XFL Week 8 Recap, Scenarios and Rankings: Four Close Finishes, Two in OT

Abram Smith strikes a pose after recording the opening score against the Sea Dragons. (XFL Official Website)

Written and Edited by Zach Kangieser

April 10, 2023

Only two weeks remain until the XFL Playoffs are set after this week’s slate of games, and with each passing week we get a clearer and clearer picture of which four teams will be in the playoff picture and which four teams will have to wait another year. This week, two teams became the first in their respective divisions to formally clinch a spot in this year’s playoffs, while one unfortunate team dropped out of the race.

Additionally, Week 8 may have provided the most entertaining slate of games yet, as all four games were decided by a mere nine points, with the widest margin of victory (four whole points) happening in the weekend’s opener between the Battlehawks and the Vipers, while the narrowest (one singular point) took place during the closer, a highly anticipated rematch between the Defenders and the Sea Dragons.

Even outside of the close games, we saw a couple of firsts this week. Seattle’s Tyrell Adams became the first defender to score on a point after, scooping and scoring two points on a ninety-five yard return. QB Luis Perez played his first game in a Renegades uniform after the Vipers traded him away two weeks prior. And the XFL’s overtime rules were finally put on display as not one, but two games ended up going into shootout mode, putting the outcomes of those games on just three plays from the five-yard line.

For more details about every game this week, including some of the big highlights, interesting statlines and the moment each game could be called, we’ve put together another weekly recap of every XFL game this week. And at the end of that recap, I’ve compiled a list of playoff scenarios for every team, as well as an abridged power rankings.

St. Louis Battlehawks 21, Vegas Vipers 17 (OT) 

Nick Tiano didn't exactly sneak in to the endzone in the second quarter, but he did score two for St. Louis. (Scott Rovak/XFL)

Vegas had a bit of momentum after beating the San Antonio Brahmas last week, but the wind was likely taken out of their sails with the knowledge that they were unable to clinch a playoff spot. To make matters worse for Vegas, they had to go into The Dome at St. Louis to play a team that had crushed them earlier in the season. On the flip side, St. Louis had all the momentum, holding a 5-0 record against teams not named the Defenders and looking to make some leather out of the Vipers. Well, almost all of the momentum; longtime starter for the Battlehawks, AJ McCarron, had sustained a hand injury and did not suit up.

Even without the loss of McCarron, the Battlehawks defense struggled initially against the visiting Vipers. A good return on the opening play of the game set Vegas at midfield, and they capitalized with a quick TD to go up 8-0. They followed up with a long drive ending in a field goal to go up another three points before backup QB Nick Tiano finally led a scoring drive capped off by a pass to Hakeem Butler to bring it to 11-8, which would be the score at half. Vegas failed to convert on two field goals, one of which was missed and one of which was a trick play that couldn’t convert.

The third quarter had some close calls but no scoring, meaning it was still 11-8 going into the fourth quarter. Then, Vipers lineman Pita Taumoepenu forced a fumble on St. Louis’s Brian Hill, which the defense recovered. Running back Rod Smith immediately punched in a twenty-seven yard TD run to go up 17-8. All seemed lost for the Battlehawks until a trick play where punter Sterling Hofrichter hit receiver Gary Jennings on 4th and 6, which Jennings took all the way to the house to make it 17-14. Tiano led a last gasp drive for the Battlehawks that came up just short, and a Donny Hageman kick took us to overtime.

Overtime rules in the XFL work a bit differently. Each team gets three attempts at a two-point conversion from the five yard line. And if it’s still tied after three attempts, you go to sudden death. That was not the case today. Vegas’ first try was ruled just short while their second was negated by an offensive pass interference call. Meanwhile, Tiano hit Hakeem Butler for the first conversion and Brian Hill ran in the second to secure victory for the Battlehawks.

St. Louis will stay in the Dome next week for a pivotal matchup against the Seattle Sea Dragons that could determine the fate of the XFL North. Meanwhile, Vegas will travel to Houston looking to upset the Roughnecks, having shown they are capable of competing.

Arlington Renegades 18, Orlando Guardians 16 

QB Quinten Dormady was pressured early and pressured often by the Renegades defense. (Matt Pendleton/XFL)

There was a bit more buzz behind the Guardians this week after their huge upset over the DC Defenders last week, and they looked desperately to continue their newfound winning ways against division rival Arlington. The stakes were plain; if the Guardians were to lose this week against the Renegades or next week against the Brahmas, they would be out of the XFL’s playoff race. Quinten Dormady looked to continue his strong QB play of the last few weeks; meanwhile, Arlington was finally able to start Luis Perez, who they traded for two weeks prior.

