In the first XFL action in Houston, June Jones’ Run N’ Shoot offense found the end zone four times through the air to take a 37-17 win over the Los Angeles Wildcats to open the franchise’s history.
The visitors led 14-6 with about 35 minutes left to play but Roughnecks quarterback PJ Walker threw half of his four touchdowns in the final two minutes of the first half to take an 18-17 lead for the hosts going into the halftime intermission.
“We just started to believe,” Walker said of the difference that led to the turnaround. “I think going into the second quarter, we were down a little bit. We just turned it up, we picked things up, started playing faster, running down the field, getting open and making plays. Once you get good rhythm going, guys will just start playing free, playing fast.”
“I think how hard we’ve been working paid off in that second half,” said running back James Butler, who scored the lone rushing touchdown on the night for Houston. “We found that second wind in the second half and we just put our foot on the gas and kept going.”
The Roughneck defense was certainly an example of that, inducing an interception, punt, fumble and two turnovers on downs in the second half to shut down the Wildcat offense behind five-tackle efforts from Edmond Robinson, Deatrick Nichols and Beniquez Brown.
Joining that trio in leading the team with five tackles was Cody Brown, a member of Bellville High School’s class of 2012, who supplied a couple of bone-jarring hits to get the fans fired up.
Walker said all that additional noise inside TDECU Stadium led to some minor technical difficulties for him receiving the play call through the headset in his helmet.
“I thought that the crowd was amazing, I was barely able to hear Coach June call the plays,” Walker said after his 272 yards through the air and 26 yards rushing. “I thought the guys on the field were having fun, I know our side of the ball was. Our defense was having a ball out there, we were flying around, picking each other up the whole time.”
Jones mentioned his excitement about seeing Walker, a former competitor, on his sideline this time around, making the electrifying plays he’s used to for his team.
“He’s learning the system, he did some really good things,” Jones said. “I was anxious to see him because I played against him in college. When the play breaks down, (he can) create things and he did create a lot of stuff tonight. That kind of was his magic in college … if he continues to get better with his reads, I think he has a real good chance to be a good player.”
All in all, it was live, professional football in Houston on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Can’t get much better than that.
“We’re just excited to be out playing for Houston, we know how much Texas loves its football,” Butler said. “It’s just an honor to be out here and still be able to play football.”
“It was loud and it was impressive because I was out there embracing the moment, flying around,” Walker added. “It was amazing to have the opportunity to play a live football game.”
“I think the league and this team hit home with some people, the number of people in this room right now is impressive too,” Jones said of the postgame interview room. “I think this is going to be here for good, that’s why I decided to come down from Canada. I was convinced that this league was going to make it and I think after this season it’s just going to get better and better.”
The Roughnecks will return to TDECU Stadium next Sunday evening for a contest with the D.C. Defenders, who opened the XFL’s revival with a 31-19 win over the Seattle Dragons earlier Saturday.