Defense wins championships, they say. Holding a team to just three points in the first game of franchise history? As five point underdogs? That’s a definite confidence boost for the New York Guardians, who now lead the XFL East division after defeating the Tampa Bay Vipers 23-3.
The stone gargoyle that is perceived to be the on-field mascot of the Guardians spewed smoke as the players took the field to cheers from the 17,000+ fans in attendance.
GUARDIANS TAKE THE FIELD (Henry Frieman/Field2Court)
On the first drive, the Guardians immediately got to work. KR Austin Duke was electric, returning the kickoff for 59 yards. QB Matt McGloin connected with TE Jake Powell on 4th down for a 15-yard gain, putting New York in field-goal range. The Guardians continued to drive, featuring a spectacular catch by WR Joe Horn Jr. McGloin capped off the series by rushing into the endzone for a touchdown.
After a lengthy drive by the Vipers led to an Aaron Murray (Vipers QB) interception by Guardians CB Andrew Soroh, the offense could not capitalize off of the turnover. However, the Vipers’ series stalled, and the Guardians got the ball back as the first quarter ended, up seven to nothing.
Austin Duke continued his stellar play, returning the punt for 38 yards. On the very next play, McGloin heaved a 45-yard pass to WR Mekale McKay, who dove to the Tampa 12-yard line on the catch.
McGloin then connected to WR Colby Pearson, whom I spoke to (while writing under the name TakeFlightInsider), for a 12-yard touchdown.
With 2:38 remaining in the second half, Guardians C Ian Silberman and Vipers DT Ricky Walker appeared to be in an altercation. Walker threw a punch and was ejected. That was the first ejection in XFL history.
The defensive performance continued, as Guardians CB Bryce Jones intercepted Murray. McGloin hit Pearson for 32 yards and after a 49 yard Matthew McCrane FG, the Guardians walked to the locker room at halftime up 17-0.
On the first Vipers drive of the second half, Aaron Murray fumbled, a nice summary of his performance that day. The Guardians received the ball, but the drive stalled. Tampa Bay HC Marc Trestman elected to put in his backup, QB Quinton Flowers of USF. Flowers ran the ball exclusively, setting up Vipers K Andrew Franks for a 23-yard FG. That was it for Tampa’s offense.
With 12:09 remaining in the game, Murray passed to TE Nick Truesdell. Truesdell fumbled and Guardians CB Jamar Summers returned the ball for a touchdown. At that point, the Vipers hecklers came out, and I overheard some of their own fans booing. The rest of the game was garbage time, and the Guardians secured a win.
Led by three forced fumbles (one recovered for a TD), two interceptions, and five sacks, the Guardians obliterated the away team. Caesar’s Sportsbook may need to evaluate their odds after this performance – They had the Guardians at 8/1 odds and the Vipers at 3/1 odds to win the 2020 XFL Championship. For the first time I can remember, they were dead wrong.
Next week, the Guardians travel to the nation’s capital to take on the DC Defenders, who defeated the Seattle Dragons on Saturday. It will be an evenly-matched game, defensive battle, and a fun one.
Henry Frieman covers the Guardians and the XFL for Field2Court.