The Los Angeles Wildcats struggled offensively over the first three quarters and defensively in the fourth in a 25-18 loss to the Dallas Renegades Sunday in the XFL team’s home debut.
The Wildcats (0-2) were limited to Nick Novak’s 47-yard field goal two minutes, 54 seconds before halftime in the first three quarters, twice losing fumbles inside the 10-yard line.
They reached the end zone for the first time in 15 possessions dating back to their 37-17 loss at Houston in their opener Feb. 8, when Josh Johnson threw a 6-yard pass to Nelson Spruce with 11 minutes, 57 seconds remaining to take a 9-6 lead.
The lead lasted 2:57, when Cameron Artis-Payne ran 21 yards for a touchdown, one play after his 14-yard gain. The six-play, 68-yard drive also included 16- and 18-yard passes by Landry Jones to Donald Parham and Joshua Crockett on consecutive plays.
Artis-Payne ran for a 1-point conversion that increased Dallas’ lead to 13-9.
The Wildcats were forced to punt after three plays on their ensuing possession. Flynn Nagel returned Shane Tripucka’s 45-yard punt 38 yards to the Wildcats 35-yard line. Jones threw a 3-yard-touchdown to Parham five plays later.
Johnson threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Spruce one play after Martez Carter returned Austin MacGinnis’ kickoff 48 yards. The Wildcats cut the deficit to 19-18 with 4:37 remaining on Johnson’s pass to Adonis Jennings for a 3-point conversion.
The Wildcats attempted the 3-point conversion from the 5-yard line, five yards closer than usual after the Renegades were penalized for having too many men on the field.
Dallas (1-1) responded with a seven-play, 64-yard drive which culminated with Artis-Payne’s 17-yard touchdown run with 1:14 to play. Artis-Payne rushed for 48 yards on six carries on the drive and 99 yards on 14 carries for the game.
The Wildcats’ comeback hopes ended when Johnson threw four consecutive incomplete passes in the final minute to turn the ball over on downs at their own 31-yard line.
“At least we had some progress today and still came short,” Wildcats coach Winston Moss said. “We still are missing the most critical part of winning football games and that’s detail stuff. Turning the ball over in the red zone, too many penalties, not finishing plays, not having discipline on gap control.”
The Wildcats were outgained 444 yards to 251, trailed 26-18 in first downs and 31:12-28:48 in time of possession before a crowd at Dignity Health Sports Park announced at 14,979 at the 27,000-seat stadium.
Wildcats running back Elijah Hood lost a fumble at the Renegades 8-yard line on the first play of the second quarter. Johnson lost a fumble at Dallas’ 4-yard line midway through the third quarter, one play after the Wildcats reached the Renegades’ 1-yard line.
Dallas tight end Sean Price lost a fumble at the Wildcats 47-yard line 12:23 before halftime.
Austin MacGinnis kicked a 41-yard field goal with 11 seconds left in the first half and a 45-yard field goal with 1:00 to play in the third quarter for the Renegades.
The game was a matchup of two quarterbacks who both missed their team’s openers because of injuries.
Johnson completed 18 of 34 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns in his first official game since Dec. 30, 2018, when he started for the Washington Redskins in a 24-0 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. He played three preseason games for the Detroit Lions in 2019.
Jones completed 28 of 40 passes for 305 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions in his first official game since Dec. 31, 2017, when he started for the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 28-24 victory over the Cleveland Browns. He also played two preseason games for the Steelers in 2018.
When asked who he credited the victory to, Jones responded, “Definitely not me.”
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