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XFL 2023: Houston Roughnecks Week 9 Recap, Top Performers

On Saturday, the Roughnecks got their first win over a North division opponent, taking down the Vegas Vipers 28-21. This was one of Houston’s more entertaining games of the season, and allowed them to clinch home field advantage for the South division championship. Let’s take a look at who came up big for the team, and what this victory meant for them. 

Top Performers (Offense)

Max Borghi, RB, Washington State

Borghi had one of his best outings of the season against the Vipers, carrying the ball 10 times for 74 yards (7.4-yard average) and a touchdown. His 36-yard scramble in the fourth quarter was the longest offensive play of the game for Houston, and without his efforts on the ground, the Roughnecks may not have become South division champions.

Brycen Alleyne, RB, Delaware State

Alleyne became a popular hit on Sportscenter with his flip into the endzone, which doubled as his first touchdown of the season. He also recreated the iconic “Houston Hop” afterwards, which running back James Butler became known for during his time with the Roughnecks in 2020. Alleyne finished the day with 12 carries for 42 yards (3.5-yard average) and the aforementioned score, all while continuing to show off his flashy and agile style of play. 

Garrett Owens, TE, Duquesne

After hauling in his first pass (and first touchdown) last week in San Antonio, Owens followed it up by leading the team in catches (4). While he only finished with 23 receiving yards, that was still the second-most on the team behind Justin Smith, and it’s good to see his role expanding this late in the season. 

Top Performers (Defense)

Ajene Harris, CB, USC

Harris had one of the most crucial plays of the game for Houston on Saturday, ripping a ball out of Martavis Bryant’s hands and returning it for a touchdown (this counted as a fumble recovery). It was this score, the Roughnecks’ second on defense, that sparked the true momentum shift in the middle of the third quarter. He also recorded 6 tackles (5 solo) and a pass deflection.

Tavante Beckett, LB, Marshall

Beckett had the first defensive score of the day for Houston, which was another fumble recovery that occurred late in the second half. At the time, Vegas was up 12-0, and Beckett’s touchdown kept the team alive before Ajene Harris was able to tie it up later on. He also recorded 6 tackles (3 solo) and half a sack.

Deandre Johnson, LB, Miami 

Johnson was the one who set up Beckett’s touchdown with both a sack and forced fumble on Vegas quarterback Jalan McClendon. He also recorded 3 tackles (2 solo) and a tackle for loss. 

Honorable Mentions

Justin Smith, WR, Norfolk State (2 catches, 26 yards)

John Daka, EDGE, James Madison (3 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 tackle for loss)

Thoughts & Notes

The main storyline of the game for the Roughnecks was their outstanding defensive play, as the unit scored an equal amount of touchdowns as the offense. Although he wasn’t mentioned in the top performers section, a special shoutout can be given to Emmanuel Ellerbee, who missed last week’s game against the Brahmas and was still able to lead the team in tackles (11). 

After Houston found themselves down 12-0 early, two touchdowns by Ajene Harris and Tavante Beckett put the team right where they wanted to be by the middle of the third quarter, and the offense finished it off from there. Vegas’ late comeback attempt made for a thrilling ending, but receiver Mathew Sexton was unable to grab a touchdown on the last play of the game. 

Unfortunately, the Roughnecks aerial attack once again left some things to be desired, with Brandon Silvers and Deontay Burnett being unable to connect on a couple of deep balls. While this was likely Silvers’ most disappointing performance of the season (16/27 passing, 105 yards, 2 interceptions), he revealed in the press conference that he hasn’t been practicing much while recovering from a tricep injury, therefore making the preparation harder on a weekly basis. 

Fortunately, the run game saved the day, with Max Borghi and Brycen Alleyne both having statement performances. After Alleyne had a touchdown called back in week 5 against Seattle, he finally got his shot at redemption a month later. Houston certainly isn’t shifting from their pass-first identity, but the backfield is ready to step up anytime, and they deserve plenty of credit. 

An argument can be made that the Roughnecks should have won this game by a larger margin, but I mentioned in my preview article that Vegas wanted to play spoiler despite being eliminated from playoff contention. The Vipers certainly gave this team a run for their money, but the way Houston was able to create a comeback down multiple scores (and still win by 7) shows there is always a route to the final destination, even if it may be unconventional. 

Sure, this wasn’t the most complete performance the Roughnecks have put together this year, but it was perhaps the most meaningful given what was on the line. After their championship hopes were cut short in 2020, this new edition of the team is still in a promising position three years later, getting closer to the ultimate goal each week. There are several players and coaches with strong Houston ties, so getting a shot to advance to the league title in front of a home crowd will be a special experience two weeks from now. 

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Football journalist/scout/future coach covering the Houston Roughnecks. Air Raid/Run-and-Shoot enthusiast.

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