It might be early, but so far, the Houston Roughnecks are undefeated and the starting quarterback Phillip “P.J.” Walker, is a frontrunner for league M.V.P. On February 8, in front of a home crowd of more than 17,000 people, Walker led the Roughnecks to a come from behind victory over the Los Angeles Wildcats 37-17 in the TDECU Stadium.
The game was a tale of two halves. Walker, who went undrafted in from Temple in 2017, but spent time wit he Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad, had an incredible night. He sparked the team’s offense immediately. After just three plays of action, Walker connected with receiver Cam Phillips for a 50-yard touchdown to make the score 6-0 because Houston failed on the 2-point conversion. That drive only took 2 minutes and 23. Walker finished going 23-of-39 for 272 passing yards and four touchdowns and one pick.
L.A. responded with a more methodical drive downfield. With a combination of pass plays, run plays, and help from a crucial Houston offsides penalty on fourth, and two, the Wildcats’ starting quarterback Charles “Chad” Kanoff scrambled for a 5-yard touchdown. Kanoff, who went 21-of-40 for 214 yards with a rushing and passing touchdown and one interception, then connected with Elijiah Hood for the two-point conversion making the score 8-6 in favor of the Cats.
The Wildcats then forced Houston to a 3-and-out, but a muffed punt by L.A. gave Houston the ball back. Unfortunately, even with a good field position, the Roughnecks couldn’t capitalize. Houston’s fast-paced offense slowed down, and L.A. took advantage. Midway through the second quarter, Kanoff connected with Jordan Smallwood for an 11-yard touchdown that put the Wildcats up 14-6.
Houston responded aggressively, scoring in just five plays. After a pass interference call on L.A.’s Jaylen Dunlap, Walker threw a screen pass to James Butler for his second throwing touchdown, but thanks to another incomplete two-point conversion, Houston still trailed 14-12. The Wildcats came back with a field goal to extend their lead to 17-12. Walker came right back. Dancing in the pocket to avoid pressure, Walker threw a 39-yarder across his body to Sam Mobley in the left corner of the endzone. Mobley’s only catch up the Roughnecks up 18-17 before the half.
The second half was total domination by the Roughnecks (1-0). They came out firing, scoring 19 unanswered points and holding the Wildcats to only two first downs in the entire second half.
Although the Wildcats (0-1) lost, receiver Nelson Spruce finished with a milestone. Spruce became the XFL’s first 100-yard receiver with 11 receptions for 103 yards.
Houston will next take the field on Sunday Feb.16 against the St. Louis Battlehawks. Kick-off is at 6pm at TDECU Stadium.