Heading into this matchup, both teams were polar opposites. On one end, Houston was a well oiled machine, dominating opponents all year long so far. Meanwhile, Terrell Buckley’s Guardians have been a mess week in and week out, failing to play at a high level.
Both these teams played in week one, interestingly enough. Houston rolled over Orlando, 30-12.
It was expected to be an uneven outing today, and it was. Let’s take a look at what all went down in Florida.
Houston got the football first, and looked fluid as usual. They didn’t run the ball once on their opening drive, because they didn’t have to. Brandon Silvers was on fire, finding receivers in stride quickly. Silvers found Travell Harris on a post route in the middle of the field, which put the Roughnecks up 6-0 early.
Things went pretty…poorly, to say the least, for Orlando to start. Paxton Lynch threw a screen pass which was incomplete – but, it was a backwards pass. Will Likely picked it up, and took it to the house. A successful two point conversion made it a 14-0 game just a few minutes in.
Orlando looked awful to start this game. On their following possession, they went backwards, punting quickly. Meanwhile, Houston continued to play with their prey. Wade Phillips pulled out the double forward pass, for the first time this XFL season.
Silvers passed it to Jontre Kirklin, who was still behind the line of scrimmage. Then, Kirklin tossed a 49 yard dime to a wide open Deontay Burnett, and the Roughnecks led 20-0.
It was an ugly period for the Guardians, to say the least. Orlando suffered another three and out, struggling to put anything together for their home crowd.
For the first time in this game, Houston had to punt. They were backed up in their own redzone, and just couldn’t pick up a first down to move the chains.
Deondre Francois made an appearance for Orlando, and looked surprisingly decent. He fired a bullet to Cody Latimer on third and nine, which put the Guardians in a position to score. Jose Borregales knocked through a 33 yard field goal, and it was 20-3.
The Guardians finally got a big-time stop, as Terrance Plummer ended Houston’s drive early. However, Paxton Lynch came back into the game for Orlando, and immediately got blown up. Orlando had to punt again, as Buckley continued to complain on the sidelines.
However, the Roughnecks couldn’t capitalize. Brandon Silvers missed a wide open Kirklin down the sidelines, which would have been a touchdown. Houston punted, and Orlando had another chance to score before halftime.
The joy for Orlando was short-lived. Lynch threw a pass to Charleston Rambo, which was completed. That being said, CB Sean Davis punched the ball out – and recovered for the Roughnecks.
As if things couldn’t get more lop-sided, the next play was a bomb from Silvers to Kirklin, and just like that Houston went on top 26-3.
Orlando did strike back, though. Lynch marched the team down the field, and found Jaylen Smith on a 31 yard dime to make it 26-9. A successful XP had the Guardians trailing 26-10 heading into halftime.
Orlando opened up the second half with the ball, looking to grab some momentum. Unfortunately, they didn’t. A quick three and out gave Houston possession quickly, with excellent field position. Orlando’s defense stepped up, though, forcing the Roughnecks to punt right back.
This time around, it was time for fireworks. Charleston Rambo absolutely burned his defender, and Lynch hit him in stride as Rambo took it 81 yards to the endzone. Just like that, it was a 26-16 ball game.
Folks, it's a ball game. Paxton Lynch just found Charleston Rambo for an 81 yard strike, pulling the @XFLGuardians even closer.
The Guardians continued to keep the pressure on Houston. A dropped pass on third down led to a punt, which gave Orlando even more life.
Disappointingly, Orlando continued to shoot themselves in the foot. A dropped pass by Lance Lenoir on third down resulted in another punt, right as they were getting back on track.
Houston swiftly marched down the field, powered by DeJoun Lee who ripped off a couple of big runs to put them in scoring position. From the one yard line, Lee bounced into the endzone, putting Houston up 32-16. With fifteen minutes left, the Roughnecks led by sixteen.
To start the final quarter, it wasn’t an ideal scenario for Orlando. Paxton Lynch missed two throws on third and fourth down, which led to a turnover on downs.
It simply wasn’t Orlando’s night. On 3rd and 17, Silvers found a wide open Travell Harris for a 59 yard score, which put Houston on top 38-16.
A look at Travell Harris' 59 yard bobbling touchdown to put end to the night for the Houston Roughnecks. Brandon Silvers deserves to be leading MVP odds now. The Roughnecks domination continues, as they have still not lost a single game. pic.twitter.com/jX50WoTJFj
Once again, the Guardians turned it over on downs. They appeared to have a decent drive going, but ultimately stalled out midfield. Led by Cole McDonald on their final drive, Houston continued to push the ball down the field. Lee ran it in for his second score of the night, and the Roughnecks went up 44-16.
It was a relatively uneventful rest of the night, as Houston suffocated Orlando to finish this one out. The final score: Roughnecks 44, Guardians 16.
From start to finish, this was a game that the Houston Roughnecks absolutely dominated. Similar to week one, Orlando showed some signs of life, but couldn’t get over the hump.
At the same time, the Roughnecks continue to solidify themselves as the best team in the XFL. Wade Phillips has his group rolling, continuing to put up ridiculous numbers week in and week out.
Brandon Silvers is cooking in AJ Smith’s offense. This team was unstoppable on almost every drive, and it was because of the efficient playcalling of Smith, who knows his offense so well. With a 4-0 record in 2023, Houston is the squad to beat in this iteration of the XFL.
What did you think of this game between the Orlando Guardians and Houston Roughnecks? Which XFL players stood out at you the most? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!