The Orlando Guardians started their XFL journey on Saturday, losing their opening game to the Houston Roughnecks by the score of 33-12. As you would expect, the Guardians’ opening night roster had a strong Florida presence.
Besides Head Coach Terrell Buckley playing his college ball at Florida State, quarterback Deondre Francois is from Orlando and played at Florida State. He did not see action Saturday but should play in the home opener next week.
Other players with Florida ties include running back Kelvin Taylor (Florida), and wide receiver Charleston Rambo (Miami) was the first pick for Orlando in the draft. Lineman Jalen Spady (Florida A&M), defensive lineman Gerald Willis (Miami), linebacker Terrance Plummer (Central Florida), linebacker Terrance Smith (Florida State), defensive back Matt Elam (Florida), kicker Jose Borregales (Miami), and linebacker DeCalon Brooks (Florida State).
This is the third go-around for the XFL, now owned by Redbird Capital Investments, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Dany Garcia, who both went to college at Miami and have been business partners for years. The two were married for a time as well.
Hopefully, the third time is the charm for the league that kicked off with two games on opening day. Orlando and Houston were the late game in H-Town and although things started well for the Guardians and quarterback Paxton Lynch, things went downhill quickly.
Running back Jah-Maine Martin began things on the right foot as he ran well, setting up Lynch who found Cody Latimer in the end zone. Initially, it looked like Houston’s Sean Davis picked it off but as the two went to the ground, Latimer pulled it out and scored. The conversion was no good and it was 6-0 after an impressive 10-play, 77-yard drive.
The Roughnecks would punt on their first possession. The Guardians wouldn’t be able to capitalize as they would turn the ball over on downs.
Houston started their second drive at their own 48 and would tie the game when quarterback Brandon Silvers found Jontre Kirklin for the touchdown. The conversion would fail and the game remained tied 6-6.
Orlando running back Kelvin Taylor got a couple of carries on Orlando’s next drive, including a 12-yard scamper. Taylor is the son of Jacksonville Jaguars’ great Fred Taylor. The drive stalled and a 40-yard field goal was no good on the first play of the second quarter.
The Roughnecks put together a nice drive on their first drive of the second stanza. It was capped off by a great one-handed catch by Deontay Burnett, good for 47 yards and the touchdown. The conversion was no good, and it was 12-6.
The next Guardians’ drive was hindered by a bad snap and they were forced to punt again, giving Houston good field position again at the Orlando 42. Silvers used all his weapons, including Max Borghi who had a 27-yard touchdown run to make it an 18-6 game.
A sack hurt the Guardians’ next drive and resulted in another punt. Houston would add a field goal on their next possession to go up 21-6 and Orlando would see Lynch get sacked again on the next possession and halftime stopped that drive. The Roughnecks’ defense suffocated Orlando in the second quarter. The last three drives went for -9 yards for the visitors, while Houston scored 21 unanswered points.
The first drive of the third quarter saw Silvers get picked off by Matt Elam, the Baltimore Ravens 1st round pick in 2013. The momentum didn’t change, as Lynch was sacked for the fourth time, forcing another punt.
Jacoby Jones returned the favor on Houston’s next possession as he sacked Silvers for the second time. Houston would have to punt, but the Orlando offense came up empty again as well, turning the ball over on downs.
Houston didn’t keep the ball long, as Marcus Murphy intercepted Silvers with 4:59 left in the third. Lynch would return the favor on the drive’s opening play when Tavante Beckett intercepted it and took it to the house, only to have it wiped out by an illegal block. Houston kept the ball and started at their own 40, but was forced to punt.
The struggles of Paxton Lynch resulted in a quarterback change, with Quinten Dormady taking over with 1:36 left in the third.
The Guardians continued to struggle with the ball and opened the fourth quarter with a punt. Houston would start at their own 42 and kick a 33-yard field goal to make it 24-6.
Rambo had a couple of catches on the next Orlando drive and after a penalty wiped out a nice catch by Eli Rogers, Dormady rebounded going deep to Andrew Jamiel for a 51-yard touchdown. The decision was made to go for three points from the 10-yard line, but the play was no good, keeping it 24-12.
A punt by Houston with 6:33 left meant that the Guardians still had life until they didn’t. The ball was fumbled and the Roughnecks turned that into a touchdown in a hurry, as quarterback Cole McDonald ran a misdirection play, and just like that, it was 30-12.
Another Houston pick resulted in a field goal, putting Houston up 33-12. Dormady would be picked again in the end zone on Orlando’s last possession, effectively ending the game.
Despite the play of the Houston defense, Orlando managed 314 total yards, while Houston had 337.
Orlando quarterbacks went 27-for-39 for 236 yards, with Lynch throwing for 136 and Dormady going for 142. Each quarterback had a touchdown and an interception.
Houston passed for 256 yards on 26-of-42. Houston had 81 yards rushing and Orlando had 78, led by Martin’s 41. Taylor finished with 28. The home team had 16 first downs, to Orlando’s 14.
The XFL is off to a great start in what we hope is the first of many opening days. Some of the rules tweaks are nice and the fact that a coach can challenge any play once per game could make for some exciting finishes. The one foot in bounds to complete a catch is also a nice touch. There is a nice blend of NFL and NCAA rules, along with the XFL twists means teams are never really out of the game.
Other scores: Arlington Renegades 22, Vegas Vipers 20
St. Louis BattleHawks 18, San Antonio Brahmas 15
Seattle Sea Dragons 18, D.C. Defenders 22
The Guardians open their home schedule on Sunday, February 26 at 4:00 p.m. against San Antonio at Camping World Stadium.