The Los Angeles Wildcats were held scoreless on their final seven possessions, allowing 25 unanswered points in a 37-17 loss to the Houston Roughnecks in both XFL teams’ debuts Saturday in Houston.
The Wildcats were unable to get a field goal attempt off as the first half ended, then punted twice, turned the ball over on downs twice and committed two turnovers in their six second-half possessions.
“In the second half, we couldn’t get any momentum going,” Wildcats coach Winston Moss said. “When it started to get bad, it really got bad.”
Moss switched quarterbacks at the start of their second possession of the second half, with Jalan McClendon replacing Charles Kanoff. McClendon threw an interception to end his first possession. The Wildcats were forced to punt after three plays on his second, prompting Moss to put Kanoff back in the game.
Kanoff lost a fumble when he was sacked on his first possession following his return. He ran 10 yards for a first down on a fourth-and-6 play on the following possession, but suffered a shoulder injury when he was tackled.
Kanoff remained in the game for one more play — throwing an incomplete pass — then was replaced by McClendon following the two-minute warning.
The Wildcats were foiled by the XFL’s rule differences intended to create a faster-paced game on their final possession of the first half. The 25-second play clock expired before long snapper Ryan Navarro was able the snap the ball for a 35-yard field goal attempt by Nick Novak.
The XFL’s rules also called for a 10-second runoff, leaving the Wildcats with just one second to snap before the first half ended. Navarro was unable to snap the ball before time expired in the first half with the Wildcats trailing 18-17.
Novak kicked a 35-yard field goal with one minute, 26 seconds left in the first half to increase the Wildcats lead to 17-12.
James Butler then muffed Novak’s ensuing kickoff, recovered the ball and made a 62-yard return, advancing the ball to the Wildcats’ 39-yard line. P.J. Walker threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Sam Mobley two plays later to give the Roughnecks an 18-17 lead with 1:03 remaining in the half.
Kanoff completed 21 of 40 passes for 214 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Smallwood, 9:21 before halftime to increase the Wildcats’ lead to 14-6.
Kanoff had one pass intercepted and was sacked three times before a crowd at TDECU Stadium announced at 17,815.
Kanoff ran 5 yards for a touchdown on the Wildcats’ first possession, then completed a pass to Smallwood for a 2-point conversion.
The 25-year-old Kanoff started in place of Josh Johnson, who was sidelined because of a thigh injury. Kanoff is a former Harvard-Westlake School standout who played college football at Princeton. He was the Ivy League’s offensive player of the year in 2017, when he set the conference record with 3,474 passing yards.
Kanoff has spent time on the practice squads of the Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The 33-year-old Johnson is among the nine players on the Wildcats active roster to have played in NFL regular-season games, including starting three games for the Washington Redskins in 2018.
McClendon’s only completion in four passes was for zero yards. He had one pass intercepted and was sacked twice.
The Wildcats were outgained 315 yards to 291, but led 20-17 in first downs. They converted three of 14 third downs, 21.4%, and one of four fourth downs, 25%. Houston converted three of 10 third downs, 30%, and was unsuccessful on its lone fourth down conversion attempt.
Walker completed 23 of 39 passes for 272 yards and four touchdowns. He had one pass intercepted and was sacked once.
Walker ran for a 2-point conversion in the third quarter and passed to Kahlil Lewis for another in the fourth.
Sergio Castillo kicked a 44-yard field goal with 14:22 remaining to increase the Roughnecks’ lead to 29-17. James Butler ran 4 yards for Houston’s final touchdown with 9:55 left to play.
“We were kind of beating ourselves early in the game, dropping a lot of balls, missing some open guys,” Houston coach June Jones III said. “We just hung in, kept playing, talked about what we needed to do and I thought some kids stepped up and made some good plays.”
The Wildcats will play their first home game Feb. 16 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson against the Dallas Renegades.
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