From a surprising upset to a riveting rally, Saturday's XFL opener went.
Houston Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker and wide receiver Cam Phillips have provided highlights and lofty numbers on a weekly basis.
Against the upset-minded Seattle Dragons, Walker found Phillips in the fourth quarter for the eventual game-winning and game-sealing touchdowns as the Roughnecks came back from 14- and nine-point deficits to stay perfect on the season with a 32-23 victory at home.
An arduous beginning still ended in familiar fashion as Walker had 351 yards passing and three touchdowns with Phillips hauling in 10 receptions for 122 yards and two scores.
"We just played our game; we stuck to what we know, we stuck to what we do," Walker said in an on-field postgame interview with ESPN's Dianna Russini. "Offensively, we just had to battle the adversity. I had some bad turnovers; bad, bad calls on my end, as well. I just gotta pick my game up, pick my play up, as well."
Now sitting at 5-0 atop the XFL West and the league as a whole with the best record, the Roughnecks' stellar start to the season wasn't just due to their high-scoring ways, but also their ability to take care of the ball to the tune of a league-low two turnovers. However, that changed Saturday as they had three turnovers, all of them at the hands of Walker.
Undaunted, Walker, Phillips and running back James Butler responded against the Dragons (1-4), who remain in last place in the XFL West.
Down, 23-14, late in the third quarter, Butler scored his second touchdown of the day ahead of Walker hitting Phillips for the five-yard game-winner with 9:08 to go. With 3:36 left, Walker and Phillips connected again for an 11-yard TD, with Phillips plowing through defenders on his way into the end zone.
The game ended with a bit of controversy as replays showed Walker taking a fourth-down knee with three seconds left on the clock. Thus, it should've been Seattle ball on the Houston 23-yard line. With the XFL option of a three-point conversion, it was technically a one-score game.
Turnover tumult came early for the Roughnecks. On their second drive, Walker was sacked by defensive end Jacquies Smith, who recovered the ensuing fumble. Six plays later, the Dragons owned a 6-0 lead after B.J. Daniels' one-yard scoring run. Daniels finished the game with 114 yards passing and 30 yards rushing with two ground scores.
The fumble was sandwiched between a punt and a missed field goal as Houston's high-flying offense was grounded in an auspicious start.
Leading by six after the initial 15 minutes, the Dragons got closer to the upset riding the legs of Trey Williams, who had four runs for 24 yards on his team's first drive of the second quarter, culminating with a 17-yard rush off right guard for a 12-0 advantage. The lead was upped to 14 when Austin Proehl hauled in a two-point catch from Daniels.
Walker and the Roughnecks could be contained for only so long, though, as the QB hit a wide-open Nick Holley and the Kent State product juked the oncoming safety out of his cleats before finishing off a 50-yard touchdown. The play cut the deficit to 14-6 after a puzzling decision to go for a three-point conversation that ended with an errant Walker attempt.
On the ensuing Roughnecks drive, a Walker-to-Sam Mobley 42-yard bomb highlighted a second consecutive scoring march. It was ended by a Butler one-yard score up the gut. This time around, the Roughnecks went for two and Holley hauled in a Walker strike to tie the game at 14 -- which was the halftime tally.
The second half began much like the first, with the Dragons scoring nine straight, the last six coming off a Walker interception that led to Daniels' second rushing score.
But Houston came right back after that with another Butler rushing touchdown, though it was followed by another missed three-point conversion that ended in an incompletion.
Then Walker and Phillips got going as they have all season.
The only turnover of the day for the Dragons came when Daniels fumbled it away to linebacker DeMarquis Gates in the fourth.
"I just tried to make a play," Gates said.
Houston's made plays all season and though the going was rough on Saturday, the Roughnecks responded and rallied to 5-0.