It was a scorching hot Saturday night in Orlando, as the stage was set at Camping World Stadium for a primetime ESPN matchup between the undefeated DC Defenders and the winless Orlando Guardians.
Many expected this game to be over at halftime with DC in control, but this game was full of surprises and certainly did not finish how many predicted…
Jordan Ta’amu and the Defenders offense started with the ball and wasted no time getting in the end zone. After a few chunk plays to start the drive, Ta’amu found WR Lucky Jackson on the quick curl route and let him do the rest on the 32 yard connection. DC converted the 2pt conversion and went up 8-0 in less than two minutes.
Orlando took advantage of a kick penalty on the ensuing kickoff, driving into the red zone and scoring on a Quinten Dormady QB sneak. Recently acquired QB Quinton Flowers made his first appearance for Orlando on the 1pt attempt, but was unsuccessful on the speed option play.
After a three and out by DC on the next drive, Orlando regained possession and wasted no time taking a deep shot to their newly acquired WR KD Cannon, who burned DC’s standout CB Michael Joseph for six points.
Defenders HC Reggie Barlow had high praise for Cannon postgame, as DC drafted Cannon but released him prior to the season because of injury.
DC fired back with another touchdown of their own on a one yard Abram Smith touchdown. This TD capped off an eventful first quarter between the two teams with DC leading 14-12.
Defenders QB D’Eriq King started the season blazing hot, but has cooled off the past couple weeks in limited action. At the start of the second quarter we saw King back in magician mode as he provided us his best highlight yet, and perhaps the top play of the season on this jaw-dropping touchdown connection to Briley Moore.
This is one of the craziest plays you'll ever see. D'Eriq King finds a way to drop this ball in the bucket – despite rolling to his left – and Briley Moore makes an insane catch in the back of the end zone.
King was injured on the play and evaluated for a concussion. King cleared concussion protocol, but did not return to the game.
Orlando was able to make it a one possession game at the end of the half, courtesy of another QB sneak TD by Quinten Dormady.
DC led the Guardians 22-18 at halftime.
This was not the Orlando team that the Defenders (or anyone) were expecting, surely. Dormady was orchestrating the Guardians offense in a way nobody had seen yet, and they were converting on opportunities they normally would fail on. Even though DC held the lead, there was definitely some uneasiness in that heading into the DC locker room at halftime…
Orlando began the second half with an electric kick return by Deddrick Thomas into DC territory. The return was soon followed by a spectacular catch by TE Jordan Thomas, who leaped over Defenders safety Montae Nicholson for an impressive touchdown.
Thomas was visibly emotional after the highlight reel play, and deservingly so. The play was vital to the game as a whole, but on a personal level Thomas mentioned after the touchdown how much it meant to him and was in tears.
DC answered quickly with a touchdown of their own, this time on a Chris Blair slant route that Blair took for 86 yards to the end zone, to regain the lead 28-25. Blair’s speed and style is eerily similar to another WR that played in DC, DeSean Jackson. He finished the game with a season-high 139 yards on 5 catches.
Orlando churned out another methodical offensive drive following the Blair TD. Dormady led the Guardians into the red zone and punched in his third rushing touchdown of the game on a QB sneak, capping off yet another impressive drive by Dormady who finished the game with six total touchdowns.
DC charged down the field on the following drive, but was halted on third down due to a rare miscommunication between Ta’amu and Lucky Jackson in the red zone.
Orlando held their first lead at the conclusion of a quarter, leading 31-28.
DC was able to flip the momentum after Guardians WR Eli Rogers coughed up the football and DC recovered in Orlando territory.
Ta’amu quickly led the Defenders into the red zone after the turnover, and found Jackson across the middle for their second touchdown connection of the game. DC recaptured the lead 36-31 after the 2pt conversion from Ta’amu to TE Alex Ellis. Ta’amu followed up his stellar game last week with an even better one today, finishing 21/29 with 285 yards, and three touchdowns.
Jordan Ta'amu : 21/29 for 285 yards, season-high 3 TD's & a season-high 137.8 QB Rating Lucky Jackson : 4 catches for 60 yards & 2 TD's on 6 targets pic.twitter.com/Lj3snDDxlU
Believe it or not, Orlando was able to answer the DC touchdown once again with a score of their own. Dormady found Latimer underneath on a perfectly timed pick play by the opposite crossing WR, resulting in a 44 yard touchdown to make it a 37-36 Orlando lead with 8:50 remaining.
The following five minutes consisted of multiple possession changes due to turnovers from both sides, including an Abram Smith fumble in Orlando territory with four minutes remaining in the game. Besides the fumble, Smith was ultra productive today finishing with 18 carries for 127 yards, and a touchdown.
DC regained possession with 20 seconds remaining and a chance to tie or win the game. But it would not be enough time for the Defenders as Matthew McCrane would line up and miss a potential game winning 63 yard field goal at the buzzer. Handing DC their first loss, and giving Orlando their improbable first win against the undefeated Defenders.
Ending the only two remaining undefeated and winless streaks in the XFL.
Well, not sure anyone could have predicted this outcome between these two teams. This game was filled with fireworks throughout and provided fans with the game of the year so far in the XFL.
This Guardians team was completely different from the past six weeks, converting on previously missed opportunities, creating turnovers at opportune times, and playing as a team rather than screaming at each other and creating drama in late game situations. This was only Dormady’s second consecutive start for Orlando, and one can be certain he will be the starter for the foreseeable future there. Orlando will host the Renegades (3-4) back at Camping World Stadium next Saturday.
The story of the game for DC was sloppy penalties in key situations, which continued to dig them a deeper hole throughout the game. Their undefeated streak ends at six as they travel to Seattle next week for a critical showdown in the XFL North with the Sea Dragons (5-2).
What are your thoughts on this game between the DC Defenders and Orlando Guardians? Which XFL players impressed you the most? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!