XFL Championship & Season Recap: The Renegades Hoist the Gold

Renegades head coach Bob Stoops (center) lifts the XFL Trophy after leading his team to the 2023 Championship. (Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

Written and Edited by Zach Kangieser

May 14, 2023

It’s finally over. For the first time in twenty-two years, an XFL season has been completed, with one team getting the chance to be crowned champions after four quarters. This year’s championship game was set to be a real David vs Goliath type matchup as well, with two wildly different teams coming into this game with a shot at hoisting the XFL trophy. 

From the North division came the 10-1 DC Defenders, who had been dominant for most of the year and rolled into the Alamodome looking unstoppable, putting up thirty-seven points against their division rival Seattle in a convincing display. Comparatively, the South division was represented by the 5-6 Renegades, who had a tough first half of the season before doing just enough against stronger competition to get into the playoffs, where they knocked off the 7-3 Houston Roughnecks to get to the title game.

The Defenders had amassed the most talented offense in the league, led by XFL Offensive Player of the Year Jordan Ta’amu at quarterback and featuring Abram Smith, the best running back in the league by miles. Their defense had some flaws, but their offense was more than good enough to make up for it, which had enabled them to beat nearly everyone convincingly. By contrast, the Renegades had one of the better defenses in the league but no consistent offensive playmakers until the team traded for QB Luis Perez at midseason. Perez improved the offense massively, letting the Renegades compete with much better teams, but they still fell short against most of the better teams in the regular season. The offensive talent gap between the two teams (not to mention their contrasting records) painted the Defenders as major favorites in the two weeks leading up to the title game. And it stayed that way, right until kickoff, when twenty-three thousand fans packed into the stadium to watch the XFL crown a champion.

Arlington Renegades 35, DC Defenders 26

DC running back Abram Smith gets swarmed by the Renegades defense. (Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

The Renegades ended up being the first team to get the ball, and put together a solid starting drive. Perez went to work, putting together three straight completions before a run from De’Veon Smith put the Renegades in DC territory. Disaster nearly struck when Perez took a sack and lost the ball, but he managed to hang onto it to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, he found his number one weapon, tight end Sal Canella, on a throw over the middle, and Canella turned the first down into a score when he broke a tackle at the thirty-yard line and went to the house. Perez hit WR Caleb Vander Esch for the two point conversion as well to make a statement and put Arlington up 8-0.

DC failed to immediately respond, going three-and-out, and Perez followed his opening drive with an even better one, leading his team eighty-eight yards down the field with a balanced attack that even saw him scramble occasionally. His lead target was Tyler Vaughns, who eventually caught the next scoring pass to make it 14-0 and put the heavy favorites on the ropes early. Things only seemed to go from bad to worse when Jordan Ta’amu led the Defenders into Arlington territory only to throw a costly interception, which the Renegades punished with a field goal. 

The Defenders finally put together a scoring drive late in the second quarter, when good field position paved the way for who else but Abram Smith to punch in a Defenders TD. But even then, Arlington got three more points before the half, meaning they were up 20-6 with just thirty minutes left. Luis Perez finished the first half 18-for-23 with 189 passing yards and two touchdowns through the air.

Even knowing they were two scores in the hole, Abram Smith would not be denied. When the Defenders got the ball to start the second half, they made their way out to midfield before Smith got the ball with a full head of steam, thundering fifty-two yards down the field to score six points and break one thousand scrimmage yards on the season. From there, both teams continued to go back and forth scoring, meaning DC’s chance of winning it all continued to slip away. The Renegades marched down the field on a twelve-play drive that concluded with Leddie Brown TD rush to go up two scores. 

A pair of traded punts were followed up with a pair of massive scores, with Jordan Ta’amu hitting Josh Hammond for a seventy-yard yard bomb to go within one. Unfortunately for the Defenders, Luis Perez tossed a score of his own, hitting Leddie Brown to put the Renegades up two scores and keep DC desperate to close the third quarter. When Ta’amu threw another interception early in the fourth, and Arlington responded with another field goal to go up fifteen, it looked like the Cinderella story was finally becoming reality, with Arlington still convincingly up.

Time continued to tick, inching closer to zero, when a long Arlington drive ended abruptly in a fumble with just over two minutes left, giving DC one more chance at a miracle. They did manage to drive downfield, and Jordan Ta’amu did hit Josh Hammond for a touchdown to cut the deficit to nine points. But the emergency 4th-and-15 was picked off by Arlington’s Cre’Von LeBlanc, and the celebration was on in Arlington as the underdog Renegades became the 2023 XFL Champions.

The Defenders experienced a heartbreaker at the last moment. After a dominant season, they fell just short at the final step. However, there’s not much to be disappointed about, as many Defenders will likely be getting calls from the NFL soon. But the Renegades? Arlington managed to cap off a crazy, month-long underdog story, going from losing 25-9 to the Houston Roughnecks to close the regular season to stomping the Roughnecks and Defenders en route to finishing 6-6 and league champions. They’re the first XFL Champions to be crowned since 2001’s Los Angeles Xtreme.

The Players That Stuck Out 

A wild finish to the championship game caps off an exciting year in a revitalized spring football league. Eight teams battled it out all year in an effort to become the league champions, but more importantly, to prove themselves worthy as players in a bigger league in the future. The XFL hopes to cement itself as a “second chance” league, giving players an opportunity to put themselves on film with the chance to get on an NFL roster in the future.

As of the publishing of this article, fifty-seven players across the XFL have been given the chance to try out for at least one NFL team, with neither the Renegades or Defenders getting invites yet due to still being in the title hunt. On Monday, they will officially be eligible to sign NFL contracts. With the championship game officially in the rearview and nine more months until any more XFL ball is set to play, I’ve compiled a list of some of the more noteworthy players across the league, based on either the awards given out by the XFL themselves or the leaders in certain stats.

Offensive Leaders

XFL OPOY Jordan Ta'amu (left), passing yards leader Ben DiNucci (top right) and pass touchdown leader A.J. McCarron.

XFL RB1 Abram Smith (left) and star receivers Jahcour Pearson (top right) and Hakkem Butler.

Best of the Defense 

XFL sack leader Trent Harris (left), DPOY Pita Taumoepenu (top right) and INT leader Ajene Harris.

So, What Now? 

For the XFL players, the end of the year means looking towards the future. Some of the best players will try their hands at NFL contracts. Some will maybe wind up playing in other semi-pro leagues, and some may wind up working regular jobs for a few months until the next season.

For the team coaches, it’s time to start looking towards the draft. Every team is going to have holes to fill, especially when the more talented players on each squad leave for greener pastures. The 2024 XFL Remedial Draft will fall sometime in November, with the Orlando Guardians first on the clock. Maybe Carson Wentz will be the pick.

For the owners of the league, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dany Garcia have stated they view this season as an overall success. Their goals for next season are simply: advertise more while trying to maintain the league’s quality of play. They’ve even teased adding two more teams to the league as early as 2025, though they’ll need the current teams to get owners first.

And for the fans, and us here at The Booth who are starved for football content, well, there’s always the USFL, which is currently five weeks into their own ten week regular season and full of competitive teams. We hope to see you all tuning in to those games, and we hope that y’all come to us for coverage as well. Thank you, and here’s to what was a great season.