In a surprising upset for a team that had it's ups and downs, the Arlington Renegades won the first XFL championship game 35-26 against the heavily-favored DC Defenders. In only the league's first full season, and second due to the 2020 season being canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Renegades showed up the best team in the league and left die hard football fans satisfied and shocked. With all the action in the game, it makes people wonder if the XFL will stay for a long time.

Ups and downs

The XFL started the 2023 season with a new image and new ownership, having been acquired by famed former pro wrestler and actor Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia.

There were big expectations in what would be the first full season for the new league and to see if it was worth all the hype it was promoting. Players who are hopeful for a shot in the NFL were excited to get a chance to show what they can do on the gridiron. The Renegades started the first game of the season at home on Feb.18, with a close 22-20 defeat against the Vegas Vipers at Choctaw Stadium.

The next few weeks of play would be full of ups and downs. Led by head coach Bob Stoops, who is more well-known for his tenure as head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners, which included a national title win in 2000, the Renegades had players with NFL experience, like quarterback Kyle Sloter, who had spent time with the Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, and other numerous teams, and cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc, who played a few seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, and spent time on a bunch of NFL rosters.

Looking to improve, the Renegades decided to make some changes. Sloter was released from the team on Mar. 27, and the Renegades made a trade with the Vipers the following day, sending linebacker Ryan Mueller to sin city in exchange for quarterback Luis Perez. The move appeared to be beneficial as the Renegades won their first game with Perez under center in 18-16 victory against the Orlando Guardians to even their record at 4-4.

However, they lost the last two regular games of the season to finish below .500 at 4-6, but surprisingly secured a spot in the playoffs as they finished second in the south division behind the Houston Roughnecks. It would be the start of something truly shocking.

Spring football Champions

Facing the number one seeded Roughnecks in the south division championship game.

the Renegades flipped the switch and shocked the league with a 26-11 upset win to head to the championship game. Perez was the star of the game as he threw for 289 yards and three touchdown passes. They would be facing the Defenders of DC, who finished the regular season with a league best 9-1 record, and defeated the Seattle Sea Dragons in the north division playoff game. The stage was set for the XFL championship game, being played at the Alamodome in San Antonio, TX on May 13.

The Renegades jumped the gun from the start and scored on its first possession, as Perez connected for a 41 yard touchdown pass to tight end Sal Cannella. They would find their way to the endzone later in the first on a nine yard pass to wide receiver Tyler Vaughns from Perez, and then followed up with a two point conversion from running back De'Veon Smith to lead 14-0.

After starting the second quarter with three consecutive first downs, the Defenders got into trouble when quarterback Jordan Ta'amu's pass was intercepted by strong safety Joe Powell for a Renegades possession. After running 6:50 off the clock, the Renegades scored again on a 29 yard field goal from placekicker Taylor Russolino. Things would come to a delay after a scary moment when Defenders wide receiver Josh Hammond went out of bounds on a play and collided with a sideline photographer. After the photographer was attended to by trainers and carted off the field on a backboard, play resumed, with the Defenders finally finding their way to the endzone on a two yard rush from running back Abram Smith.

Another field goal from Russolino added to the Renegades lead as the first half ended with them leading 20-6.

The second half started with the Defenders scoring on their first possession, thanks to a 52 yard run from Smith, but the Renegades would follow up after a 71 yard drive, with running back Leddie Brown rushing for seven yards into the endzone. An exchange of punts soon followed up and the Defenders struck again as Ta'amu connected with Hammond on a 72 yard bomb, followed by a two point conversion from Smith to cut the deficit 26-20. The Renegades however struck back as Perez threw a 30 yard pass to Brown to go up 32-20 as the third quarter ended. After Ta'amu was picked off again in the start of the fourth, the Renegades added another field goal on a 33 yard kick.

The Defenders tried hard for a comeback, when Hammond scored on a 23 yard pass with 1:17 remaining, but the Renegades defense controlled the rest of the game, as the team came away with the 35-26 victory in a big upset to conquer the first XFL championship. The celebrations started and after short speeches from the league owners, they proudly crowned Perez as the game's MVP. Perez, who completed 26 of 33 pass attempts, while throwing 288 yards and three touchdown passes, was deserving of the honor, considering the season's woes.

Bright future

With the first full season of play complete, the XFL is already preparing for the 2024 season and from the looks of things, it's going to be sticking around for a while.

Those who performed on the field will get a chance to try out for a spot on an NFL roster, as teams will be impressed with the performances shown on the field. It will be very interesting to see what else the league can accomplish.