On Sunday afternoon, the Houston Roughnecks defeated the Arlington Renegades 25-9. Since both teams had already clinched playoff spots, there were several starters who played limited snaps or sat out entirely, meaning it wasn’t a traditional game. However, Houston was still able to show off their depth in a relatively dominant performance, finishing the year with a 7-3 record (most notably 6-0 in the division). Let’s take a look at who stepped up for the Roughnecks in their last regular season game.
Top Performers (Offense)
Jeremy Cox, RB, Old Dominion
In just his second outing with the team, Cox put on a show for Roughnecks fans, recording 21 carries for 120 yards (5.7-yard average) and one touchdown. Those numbers do not include his 45-yard touchdown run that was called back on a holding penalty, either. In some ways, this was a revenge game for Cox, as he’d been let go by the Renegades during final roster cuts in February. It has been a long road for the Old Dominion product, who was last in the NFL with the Denver Broncos almost two years ago. Despite being the newcomer, it was clear that Cox was hungry for more, and finally had a chance to make a statement over the weekend.
Cole McDonald, QB, Hawai’i
Cole McDonald started in week 10 while Brandon Silvers got a chance to rest, and looked much better than his last full outing against the BattleHawks. He completed 9 straight passes before being picked off in the endzone, but by that point, the game had already been decided. Additionally, his 39-yard run was the longest offensive play of the game by either team, and was a great demonstration of what he’s done all season. McDonald finished the day having completed 10 of 11 passes for 120 yards and an interception, with an additional 8 carries for 66 yards (8.3-yard average) and a touchdown on the ground.
Justin Smith, WR, Norfolk State
Smith led the team in receiving against the Renegades (3 catches, 51 yards), highlighted by a 30-yard grab in the first quarter. Smith has shown plenty of potential in the second half of the season, and has always been praised for his speed. Those deep ball abilities that Smith offers will hopefully continue to benefit the Roughnecks as they prepare for a championship run, since the team built their success off the same plays to Jontre Kirklin before his injury.
Top Performers (Defense)
Tavante Beckett, LB, Marshall
Beckett had what can be called the game-sealing play for Houston, when he intercepted a pass from Luis Perez and returned it for a touchdown (Ajene Harris gets credit for the pass deflection). Beckett also recorded 6 tackles (3 solo) and 2 tackles for loss.
Trevon Mason, DE, Arizona
Mason continued his late-season surge against the Renegades, recording 4 tackles (3 solo), 1 sack, and 2 tackles for loss.
Trent Harris, EDGE, Miami
On a day where most players were taking a break, Harris recorded yet another sack to add on to his outstanding campaign with the Roughnecks. He also recorded 3 tackles (1 solo) and a tackle for loss. Harris finished the 2023 XFL regular season with 9.5 sacks, a league-leading number and a full two sacks ahead of second place (tied between Delontae Scott and Pita Taumoepenu).
Tavonn Salter, WR, Middle Tennessee (4 catches, 47 yards)
Jordan Mosley, S, Maryland (6 total tackles)
Thoughts & Notes
Even though the Roughnecks had nothing at stake on Sunday, the team still went about their business as if it was any other week, and were able to pull off the victory without much work. The flow of the game also resembled much of what had been seen throughout the season, as the offense started off hot and the defense finished things off.
The Roughnecks’ back-to-back touchdown drives in the first quarter headlined by Jeremy Cox proved to be overwhelming for Arlington. Even with both teams being rather reserved and cautious when it came to play calling, Houston had no problem finding space and opening up the field. Of course, the level of intensity surrounding these two teams will significantly increase in the coming days, as they will be playing for a shot to go to the XFL championship.
The most important part of the previous matchup, however, was not the points scored or yards gained. Rather, it was about the league of opportunity living up to it’s name. The Roughnecks in particular had some standout players who had seen little to no playing time all season, most notably Jeremy Cox, Tavonn Salter, and Kaleb Eleby. The depth on this team has been both praised and tested over the course of nine weeks, and it was finally proven against a division rival.
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