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Another second-half collapse costs Vipers in XFL home opener

Updated February 25, 2023 - 10:45 pm

The sky opened up at halftime of the first XFL game at Cashman Field, and the heavy rains washed away another first-half lead for the Vipers.

Vegas dropped its home opener 18-6 to the D.C. Defenders on Saturday in front of an announced 6,023 fans.

The Vipers, who held a 6-0 lead at the break, have been outscored 37-6 in the second half this season, a stat largely responsible for their 0-2 start.

“If I had that answer, it wouldn’t happen,” coach Rod Woodson said of what has gone wrong after halftime in the first two games. “If my players had that answer, it wouldn’t happen. It’s unfortunate that we play a half of football and then don’t want to play a second half of football.”

The Defenders (2-0) mixed in running threat D’Eriq King at quarterback in the second half and were able to rack up 173 yards on the ground after halftime.

They did it with a simple attack with field conditions deteriorating.

“They came out and really only ran two plays,” Woodson said. “They ran outside zone and that quarterback dive. The whole second half. And we couldn’t stop them.

“It was not easy to see that type of non-tackling performance our defense had in the second half. From two plays.”

King had four carries for 32 yards and a touchdown, which put the Defenders ahead for good on the first play of the fourth quarter. He said it felt like the same play was called about 15 times, which gave him an option to hand off to the running back or tuck the ball and run it himself.

“Our guys up front blocked it great,” King said. “The running backs ran the ball well, and I did what I had to do when I pulled it. It’s a hard play to stop, and I’m just glad we executed it well and got the win.”

Woodson was far less thrilled with the outcome. He was hoping his team would find a way to win in front of a home crowd in the league’s return to what was a successful market in the first incarnation of the XFL in 2001.

“Great atmosphere,” Woodson said of the positives from the game. “That’s about it for me.”

The Vipers managed just 179 yards and seven first downs in the loss as Woodson rotated between starter Luis Perez and longtime NFL veteran Brett Hundley at quarterback.

Perez was 1-for-5 for no yards. Hundley completed 11 of 18 attempts for 98 yards and fumbled as he tried to extend a play in the second half.

“Every position is fluid right now when you haven’t won your first two games,” Woodson said. “Not just the quarterback position. We’re trying to figure out a way to score points on a consistent basis. Whoever can be the leader of the offense, which one can take the helm and show they want to be that guy, that’s the guy who’s going to be out there. Same thing goes for each position.”

The Vipers started the game at the Defenders’ 45-yard line after a kickoff violation, but went three-and-out. They were able to grab the lead moments later when Pita Taumoepenu recovered a fumble at the 2-yard line and DeAndre Torrey ran it in a play later.

D.C. fumbled again, this time on a second-down play inside the 2-yard line in the second quarter as the Vipers maintained the shutout. The Vipers had a chance to extend the lead, but missed a field goal just before halftime.

Then the rains came as the teams were in the locker room.

The Defenders kicked a field goal to get on the scoreboard on the opening drive of the second half, and the Vipers answered with their best drive of the day only to have Bailey Griffen miss his second kick of the game.

D.C. put together two long touchdown drives bookending the fumble by Hundley. Woodson then elected to punt the ball away with his team down 12 points and 4:51 remaining, and the Defenders ran out the rest of the clock.

“I had faith in my defense,” Woodson said. “We make those decisions because we have faith in the other side of the ball that we’re going to stop them. And we didn’t.

“If you don’t play two halves of football, you lose.”

The Vipers return to Cashman Field to host the Seattle Sea Dragons at 4 p.m. on March 4.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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Vipers lose again, finish 1st XFL season 2-8

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