Feb 18, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Roughnecks running back Dejourn Lee (20) celebrates quarterback Cole McDonald (14) touchdown against the Orlando Guardians in the fourth quarter at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
The Houston Roughnecks are still undefeated as a franchise and stayed that way in dominant fashion Saturday night.
Behind a big-strike offense and opportunistic defense, the Roughnecks blasted the Orlando Guardians 44-16 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
Houston connected on three separate pass plays of 40 or more yards. The Roughnecks’ defense forced a pair of turnovers and earned a pair of fourth-quarter fourth-down stops. Throughout the night, the biggest plays in the game almost all favored the Roughnecks.
Houston ran out to an early 20-0 first quarter lead and never looked back. The Roughnecks’ opening drive was a methodical push down the field that ended with a 21-yard strike from Brandon Silvers to Travell Harris to open the scoring.
On the Guardians’ first drive, quarterback Paxton Lynch threw a backward pass that was dropped, making it a live ball. Roughnecks’ defensive back Will Likely scooped the ball up and returned it for a 36-yard score.
After Houston forced a Guardians three-and-out, Silvers connected on three straight passes before executing a double-forward-pass for a touchdown.
Silvers threw to Jontre Kirklin, but Kirklin had not passed the line of scrimmage with the football. Under XFL rules, that made him eligible to throw an additional forward pass. Kirklin found a wide-open Deontay Burnett for a 49-yard touchdown, and Houston held a 20-0 lead barely 11 minutes into the game.
Orlando would temporarily bench Paxton Lynch for Deondre Francois in the second quarter, and Francois led the Guardians to a field goal to get on the board and make the score 20-3 with 9:16 to go before the half.
The Roughnecks’ offense bogged down and punted on each of its next two possessions before its defense came through with another turnover.
On a short pass, Guardians’ wide receiver Charleston Rambo took a big hit from Jordan Mosley that jarred the ball loose. Roughnecks’ cornerback Sean Davis made the recovery to give Houston excellent field position at the Orlando 39.
On the first offensive play that followed, Silvers connected with Kirklin for a 42-yard touchdown, and the Roughnecks were ready to go into the break up 26-3. Instead, a dumb penalty by the Roughnecks allowed Orlando to score right before the half.
Hunter Duplessis’ kickoff failed to reach the 20-yard line, and the ensuing penalty gave the Guardians the ball at the Houston 45. Lynch found Jaylen Smith for a 31-yard touchdown pass, making the score 26-10 at halftime.
In the second half, both teams traded punts before Orlando got back on the board.
On the first play of their second drive, Lynch nailed a wide-open Charleston Rambo for an 81-yard touchdown. The Roughnecks’ defender fell down on the play, and once he realized he was free and clear, Rambo took off deep. The touchdown made the score 26-16, and that was as close as the Guardians would get to Houston.
Recognizing that Orlando had changed its defensive alignment to sell out for pass coverage, Roughnecks’ offensive coordinator A.J. Smith went to the ground game.
After only calling one running play in the entire first half, the Roughnecks ran on six of their eight plays on their next drive, capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by Dejoun Lee. Lee had three carries for 35 yards on the drive, and Brycen Alleyne produced an additional 12 yards on the ground. Houston pushed the lead back to 16 at 32-16.
The Roughnecks’ defense went back to work, forcing a turnover on downs at the Houston 43. Three plays later, Silvers would make another big pass to Travell Harris, this time for a 59-yard score to make it a 38-16 game with 10:57 remaining in the contest.
The Roughnecks’ defense remained unyielding, forcing its second straight turnover on downs by batting down a Lynch pass at the line of scrimmage on a fourth-and-2 at the Houston 39.
Cole McDonald relieved Brandon Silvers at quarterback and led a scoring drive of his own late in the game. Houston gained 47 of its 61 yards on the drive on the ground, and Dejoun Lee finished the drive with his second 1-yard touchdown run of the game to create the final score of 44-16.
Houston is the first team in the XFL this season to reach 4-0, and are undefeated as a franchise at 9-0 overall. Orlando fell to 0-4, with two of its losses coming to Houston in blowouts.
The Roughnecks return to the field Thursday, March 16 to take on Ben DiNucci and the Sea Dragons in Seattle at 9:30 p.m. CT.