After coming in as nine-point underdogs, the Arlington Renegades capture the XFL Championship as they defeated the DC Defenders 35-26 Saturday night in San Antonio.
From the start of the game, it appeared as if the Renegades were the more prepared team as they scored points on all but three of their ten possessions with the last one being the team kneeling the ball down. Arlington’s success was led by title game MVP quarterback Luis Perez who threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns in the win. His receiving duo of Tyler Vaughns and Sal Cannella combined for 12 catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Arlington’s defense came up big allowing just six first-half points to one of the top-scoring offenses in the XFL. They sacked DC quarterback Jordan Ta’amu twice and picked him off three times including Cre’Von LeBlanc’s game-sealing interception on the fourth and 15 conversion at the end of the game. Donald Payne led the team in tackles racking up seven in the process. T.J. Barnes, Will Clarke, and Willie Taylor all recorded sacks in the win.
The win gives Renegades head coach Bob Stoops his second championship as a head coach after leading the Oklahoma Sooners to a national championship in 2000. Arlington becomes just the second team in league history to win the title after the Los Angeles Xtreme won the XFL Championship in 2001. The Renegades finished the season with a 6-6 record after coming into the playoffs with just four wins on the year.
Observations from the XFL Champion Arlington Renegades
Luis Perez Comes Through Again
What else is there to say about the man who has more of an impact than any other player on the team? From the moment Luis Perez joined the team, his experience and leadership showed up and changed the trajectory of the team’s season. Perez was able to be accurate with the football, protect the ball from turnovers, and help the offense improve by scoring more than 20 points per game and gaining over 100 yards more than they did before the trade.
Through the last two games in the playoffs, Perez completed 71 percent of his passes for 577 yards and six touchdowns with zero interceptions. The Renegades’ offense averaged 30.5 points per game and gained 407.5 yards per game in the two playoff games played. Arlington only turned the ball over twice with one fumble in each of the games.
There’s a reason why Perez won the MVP honors for the game. No player in the XFL has had a bigger impact on a team than Perez has for Arlington. His performance with the team should seal his fate for at least a tryout in the NFL if not getting signed by an NFL team. His football IQ and leadership abilities should be more than enough to convince an NFL team that he is worthy of a roster spot.
Leddie Brown Comes Off the Bench with Major Contribution
Arlington’s running game has been led by De’Veon Smith all season. Smith finished top five in rushing yards and was tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns with seven. He nearly gained 100 yards against the Houston Roughnecks in the playoffs and led the Renegades in rushing again in the title game with 54 yards on 15 carries. There was another running back though that made just as much of an impact as Smith did in the game.
Leddie Brown was back from injury, and he came through with some key moments in the game. Brown helped the Renegades score a seven-yard touchdown run on their opening drive of the second half. He wasn’t done in the third quarter though as he closed the quarter out with a 30-yard touchdown catch to increase the Renegades lead to two possessions.
Brown finished with 32 rushing yards and 43 receiving yards with two total touchdowns in the win. With Smith struggling with a lower leg injury in the second half, Brown was featured in the offense more and he was able to come through. Both Brown and Smith combined for 86 rushing yards in the game. Production at the running back position was a bit inconsistent with the yards, but both backs played well with Brown coming up with a momentum-changing touchdown to close the third quarter.
Top Receivers Tyler Vaughns, Sal Cannella Proved as Playmakers
The passing game has been called into question a lot throughout the season for Arlington as the unit wasn’t able to produce a 100-yard receiver in a game until the South Division Championship game. There were only two players who recorded at least 30 catches for 300 yards on the team: Sal Cannella and Tyler Vaughns. Cannella led the charge with 42 catches and 415 yards without a touchdown. Vaughns was second on the team with 31 catches for 302 yards and one touchdown.
Both came up with big games in the championship game with Vaughns being the leading receiver on the team with eight catches for 83 yards and a nine-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. Cannella also had a good game with four catches for 71 yards and started the title game with a 41-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the game.
Vaughns was the standout for the team with at least three spectacular catches throughout the game grabbing an over-the-shoulder pass in the first quarter. That led to a toe-tapping touchdown catch by Vaughns in the back of the end zone. He closed out the half with a contested 17-yard completion toward the sidelines to set up a Taylor Russolino field goal.
So many times, fans saw the team’s receiving core underwhelm in multiple games. Cannella and Vaughns’s performances proved to be imperative to the team winning the title. Cannella has been the only steady rock of the receiving core all season, but his catching his first touchdown of the season was a joyful sight to see. Both players stepped up in the biggest moments and came through for Perez and the offense with big play after big play.
Offensive Line Holds Strong
Not enough attention has been given to the playing of the offensive line and how well they have done throughout the playoffs. The unit has blocked for a running game that has run for an average of 123.5 yards per game in the two playoff games. Perez was protected well in the pocket with only two sacks allowed in the two playoff games as well.
