If you were to say at the conclusion of the XFL Championship game on April 21, 2001 that it would be just over 22 years before there was another XFL Championship game, people would have looked at you like you were crazy. At that point in time there was nothing that could make anyone imagine there would be such a wait before two more XFL teams would meet to decide a champion.
In that game, the San Francisco Demons would be beaten by the Los Angeles Xtreme in what would be considered a rather dull, one-sided affair. The Demons had beaten a highly rated Orlando Rage squad to get in to the championship game, taking advantage of Orlando’s quarterback situation where their starting pivot Jeff Brohm had been sidelined due to injury. The Los Angeles Xtreme won 38-6, eating the Demons for dinner on that final game in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
In the 2023 XFL Championship we have a somewhat similar matchup. The Arlington Renegades (4-6) are not even close to the same regular season record as the D.C. Defenders (9-1). However, both teams are 1-0 in the post season. Arlington went up against a relatively adept Houston Roughnecks squad and beat them handily 26-11, with Renegades starting quarterback Luis Perez having his best game of the season. Meanwhile, the D.C. Defenders manhandled the offensively minded Seattle Sea Dragons, handing them a 37-21 loss in the Northern Division final.
Arlington head coach Bob Stoops does not think Perez’s performance was a one-off, and is a trend that is pointing to his team coming into their own.
“We’ve been terribly inconsistent all the way up to our last game, the divisional game,” Stoops said. “A few things though; I think we’ve found our rhythm offensively and that’s really helped us, and I think a big reason for that is Luis Perez, our quarterback. That was only his fourth game with us in that divisional playoff game. He’s a galvanizing guy in the locker room so I think that’s been the biggest boost. The guys around him, I think, have started to play more confidently and are surer of themselves also.”
Arlington may have a dose of self-made momentum on their side, and even D.C. Defenders head coach Reggie Barlow took some time to give Arlington’s recent success and their head coach a glowing review.
“Obviously the respect we have for Coach Stoops and his staff, we knew that their team was going to be prepared,” Barlow said. “They are a physical defense. As he [Stoops] mentioned about Perez; I love seeing people getting their opportunities, right? What he’s gone through with the other team [Vegas Vipers] and now getting into a system that fits where he’s been able to have confidence and really play and show his leadership. Those are the things that we talk to our team about, that this team is really good and has outstanding players and have done a good job of building their team. They compete. They are extremely physical up front. Their defensive line, their running back [De’Veon Smith] is an outstanding, downhill runner. [They are] a well put together team. Coach Stoops, you ask him about championships and all you can ask is, ‘which one?’ He’s won so many, he’s been a part of so many and we’re just honored to be engaged in situations like this with Coach [Stoops]. My best friend is his biggest fan which is crazy. But that game earlier this season was a really great game and we expect the same for this one.”
Barlow is smart to give his opponent props. He knows his team cannot take the Renegades at a value based on their regular season record. However, Barlow’s Defenders are a proven commodity, and their consistency in 2023 cannot be overlooked.
Arlington’s Bob Stoops is fully aware of the Defender’s power, and prior to meeting his opponent on the field he gave them kudos in the press room.
“Some of the things coming into the game, we felt that if we could be strong against the run game, we could win, “Stoops reflected on his team’s chances. “Well, they beat us throwing the ball as much as running it. That part, we learned that we need to be really good on each side of the pass and run. I think they do an awesome job offensively, calling plays and getting in the right situations. Jordan Ta’amu who is the player of the year, which is so well deserved, can do it all. He can throw, he can run, he can move and get in and out at the right place.”
And it’s not just the D.C. offense that gives Stoops concern.
“Defensively, they are versatile with [Defensive Coordinator] Gregg Williams,” Stoops said. “You see different styles of blitzes and different coverages that can confuse a quarterback. So, you have to be really sharp and figure it out and make sure you’re protecting the ball, those kinds of things.”
One thing the XFL seems to have is respect among its teams and especially between its head coaches.
“I’ve followed Reggie [Barlow] everywhere he’s been. I pay attention to guys that win. So I knew that Coach Barlow is a winner – he has been everywhere he’s coached. So, you recognize that as a coach and you pay attention to guys that are winners,” Stoops remarked on his opponent.
Barlow was named as the 2023 XFL Coach of the year, and he was given that award by his XFL peers. As a head coach, he must be proud of that award. However, nothing would top the moment if his Defenders could overcome Stoop’s upstart Renegades.
XFL Championship Game: Saturday, May 13 at 8 pm ET, Alamodome, San Antonio, TX, ABC/ESPN+