- When: Saturday, May 13 at 8 pm ET
- Where: Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
- Tickets: Ticketmaster & StubHub
- How to watch: ABC/ESPN+
- Broadcasting Team: Tom Hart, Greg McElroy, Cole Cubelic, Katie George
Well, we’ve finally made it; the XFL will crown a champion for its inaugural season on Saturday at 8 p.m. on ABC. And then… no XFL football until next February.
It’s been quite a ride, and it’ll surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) come down to the winner between a 5-6 team and 10-1 team. That’s right, an XFL squad that went 4-6 during the regular season before winning its division championship to clinch a championship berth somehow made the playoffs over the 7-3 St. Louis Battlehawks. Crazy, but that’s a story for another time.
Entering last week’s contest after being swept by the Roughnecks during the regular season, I don’t think any mutual spectator expected Arlington to advance. Heck, I’m sure Renegades fans even had their doubts. But lo and behold, after putting together the best four quarters of their season, here we are. I guess anything was possible in the XFL after the 0-6 Guardians beat undefeated D.C. during week seven, 37-36. But to the dismay of Renegades fans, the Defenders haven’t lost a game since.
Being interdivisional foes, these squads only met once during the regular season, in which D.C. won 28-26. And while the Defenders claimed victory in the end, Arlington went on a 17-0 run during the second half to eventually tie the game at 26 apiece before losing in overtime.
Making just his second start with Arlington after being traded during week seven, Luis Perez had 335 passing yards and one touchdown pass on 31/41 of his passes completed. Regardless of the loss, the Renegades had clearly found their quarterback, and Perez’s three-touchdown performance in their win over Houston in the division championship confirmed that.
XFL Arlington Renegades
Before acquiring Luis Perez from the Vipers, Arlington’s offense struggled chiefly due to poor quarterback play, with the squad bouncing between Drew Plitt and Kyle Sloter at signal-caller on a weekly basis. Although the Renegades remained well in the playoff picture through six weeks, both quarterbacks played inconsistently and yielded underwhelming results for their resumes. Eventually, Sloter was released, and Plitt was placed on the Injured Reserve, which allowed Perez to take over.
While his tenure with Vegas was up-and-down, Perez picked up his first win with Arlington in his first start against the Guardians after about a week and a half to marinate in his new team’s playbook. Running backs Leddie Brown and De’Veon Smith ran for 47 and 44 yards, respectively, and have since continued to play a key role in the Renegades’ revitalized offense. And even though Brown missed the last matchup due to injury, he’s expected to return and pick up right where he left off, doing damage in both the rushing and passing attack for Arlington.
Midseason acquisition Kelly Bryant has also taken some snaps on designed scrambles for the Renegades since he joined. The former Clemson Tigers quarterback signed with the team on April 3 after stints with squads in other spring leagues like the Canadian Football League (CFL).
Big target Sal Cannella has been a top threat no matter the quarterback for Arlington but only had only two targets against Houston in the division championship. In his place, JaVonta Payton and Caleb Vander Esch had five catches each for 121 and 60 yards, respectively.
As it has all season, expect the Arlington offense to continue to rely on quick passes and the running game to gradually get down the field against an aggressive Defenders defense – a game plan Perez, the spring football veteran, has been masterful in executing throughout his football career.
Defensively, linebacker Donald Payne led the Renegades in tackles with ten after returning from a multi-week hiatus due to injury. Overall, Bob Stoops’ squad held the Roughnecks’ high-powered offense to 225 yards. And while the Renegades’ defense has been more persistent than its offense, this was likely still its best performance of the season.
XFL D.C. Defenders
D.C. held off Arlington’s second-half turnaround when these two teams met last, but the offense failed to score during the third and fourth quarters. Reggie Barlow’s crew subsequently bounced back versus the Brahmas, another top defensive squad, and then the Sea Dragons two weeks ago.
Talent-wise, the Defenders outmatch the Renegades offensively, with multiple guys who could step up and make big plays during any given week. Chris Blair and Lucky Jackson lead in receiving yardage thanks to their countless explosive plays for big gains, which have been a staple in D.C.’s offense. With so many threats for the Arlington defense to account for, the Renegades’ offense will have to put up points to keep up with the high-soaring Defenders.
Meanwhile, Jordan Ta’amu has been playing the best ball of his life behind D.C.’s star-studded offensive line, which has allowed a league-least ten sacks on the entire season. And the last time these teams faced off, Ta’amu went unsacked. Whether Arlington doubles down on sending pressure or emphasizes pass coverage, it’ll be essential they do whatever they can to knock the 2023 XFL Offensive Player of the Year off his groove.
In the rushing game, Abram Smith’s production has expectedly slowed down with an increased focus on stopping him from opposing teams due to his stardom, which the Renegades proved in week nine as they held him to just 27 yards on ten carries.
On the defensive end, D.C. should continue to bring pressure against an Arlington offensive line that allowed Perez to be sacked twice the last time these two teams met.
Because both teams have performed so well lately, it’s hard to predict. But based on consistency throughout the season and the eye test, I’m going with the Defenders here.
ARL 12 – DC 30