Josh Johnson threw four touchdown passes as the Los Angeles Wildcats overcame an 18-point first-half deficit to defeat the Tampa Bay Vipers 41-34 Sunday evening.
Johnson completed 20 of 36 passes for 288 yards with one interception as the Wildcats (2-3) moved into a tie for second place with the Dallas Renegades in the four-team Western Conference at the halfway point of the XFL season. The top two teams in each conference make the playoffs.
The Wildcats trailed 24-6 with six minutes, 28 seconds left in the second quarter, then scored 27 unanswered points on Johnson’s four touchdown passes and his passes for a 1-point conversion and 2-point conversion.
The Wildcats took the lead for good with 1:48 to play in the third quarter on Johnson’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Tre McBride.
The Wildcats increased their lead to 27-24 on Johnson’s pass to Jordan Smallwood for a 1-point conversion. The conversion was attempted from the 7-yard line following a 5-yard false start penalty against the Wildcats.
Defensive tackle Reggie Howard intercepted a pass by Taylor Cornelius at the Vipers’ 39-yard line on the ensuing possession and returned the ball 17 yards. Johnson threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Saeed Blacknall one play later.
Tampa Bay (1-4) scored its first points of the second half on Andrew Franks’ 25-yard field goal with 9:21 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Cornelius fumbled attempting to pass on the first play of the Vipers’ next drive, with defensive tackle Boogie Roberts recovering and running 23 yards for a touchdown. Johnson’s pass to Tre McBride for a 2-point conversion gave the Wildcats a 41-27 lead with 5:32 left.
The Vipers cut the deficit to 41-34 with 3:11 to play on Cornelius’ 24-yard touchdown pass to Reece Horn and De’Veon Smith’s 1-point conversion run.
Tampa Bay drove to the Wildcats’ 7-yard line with 37 seconds left. Safety Jack Tocho sealed the victory by intercepting a pass by Cornelius in the end zone.
The Wildcats were outgained, 434 yards to 345, and trailed 26-21 in first downs and 30:45-29:15 in time of possession in front of a crowd at Dignity Health Sports Park announced at 12,181.
Cornelius completed 22 of 34 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a third score. He had two passes intercepted and lost a fumble. The Wildcats converted his turnovers into 14 points.
The Vipers converted three first-half turnovers into 17 points.
Johnson threw an interception on the Wildcats’ first play, with Franks kicking a 26-yard field goal six plays later.
A shotgun snap by Patrick Vahe went off Johnson’s hands with 2:10 left in the first quarter, with defensive tackle Shane Bowman recovering at the Wildcats’ 42-yard line.
Cornelius ran 2 yards for a touchdown eight plays later. Smith’s 1-point conversion run increased Tampa Bay’s lead to 17-0 with 14:00 to play in the second quarter.
Cornelius threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Tolliver four plays after McBride fumbled a punt, with Emmanuel Beal recovering at the Wildcats’ 27-yard line. Cornelius passed to Dan Williams for a 1-point conversion, giving the Vipers a 24-6 lead 6:28 before halftime.
Johnson threw 9- and 8-yard touchdown passes to tight ends De’Quan Hampton and Brandon Barnes and passed to running back Larry Rose for a 2-point conversion on the Wildcats’ final two possessions of the first half, reducing Tampa Bay’s lead to 24-20.
Jacques Patrick ran 1 yard for the Vipers’ first touchdown and ran for a 1-point conversion to give them a 10-0 lead with 5:33 left in the first quarter.
DuJuan Harris ran 1 yard for the Wildcats’ first touchdown with 10:27 to play in the second quarter, cutting the deficit to 17-6, one play after Johnson’s 54-yard pass to Smallwood, the game’s longest play.