The first edition of the new XFL playoffs featured two marquee semifinal matchups as the league wrapped up its inaugural season.
In one corner we had the Wade Phillips-led Houston Roughnecks, who finished in first place in the South Division, against the Arlington Renegades, who are coached by Bob Stoops. Prior to the teams’ meeting in the South Division Championship Game on Saturday, the coaching duo was recently honored by the state of Texas for success on the gridiron and helping the XFL get a foothold in the state. The Renegades, who were swept by Houston, got the last laugh on Saturday to clinch an unlikely trip to the XFL Championship Game.
In the other corner, the D.C. Defenders continued their mastery of the Seattle Sea Dragons on Sunday, defeating Seattle for the third time this season. Unlike the two regular-season matchups — which both went down to the final minute — the Defenders romped in the North Division Championship Game, scoring three unanswered touchdowns to break open a game that was tied at the half. So the Beer Snake will be in the XFL final, after all.
The XFL Championship Game will take place May 13 in San Antonio. In the meantime, here are all the highlights from this weekend’s XFL semifinals.
Jump to: Recaps | Best plays
The third time wasn’t the charm for the Sea Dragons, who weren’t able to figure out the Defenders and fell to them for the third time this season. Mistakes were to blame for Seattle, who committed 13 penalties and lost their composure during a 21-0 run by D.C. to start the second half.
It was the Defenders who started out making mistakes, as quarterback Jordan Ta’amu threw two interceptions in the first half, which ended in a 9-9 tie. But Ta’amu and the Defenders found their rhythm with two third-quarter touchdown drives. The first ended with a 1-yard touchdown run for Abram Smith, the XFL’s leading rusher, while Ta’amu threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ethan Wolf to give D.C. a commanding 23-9 lead on the next possession.
D.C. sealed the win with 11:53 left, when Cam’Ron Harris scored the first of his two fourth-quarter touchdowns on a 1-yard run to extend the Defenders’ lead to 30-9. Ta’amu threw for 258 yards on 19-of-31 passing with two touchdown passes, the third-quarter toss to a Wolf and a 44-yard score to wide receiver Lucky Jackson in the first quarter.
Quarterback Ben DiNucci, the XFL’s leading passer, was the bright spot for the Sea Dragons, throwing for 295 yards and three touchdown passes on 31-of-48 passing. Two of those touchdown passes went to receiver Juwan Green, who finished with eight receptions for 89 yards.
The Renegades took control early in the XFL’s opening semifinal. Quarterback Luis Perez could not be stopped as he threw for three touchdowns and 194 yards in the first half. His favorite target, JaVonta Payton, caught four passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns as Arlington raced out to a 23-8 lead at halftime.
The second half was a defensive battle as only the Roughnecks could get on the board in the third quarter with a field goal. The Renegades’ offense didn’t find the same success in the second half as the first, but their 15-point halftime lead was more than enough as they advanced to the XFL championship game on May 13.
A late fourth-quarter interception by De’Vante Bausby set up the Arlington offense to burn clock, and a one-handed catch by Lujuan Winningham sealed the victory for the 7.5-point underdogs.
WHAT A CATCH BY LUJUAN WINNINGHAM! pic.twitter.com/xh8IzmRPV7
— XFL Newsroom (@XFLNewsroom) April 30, 2023
Perez finished with 289 yards passing while De’Veon Smith added 94 rushing yards in the win. Arlington moves on to face the winner of the Seattle-D.C. semifinal.
That makes it three for Luis Perez in the first half.
Luis Perez finds Brandon Arconado for his 3rd TD pass of the 1st half
Luis Perez completes his third touchdown pass of the first half to extend the Renegades’ lead.
Airing it out for an early two-score advantage.
Luis Perez and JaVonta Payton connect again for a 59-yard TD
The Renegades take a 14-0 advantage over the Roughnecks thanks to another connection between QB Luis Perez and WR JaVonta Payton.
Legs and the arm.
Luis Perez scrambles and throws a 14-yard TD pass to JaVonta Payton
The Renegades score the opening touchdown of the game after a connection between QB Luis Perez and WR JaVonta Payton.
The Defenders were feeling a bit lucky after Lucky Jackson got them off to a fast start.
Lucky Jackson goes 44 yards for a Defenders TD
Lucky Jackson puts the Defenders ahead with a 44-yard touchdown.
Cam’Ron Harris was the Defenders’ closer, as he put the Sea Dragons out of their misery late.
Cam’Ron Harris crosses goal line for his 2nd TD as Defenders advance
Cam’Ron Harris crosses goal line for a 11-yard touchdown as the D.C. Defenders advance to the XFL championship.
Even The Rock was impressed with this play.
Keep your head on a swivel with these picks. You don’t want to get “bloo’d” boys. #BreatheFire @XFLSeaDragons #XFL https://t.co/0p753oRMBZ
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) April 30, 2023
Some explanation behind that Arlington first half?
— Arlington Renegades (@XFLRenegades) April 30, 2023
Something about a Phillips coaching in the playoffs in Houston feels right.
This week’s Know My Name features Mr. Son of Bum himself, @XFLRoughnecks Head Coach Wade Phillips.#XFL | #XFL2023 | #KnowMyName | @sonofbum pic.twitter.com/IQsCB9P3UR
— XFL (@XFL2023) April 25, 2023
The Arlington mayor was all-in expecting a win.
Thank you Mayor Ross #XFL2023 | #AmericanDreamCity pic.twitter.com/VH4hrAt4vq
— Arlington Renegades (@XFLRenegades) April 28, 2023
D.C. really loves its Defenders.
Incredible 🌊 pic.twitter.com/qoabhWGac4
— Audi Field (@AudiField) April 30, 2023
Winning feels gooood.
NORTH DIVISION CHAMPIONS 🏆
Congrats, @XFLDefenders 👏 pic.twitter.com/WvAyfAOn3h
— Audi Field (@AudiField) April 30, 2023
Don’t tell them your secrets, coach.
Despite a 4-6 record and losing 4 of their final 5 regular season games, the Arlington Renegades upset Houston for a spot in the XFL Championship.
Coach Bob Stoops shook Houston Head Coach Wade Phillips’ hand at midfield and said “I don’t know how that happened.” 🤷♂️#XFL https://t.co/tt18jaHseM
— Chris Sadeghi (@chrissadeghi) April 30, 2023
Seattle quarterback Ben DiNucci had some high praise for his guys.
.@B_DiNucci6 is all in on his receivers 💪 pic.twitter.com/oQCJlWmjiW
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) April 26, 2023