders honest, combining for 111 yards. Leading the charge, bruiser De’Veon Smith ran hard as he has all season for 54 yards on 15 carries. On the other hand, Abram Smith broke off some nice runs for 90 total yards. However, his usage was limited since his team trailed throughout the game. 

Final thoughts

Well, the 2023 XFL Season is officially over and the Arlington Renegades are your champions. And while some may having a 6-6 team as your league-winners is a bad look for the league, it really isn’t considering the winning quarterback for the team didn’t arrive until week seven. The Arlington defense also remained superb throughout the season and while the Renegades put up points, it was their defense that got them where they are.

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