Perez appeared to fit Arlington well on the opening drive, leading them down to Orlando’s five yard line before the team was forced to settle for a field goal. Orlando got a field goal of their own, but on their next possession, Dormady was stripped of the ball by Arlington’s Bruce Hector, and teammate DeVante Bausby ran it back forty-eight yards for six points. An Arlington field goal and a Dormady QB sneak consisted of the rest of the first half’s scores, bringing it to 12-9.

Dormady’s struggles continued in the second half. He threw two interceptions in the third quarter, one of which set up an Arlington TD and the other of which was luckily fumbled. He did lead a scoring drive with six minutes, but coach Terrell Buckley strangely chose to go for one point when the team was down three. The one point try was successful, and a quick stop gave them a chance to kick a field goal and win the game. Sadly, just as they got to Renegades territory, Dormady was hit by Arlington’s Willie Taylor and lost the ball again. Arlington recovered, bringing a crushing end to the game.

Not only did Dormady’s struggles cost Orlando the game, they cost the team their season; with the loss, the Guardians are now out of the XFL Playoffs. They still have to play the games, though, so Orlando will hit the road for the last two weeks, with the first leg being against the Brahmas on Saturday. With the win, Arlington moves to 4-4 and will go on the road to face the tough DC Defenders next week.

Houston Roughnecks 17, San Antonio Brahmas 15 (OT) 

Houston QB Brandon Silvers struggled in his return from injury, but did just enough for Houston to win. (Houston Chronicle)

After a rough loss on the road against the Vegas Vipers, the Brahmas returned to the Alamodome still looking for a third win, this time against a Roughnecks squad in the midst of a three-game losing streak. Despite struggles on offense and a slew of injuries, both squads were starting their Week 1 QBs, with San Antonio’s Jack Coan having recovered from an ankle injury and Brandon Silvers playing with a hurt arm. The defenses dominated both quarterbacks, with neither cracking 200 yards and the Roughnecks recording six sacks on the day.

Both teams scored on their opening drives. The Roughnecks were able to march downfield and capped off their first drive with a short TD pass to Deontay Burnett. San Antonio nearly responded in kind, but a first and goal and Houston’s one-yard line only turned into three points when Coan was sacked by two Roughnecks (lineman Trent Harris and DB Will Likely) on third down. Both teams kicked one more field goal in the second quarter to take the game into halftime with a score of 9-6. Comedically, both quarterbacks closed the first half with interceptions; Houston’s Will Likely picked off Coan near midfield with seconds left, and Brandon Silvers’ Hail Mary pass was immediately intercepted on the next play.

Coan was picked off again deep in his own territory by Trevon Mason to open the second half, setting up an easy Roughnecks score to make it 15-6, neither team scored again until less than three minutes remained in regulation, where Houston nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Brandon Silvers threw a pick to set up a short Brahmas TD drive, and Ajene Harris was penalized on the ensuing 4th and 15 conversion, giving the Brahmas one more chance to tie it up or take the lead. They just managed to get within field goal range, and John Parker Romo nailed a forty-nine yard kick to send it to OT.

Both teams failed to convert on their first two attempts, before Cole McDonald took the field for the final pass of the game. He connected with Deontay Burnett to score for Houston, and then a Jack Coan pass to TJ Vasher was defended by the secondary to ensure Houston narrowly escaped with a 17-15 overtime win. Houston’s win was almost entirely a defensive effort; they picked up crucial sacks to prevent points and Mason’s pick set up a totally necessary score. Houston must address its glaring flaws on offense in the next week before they host the Vegas Vipers (who have nothing to lose) at home. San Antonio’s loss puts them on the verge of elimination, and they must win out to have a chance. They’ll host the Guardians in Week 9.

DC Defenders 34, Seattle Sea Dragons 33 

Juwan Green (#4) is chased by a defender after snagging a deep ball. (Maddy Grassy/XFL)

Lumen Field was center stage to the most anticipated game of the week, a divisional showdown and Week 1 rematch between two of the XFL’s most exciting teams. The Defenders were coming off of a shocking upset loss at the hands of the Guardians and looking to reassert themselves as the best team in the league. Seattle, meanwhile, had won five straight, and a win against the Defenders would mean a three way tie for first place in the XFL North, with Seattle, DC and St. Louis all at 6-2.

