The big game has finally arrived as the South Division Champion Arlington Renegades take on the North Division Champion DC Defenders for the XFL Championship in San Antonio Saturday.
Arlington had their most dominant performance of the season in their South Division Championship game against the Houston Roughnecks where they dominated 26-11. Perez threw for 289 yards and three touchdowns in the win with 23 of the 26 points being scored in the first half. De’Veon Smith recorded a season-high 94 yards on the ground with JaVonta Payton catching for 120 yards and two scores. The defense held Houston to 225 total yards and 11 points in the win.
DC also had a dominating performance against the Seattle Sea Dragons in their 37-21 North Division Championship game win two weeks ago. The defense held Seattle to nine points heading into the fourth quarter with an already big lead. It was five pass plays of over 20 yards that made the difference in the game for the Defenders to secure the win.
Line: Defenders -6.5, O/U 48
Date/Location: Saturday, May 13, 2023, at The Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas
Kickoff Time: 7:00 pm CST
Weather Forecast: N/A
Renegades-Defenders Injury Report
Starting with the Arlington Renegades, Coach Bob Stoops spoke with the media last week telling them starting defensive back Shakur Brown was not going to be available for the game with a lower leg injury. Arlington did get good news though that they were able to make room for linebacker Edmond Robinson to be activated with Brown being moved to IR. It’s unclear if Robinson will play or how much he plays, but it helps give more depth to the Renegades’ linebacker position.
The only other player in question regarding playing is receiver and return specialist Rannell Hall who is questionable with a foot injury. Hall got injured in the Renegades’ 26-11 South Division Championship playoff game against the Houston Roughnecks. Should he not be available, that would leave either Joe Powell or Tyler Vaughns to replace him on kickoff and punt returns.
As for the DC Defenders, their top cornerback Michael Joseph is questionable to play with an adductor injury. Joseph has been one of the top corners in the league while being tied for second in the league in interceptions with four. Joseph is one of five defensive backs who showed up on the injury report with the others being listed as either available or probable.
Team Depth Charts
Arlington has a couple of changes to their depth chart as cornerback Darren Evans moves up into the starting lineup in place of Brown who is not a player. Robinson is back on the depth chart at linebacker as he will serve as Willie Taylor’s backup. One other addition is Leddie Brown in line to be back at running back for the Renegades as De’Veon Smith’s backup for the title game.
There were multiple key players listed on the injury report for the Defenders, but most appear to be in line to play except for Joseph who is questionable. No major changes to the depth chart for the Defenders as they will be rolling with the same lineup, they had a couple of weeks ago in their 37-21 win over the Seattle Sea Dragons for the North Division title.
The Last Matchup Recap
It was an instant classic the last time these two teams played as it was DC who got off to a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Renegades. Arlington stormed back with 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter including a game-tying field goal from kicker Taylor Russolino with just a few seconds left to force overtime. The Defenders were able to score once in the overtime shootout to take down the Renegades 28-26.
This was Luis Perez’s second start at quarterback for the Renegades throwing for 335 yards and one touchdown in the loss. Arlington’s offense scored their most points of the season with 26 points despite the defense allowing a season-high 28 points in the process. Despite losing the game, this game did not hurt Arlington’s position in the playoffs as they would clinch a playoff spot the next week with a San Antonio loss.
Both quarterbacks Jordan Ta’amu and D’Eriq King combined for a 69 percent completion percentage throwing for 264 yards and three touchdowns in the win. Their biggest play of the game came with D.J. Swearinger getting a pick-six off of Perez to put them up by 17 points heading into the fourth quarter. The win for DC solidified their home-field advantage in the North Division Championship game moving them to 8-1 and winning the regular season division title.
Renegades’ Keys to Victory
It can’t go understated the impact that quarterback Luis Perez has had on this football team as he instantly made the offense flow better. In the last four games he has been the starter, the offense has increased their points per game by 6.6 (13.2 to 19.8) and their total yards per game by 110.1 (from 232.9 to 343). His performance will go a long way in determining how the Renegades play moving forward.
What Perez needs more than anything though is his receiving core to step up like they did in the South Division Championship game if they want to win. JaVonta Payton had a breakout game being the first player on the Renegades to record over 100 yards receiving all season with two touchdowns. LuJuan Winningham seems to always come up with a spectacular catch each game so he will get looks. Tight end Sal Cannella has been the most consistent pass catcher on the team coming up big on third down and getting open.
