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  • Eric Martinez

XFL returns with a bang

The return of the XFL has been highly anticipated since 2020, when the league was disrupted due to the pandemic. With The Rock and Dany Garcia owning the XFL, the league returns with 8 teams that have revamped their coaching staffs with major experience from former NFL players and coaches to successful coaches in the NCAA that achieved several accolades at the highest level. The opening for the 2023 season featured the Arlington Renegades vs Vegas Vipers in Arlington, TX. The energy in Choctaw Stadium was felt early as the crowd made their way to their seats. A roar from the crowd echoed through the stadium as The Rock made his way to the field to officially kick off the 2023 XFL season in his electrifying way that only Dwayne Johnson does best. Both teams had experience from the NFL and NCAA standpoint with players and head coaches Hall of Fame Rod Woodson for the Vegas Vipers and Former National Champion coach at Oklahoma University, Bob Stoops.

The XFL kickoff aligned both the Vipers and Renegades 5 yards apart from one another from the 35-yard line. For those unfamiliar with the XFL kickoff rule, neither team can move except the kicker and returner until the ball is caught or on the ground for three seconds. The defense from the Renegades got off to a slow start as Vegas Vipers jumped out to a 6-0 lead with 8:16 left in the first quarter for the first touchdown of the 2023 XFL season, quarterback Luis Perez connected on a 5-yard touchdown to wide receiver Jeff Badet, but could not convert the 2 point attempt. The Renegades quickly put together an efficient drive to convert on a 38-yard field goal by kicker Taylor Russolino to cut the lead to 6 to 3 with 1:28 left in the first quarter. As the second quarter went on, both teams possessed the ball for 3 and outs to punt. Vipers put together a 5 play drive that ended in a Jeff Badet 39-yard touchdown reception in addition to a successful 2-point conversion pass by quarterback Luis Perez to tight end Brandon Dillon for a 14-3 lead. Arlington countered on the next possession but Renegades QB, Drew Plitt, threw an interception that resulted in a missed field goal by Vegas. Vipers held a 14-3 lead at the half.

Coach Stoops knew he had a resilient team heading into the second half. “As much as anything, we didn’t execute third down very well on either side of the ball. We got hit defensively on three or four third downs, and offensively we couldn’t convert some third downs.” The game took a turn of momentum in favor of the Renegades as defensive lineman, Tomasi Laulile, jumped a route and intercepted a Luis Perez pass for a 22-yard touchdown return followed by a missed 2-point conversion by Arlington now trailing 14 to 9 with 9:18 left in the 3rd quarter. Renegades defense came alive in the second half as the following two Vipers’ possessions resulted in punts, but led to Arlington converting a 32-yard field, followed by a 25-yard field goal to take the lead 15-14 with 6 unanswered points. With Renegades failing to convert on a 4th and goal from the half-yard line, the Vipers took over offensively resulting in a penalty on 3rd down, and then the nail in the coffin came when Renegades defensive back, De’Vante Bausby, returned a 6-yard interception for a touchdown giving the Renegades the lead.

Adding a 1-point conversion was key to the game as the Renegades now held a 22-14 lead with 4:03 remaining in the game. Give a lot of respect to Vegas as the remainder of the half, the Vipers drove down to score a 20-yard touchdown reception by Cinque Sweeting with 8 seconds remaining in the 4th quarter. It all came down to this, a 2-point attempt to tie the game or begin the season with a loss for the Vegas Vipers. Renegades defense came up clutch again sacking quarterback Luis Perez on the 2-point attempt. Arlington Renegades capture the victory when Vipers elected to go for the option for 4th and 15 instead of an onside kick attempt that the XFL offers. Vipers could not convert and the Renegades start the season 1-0.

Even though the Renegades got off to a slow start and turned over the ball 2 times (1fumble, 1 interception), the defense showed a level of commitment to close the game making plays that coach Stoops expected. All 12,047 XFL fans in attendance cheered as Arlington and the first game of the season was a success. Vegas Vipers open their home opener next Saturday night to host the D.C. Defenders and Arlington Renegades head to Houston to face their inner-state rival Roughnecks. The Rock, Dany Garcia and the entire XFL executives should feel excited of the brand of football that was displayed today in Arlington.

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