The Defenders struck first after each team punted, scoring on a lightning fast drive that culminated in an Abram Smith score and a successful conversion. The Sea Dragons responded with a rushing score of their own thanks to new signee and former NFL Pro Bowler Philip Lindsay early in the second quarter, but in the closing minutes, Jordan Ta’amu led a sixty-yard scoring drive capped off by an eleven yard scoring pass to Ryquell Armstead. Another conversion put them up ten, and it stayed that way until the half.

Both teams traded scores in the third, and the fourth quarter opened with a Sea Dragons field goal. The rest of the game consisted of a shootout between Ta’amu and DiNucci, with each throwing for two more scores. DiNucci hit Green again for another deep TD and converted for three points after, only for DC’s Chris Blair to turn a short pass into a seventy-yard sprint to make it 34-27. Even still, DiNucci and the Sea Dragons mounted a two-minute drill capped off by a Jahcour Pearson reception to bring it to a one point game. But the two-point conversion failed, the 4th-and-15 pass was batted down, and DC hung on by the skin of its teeth.

The tight victory puts DC at 7-1 and clinches them a spot in the playoffs. They’ll once again go back to Audi Field looking to host the 4-4 Renegades, who will themselves be looking to clinch a playoff spot next week. Meanwhile, the Sea Dragons are on the brink of elimination, and must win out to have a chance at clinching a playoff spot. They’ll be playing St. Louis at the Dome in a make-or-break game.

Playoff Scenarios For Each Team Left 

(@ESPNNFL on Twitter for the graphics)

All three of the potential playoff and elimination scenarios from Week 7 occurred during Week 8 play, meaning that we now have two of the XFL’s four playoff teams and two of the league’s first four out. On Saturday, the Orlando Guardians found themselves formally eliminated from the playoff race after their last gasp against Arlington fell short. That brings us down to six teams remaining for the season. On Sunday, the Houston Roughnecks and DC Defenders each picked up victories that assured them top two spots in their division and spots in the playoffs.

Heading into Week 9, each team has at least one scenario of some kind. Two teams could clinch a playoff spot, two teams could clinch a home playoff game, and two teams could be eliminated altogether. I’ll skip the small talk and go straight into every scenario for each team:

Power Rankings 

Even despite a slate of exciting games, this week’s power rankings remain mostly unchanged from last week’s set, with one team breaking away towards the top half and one team sliding down:

1. DC Defenders (7-1) - DC narrowly retains the top spot thanks to their highly explosive offense once again putting on a show. But they are fallible; their defense is prone to giving chunks of yardage and big plays against all levels of competition.

2. St. Louis Battlehawks (6-2) - The absence of A.J. McCarron was felt deeply this week as the Battlehawks struggled against Vegas. Nonetheless, the team itself is a consistent unit with no real bad games yet, and McCarron will be back soon. 

3. Seattle Sea Dragons (5-3) - In a shootout loss against DC, Seattle continued a trend of showing an electric offense and strong defense but making big mistakes at important moments. A series of turnovers, penalties and failed conversions, all in late, close games, have now cost them dearly three times.

4. Houston Roughnecks (5-3) - The Roughnecks narrowly remain the XFL’s gatekeepers after an overtime win against San Antonio. Their defense had an excellent showing, arguably the league’s best this week but their offense must pick up the slack to have a chance at winning it all.

5. Arlington Renegades (4-4) - The arrival of Luis Perez seems to have provided a spark for Arlington’s lackluster offense, but they haven’t set the world on fire yet. They still need to win primarily through gritty defensive play.

6. Vegas Vipers (2-6) - Vegas has punched above their weight class over the last two weeks, but they’re still a fairly incomplete team. Jalan McClendon had a tougher time this week, though he displayed more mobility than any of his peers.

7. San Antonio Brahmas (2-6) - The Brahmas looked a bit better on offense this week thanks to RB Jacques Patrick, who averaged six yards per carry. Kicker John Parker Romo also went three-for-three. But this team cannot get drives going with any consistency.

8. Orlando Guardians (1-7) - Snap back to reality. One week after knocking off the best team in the league, Orlando fell against Arlington, with Quinten Dormady committing five turnovers. Some of this can be blamed on head coach Terrell Buckley, whose decision to go for one down three raised eyebrows.