Arlington Renegades upset D.C. Defenders to claim improbable XFL title

DJ Bien-Aime, ESPN

The Arlington Renegades, led by quarterback Luis Perez, captured the XFL championship by upsetting the D.C. Defenders 35-26 to complete their improbable run Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

The Renegades entered the playoffs with a losing record (4-6) but managed to win the championship against a Defenders team that went 10-1.

Perez carried the Renegades’ offense as he went 26-for-36 for 288 yards with three touchdowns. He was named the game’s MVP.

The Renegades, coached by former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who won a national championship with the Sooners in 2000, earned the first championship of the newly reimagined XFL under the new ownership group led by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital Partners.

“The hard work and the way we’ve turned our season around, the assistant coaches and the players really deserve the credit,” Stoops said. “They’ve stuck together, they’ve hung together and here, towards the end of the year, we’ve really hit our stride at the right time.”

The trajectory of the Renegades’ season changed once they traded with the Vegas Vipers for Perez in Week 7. Before the championship, they didn’t win two consecutive games throughout the season and alternated wins and losses for the first six weeks.

The biggest reason was the Renegades’ struggling offense, which averaged 13 points per game before the Perez trade. Once Perez became the starter, the Renegades’ scoring increased to 19.8 points and their yards per game rose to 343.

The wins didn’t immediately come as they went 1-2 in Perez’s starts. Even though they had a sub-.500 regular-season record, they made the postseason because they finished second in the South Division.

Once the postseason arrived, the Renegades flipped the switch, starting in the South Division championship. They upset the No. 1-seeded Houston Roughnecks as Perez threw for 289 yards and three touchdown passes.

And that momentum carried through the championship game.

The Renegades jumped to a 20-6 lead in the first half as they scored touchdowns on their first two drives. Their defense complemented the offense as it held the Defenders, who averaged 30.5 points per game, to six in the first half — their second-lowest output of the season.

But in the third quarter, the Defenders scored 14 points, starting with running back Abram Smith sparking the offense as he rushed on fourth down for a 52-yard touchdown on the first drive. A couple of drives later, quarterback Jordan Ta’amu threw a 72-yard score to wide receiver Josh Hammond to cut the Renegades’ lead to 26-20.

However, Perez threw a 30-yard touchdown to running back Leddie Brown to push the advantage to 32-20 as the quarter expired.

“Unbelievable opportunity, man. I can’t thank you guys enough for this opportunity,” Perez said about playing in the XFL. “I mean, there’s guys at home that are wishing for this opportunity. Shoot, these leagues didn’t exist back then, and now with this opportunity, shoot this is it man, we’re all excited.”

In the fourth quarter, the Renegades held the Defenders to six points en route to capturing the title.