Defensively, the Renegades held DC to 50 yards rushing in their first matchup together so being able to contain Abram Smith from breaking out a big run will help them. Arlington’s biggest struggle against DC was preventing big plays in the passing game allowing four completions of over 20 yards. With Brown out at cornerback for Arlington, it will be on guys like Evans, Jordan Miller, and Cre’Von LeBlanc to shut them down and not get burned on big plays.
Defenders’ Keys to Victory
One aspect of Ta’amu’s play that has been praised is his ability to protect the football and not turn it over. All regular season, Ta’amu threw just three interceptions, but in the playoff game, he threw two interceptions alone in the game. In a game that could see more guys in the box to stop the run, it’ll be on Ta’amu to protect the football and be smart with his throws. Even throwing short passes and letting his playmakers like Lucky Jackson, Chris Blair, and Josh Hammond do all the work would be more efficient. That’s what worked in their last matchup with Arlington.
Abram Smith must be more consistent running the football. Outside of his 218-yard game against the St. Louis Battlehawks, Smith only ran for 100 yards in one other game in the regular season. In five of the 11 games this season, he has been under 50 yards in the game with him being under 50 yards in four straight games heading into the XFL title game. Having more consistency on the ground will lead to more success in the passing game.
The last two games have seen DC holding teams under 60 yards rushing as the last time they allowed over 100 rushing yards was against the Renegades. Arlington just came off a game where they ran for 137 yards they are starting to pick it up on the ground. With the secondary banged up for the Defenders, it’ll be important to shut down the running game to force Perez to throw it more. Perez has already seen this defense three times this season, so it’ll be important to change it up and stop the run first.
XFL News Hub’s Mike Mitchell’s Prediction
Luis Perez, Bob Stoops. and Jordan Ta’amu, and many other key figures on both sides participating in this title game, all returned to the XFL for another shot at finishing the job they started three years ago. They finally get that opportunity on Saturday night.
The oddsmakers and experts will dismiss Arlington’s chances on Saturday night against D.C. After all, On paper, a 5-6 team should have no business beating a 10-1 squad.
But in XFL 2023, the impossible has already been proven possible. Look no further than the lone loss D.C. had this season against the one-win Orlando Guardians.
A 6-6 team winning it all would be a fitting way to end a unique 2023 XFL season. The league that was left for dead twice rose from the ashes to reach glory. So why can’t Arlington do the same?
Bob Stoops’s bunch has a chip on their shoulder and will put up a strong fight in the Alamodome. Luis Perez, seeing and planning for Gregg Williams D.C. Defense for a fourth time, could be the hidden key in Saturday night’s championship.
However, when the smoke clears, I expect Reggie Barlow’s Defenders to find a way to win late; they have done it all season—a true mark of a champion.
DC Defenders 32, Arlington Renegades 31
XFL News Hub’s Anthony Miller’s Prediction
The Renegades are heavy underdogs in this game and there is a specific reason for that. Being a 5-6 team in the championship game doesn’t exactly make it ideal to face a 10-1 team that is complete at all three phases of the game. This is a major understatement, but this is going to be Arlington’s toughest game of the season as DC has it all on offense, defense, and special teams having seven players named to the All-XFL Team.
Two things must be done for Arlington to pull off a major upset: they have to win the time of possession and create more turnovers than DC. De’Veon Smith is going to play a big role in picking up those three to four yards on the ground and most importantly, converting on third and shorts and fourth and shorts. Short-yardage situations have killed the Renegades all season and they need to be able to convert them at a high rate.
The coaching matchup between Renegades coach Bob Stoops and XFL Coach of the Year Reggie Barlow will be fascinating to watch as Stoops is a master at getting his team prepared for the biggest games. Coach Barlow has proven to have his team ready to go for games, but this is one of the biggest games of his coaching career as a win could get him a bigger job in college or the NFL.
Regardless of all that was talked about, don’t underestimate the Renegades, and make this a competitive game. Arlington has proven to be a better team in the last four games than they had in the first seven games. DC is as deep of a team as Arlington has seen all season. Fans should appreciate the fact that we have made it to the first XFL Championship game in 22 years. This is going to be the game of the year in the XFL that should end similarly to their week nine matchup.
DC Defenders 29, Arlington Renegades 25
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