The clock flashed :02 as the Guardians’ Marquise Williams reached for the snap from the shotgun. D.C. defensive end Tavaris Barnes screamed off of the left edge and gave chase to the rolling quarterback. Williams pivoted, suddenly switching direction and evading the Defender. Affording himself some distance from Barnes, he set his sights downfield, pointed and cocked his right arm. By the time Barnes lunged to tackle him, the ball was floating high in the air.
Safeties Rahim Moore Sr. and Carlos Merritt batted the ball from Mekale McKay’s clutches, but, in all actuality, the game had been over for much longer.
Kevin Gilbride’s New York Guardians (1-1) entered the nation’s capital Saturday expecting better against Pep Hamilton’s D.C. Defenders (2-0.) From the outset, quarterback Matt McGloin and company had trouble advancing the football, receiving the opening kickoff only to promptly give the ball to the Defenders three plays later.
D.C. wasted no time, embarking on an 11-play, 85-yard scoring march. The drive started with a 25-yard strike from Cardale Jones to Eli Rogers, who played in the contest despite his mother’s funeral being held the same day. Facing fourth-and-two from New York’s 47-yard-line later in the series, Jones galloped for 14. Six plays later, wideout DeAndre Thompkins pulled in his first XFL grab, a 13-yard touchdown.
The next Guardian possession looked to be another three-and-out as Justin Vogel lined up to punt on fourth-and-one. Or so it seemed. Playing personal protector, backup quarterback Marquise Williams, who held off Chicago Bears passer Mitchell Trubisky in their time at Chapel Hill, took a direct snap and wheeled for 16 yards.
The Defenders put an end to any momentum less than a minute later. Guardian tailback Darius Victor hauled in a McGloin checkdown and charged forward, colliding with former Bronko Nagurski awardee Scooby Wright. In came five-season NFL vet Rahim Moore Sr., who extracted the football from Victor’s grasp before a scuffle broke out post-whistle.
Again, the Defenders slowly worked their way down the field for a score, this time a 27-yard Ty Rausa field goal to make a nine-point D.C. lead.
In the following Guardian possessions, McGloin got in his own way, missing the mark on a deep pass and gifting the ball to D.C.’s Matt Elam, bobbling a snap, and intentionally grounding a ball on third down.
A 40-yard hook-up from Jones to Rashad Ross within the last two minutes of the first half afforded Ty Rausa another three points, this time from 36 yards out.
Combined with his criticism of offensive playcaller G.A. Mangus’s gameplan before heading into the tunnel at halftime, a pick-six thrown by McGloin early in the second half led to his benching in the fourth quarter. For the day, the Penn State product threw 8-for-19 for 42 yards and two interceptions.
On their first series of the third quarter, D.C. called seven straight rush plays, attempting to crush the soul of the Guardians. An interception thrown by Jones in the redzone kept the window slightly cracked for New York.
During the Defenders’ first possession of the final quarter, Jones assured his appearance on highlight tapes with a magical play on third down. The 6’5” signal-caller was twisted down by defensive end Bunmi Rotimi Jr., mishandling the football. Jones dropped to his knees to retrieve it, then escaped the pocket to find Thompkins for 25 yards. The drive ended with a Rausa field goal.
“It kind of just slipped out of my hand as I was trying to catch my balance on the ground,” said Jones of the zany play. “I didn’t hear a whistle, so I got back up and continued the scramble drill. DeAndre made a great play staying in-bounds and catching it and getting the first down.
With a touchdown catch by tight end Derrick Hayward late in the frame to make it 27-0, Hamilton opted to attempt the league’s first three-point conversion, however unsuccessfully.
Like last week, the Guardians were dreadful come third down, converting on a single one of their 11 tries. The team’s net yards (137) and net passing yards (66) were the least of any team within the XFL’s first two weekends.
The D.C. offense picked up 16 first downs, also going 9-for-18 on third down. The unit netted 384 yards.
Jones finished the game a relatively impressive 23-of-37 for 276 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick. Both Rashad Ross (four receptions, 95 yards) and DeAndre Thompkins (6 grabs, 92 yards) almost eclipsed the 100-yard mark. Eli Rogers caught five balls for 49 yards. Running back Donnel Pumphery toiled for 52 yards on a dozen attempts, while Jhurell Pressley added 32 on 11 rushes.
Defensively, the newly-acquired Anthony Johnson registered one-and-a-half sacks late in the contest. Each Jameer Thurman, Rahim Moore Sr., and Matt Elam forced turnovers.
“We’re playing good team football and, ultimately, that’s what you have to do to win games,” Defenders head coach Pep Hamilton said. “We’re going to have a tough opponent next week in the L.A. Wildcats. But I do feel like, if we pack a good defense, which we will, to head across country, that we’re going to have a chance to continue to play Defenders football the way we play.”
Playing on Sunday for the first time this season against L.A., Hamilton made it known his team won’t be taking any breaks.
“We have an extra day to prepare,” Hamilton said. “And we’re going to do just that. I think, for a second, our guys thought that we’d have a ‘Victory Monday’ of sorts. That’s not happening. Our guys are excited to have the privilege to put in more work.”
The game against the winless Wildcats will kick off at 6 p.m. on FS1.