The two left tackles Willie Beavers and George Moore both played well protecting Perez’s blindside throughout the season and playoffs. Mike Horton shined in run-blocking situations, being ranked by Pro Football Focus as one of the top run blockers in the XFL. Others like Garrett McGhin were consistent throughout the season as well as Jake Stetz and Cameron Hunt.
Offensive Line Coach Jonathan Himebauch recorded yet another championship on his resume with three Grey Cups, a USFL Championship, and now his second XFL title after winning it with the LA Xtreme in 2001. Himebauch’s pedigree of success was worn off on the offensive line. The unit struggled to find its footing through the first portion of the season, but it picked it up late in the season and proved to be one of the best lines in the XFL.
Secondary Finds Unsung Heros from The Sidelines
The loss of Shakur Brown was a hit for the team heading into the championship game with a secondary that has seen their fair share of players join the injured reserve list. Fans have seen backups like Joe Powell come in and make big plays time after time. Saturday saw two backups step on the field and force their first interceptions of the season.
Powell started things in the first half with an interception in the end zone to kill a potential Defenders scoring drive. One of the best plays of the game came with backup defensive back Brandon Rusnak tipping a pass one-handed and catching the interception one-handed.
Cre’Von LeBlanc closed things out with an interception with the DC Defenders looking to convert a fourth and 15 at the end of the game.
Arlington’s secondary continues to prove that they have the depth to be able to handle any injuries that come their way. They forced three interceptions with Jordan Ta’amu only completing 53 percent of his passes in the game. The secondary did their job and shut down the Defenders’ offense outside of a couple of big plays. They deserve a ton of credit for pulling off the win.
Veteran Defensive Players’ Experience Proves to be Key Factors
It’s a tale of the usual suspects coming up big for Arlington maybe not making the biggest plays of the game but making consistent plays to hold down the DC offense. Donald Payne is an obvious name to bring up as he has played a big part in the defense performing better the last two games. Payne led the way with seven tackles with his linebacking partner Darnell Sankey getting four tackles of his own.
The pass rushers played well with veteran guys like T.J. Barnes and Will Clarke, recording sacks and two tackles each in the game. While Willie Taylor is younger than those two, he has become one of Arlington’s top pass rushers this season as he also recorded two tackles and a half sack in the win as well. The team finished with two sacks but was able to apply pressure on Ta’amu with mixed results on getting him to forcing bad passes or hitting him.
One truth from this game is the Defenders’ offense was not on the field as much as DC ran 49 plays to Arlington’s 71 plays. That helped with the defense getting plenty of rest and going all in with enough energy to create turnovers and shut down the offense in big moments. The second half saw a big run for a touchdown from Abram Smith and a long touchdown pass to Josh Hammond, but the defense overall did its job.
Special Teams Did Their Job to Perfection
All season long, Taylor Russolino and Marquette King have been one of the best kicker-punter duos in the XFL. Russolino came up big in the championship game nailing three field goals from 29, 51, and 33 yards out. As for King, he only needed to make one punt, but it was a booming 54-yard punt in the process.
With an offense that struggled all season, Arlington’s special teams were the ones that were able to help them when they couldn’t get in the end zone or move the ball. A salute to Russolino and King for their consistent performances that should lead to an opportunity for the NFL. They both have proven that they can play at a high level and do it every week.
Coaching Staff’s Best-Prepared Game of the Season
Co-offensive coordinators Jonathan Hayes and Chuck Long received a lot of criticism for being too conservative and not timing up big plays right now. They were able to ride the ship and run the best offense in the league in the playoffs thanks to having the right quarterback in their system. Both coaches dialed up big plays at the right moments. They found their rhythm at the best time with the offense looking as smooth as they ever did in the regular season.
Enough can’t be said about co-defensive coordinators Jay Hayes and Tim Lewis for the defense they constructed and put together. All season they have carried the Renegades to win games and limp into the playoffs. The last two games though finally saw the offense help them out and set them up for success. Four turnovers in the last two games were the difference in this defense that was the only team that created turnovers in every game this season in the XFL. This was a special unit that should be ranked the best in the league.
“Big Game Bob” Never Fails
The head man himself has recorded his second championship as a head coach as this one was the toughest job he had. Coach Bob Stoops had a team at 4-6 with a low-performing offense heading into the playoffs. He was able to transform them into a championship team in no time taking care of business against two of the best teams in the XFL with Houston and DC.
Coach Stoops’ performance leading this team might get forgotten in his storybook coaching career, but it should be something that appears near the top of his list. He’s already considered one of the greatest head coaches in college football story. Coach Stoops now has one more event to add to an already historic resume with an XFL championship.
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