by Ben Jansen
After two weeks on the road to open the season, the Tampa Bay Vipers made the franchise’s home debut at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 22 with a 34-27 loss against the Houston Roughnecks. After scoring only one touchdown in those first two games, the return home lit a fire under the offense for the Vipers as the two teams combined for the highest scoring game in the XFL this year.
For the second week in a row, Taylor Cornelius started as quarterback for Tampa, but the 18,117 fans who were in attendance quickly let it be known who they wanted to see at quarterback, Quinton Flowers, who was a fan favorite during his time playing QB for University of South Florida. Flowers entered the game in the second quarter to a raucous crowd reaction.
In the second quarter, Flowers went 4/6 passing for 51 yards and added 29 yards on the ground on six carries. Flowers scored the first offensive touchdown in Vipers history on a seven yard rush. However on the last drive of the first half, Cornelius returned to the game and scored a touchdown of his own as time expired in the first half.
When the second half began, it was Cornelius who took the field for the Vipers and he would remain under center for the remainder of the game. For the entirety of the fourth quarter the Vipers were within one touchdown of tying the game, but could never get into the endzone. Despite having the ball on the one yard line with three plays to score, Cornelius threw three incomplete passes for a turnover on downs.
With one last chance at tying the game, it seemed like a magical moment for Flowers to return and save the day to send the crowd home happy. But that didn’t happen, as Cornelius remained at quarterback, and threw the game clinching interception before exiting the field to a shower of boos despite an acceptable performance.
One week later, the 2-1 DC Defenders travelled to Raymond James for a matchup with the Vipers. It was a dominant performance from Tampa as they cruised to a 25-0 victory over DC. The one-two running back punch of De’Veon Smith and Jacques Patrick led the way, as the duo rushed a combined 45 times for 230 yards and a touchdown.
It was Patrick who scored that touchdown, and it was an emotional one for the XFL’s third leading rusher. Patrick, who was raised in Florida and attended Florida State University, scored his first professional touchdown only one week removed from losing his father.
“My father meant a lot to this sport for me. Just coming out here and getting that touchdown for him, it means a lot. I know he’s smiling,” Patrick said after the game in a post game press conference.
Taylor Cornelius also turned in his best start of the season completing 24/31 passes for 211 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception. Cornelius added four rushes for 36 yards, including a 17 yard touchdown scamper of his own.
“I think that the game has changed a bit and you have to have a little more mobility in the pocket, I think you’ve seen that in the NFL, and that’s just what I’ve tried to add in to my game recently,” Cornelius said in a post game press conference when asked about the run despite being known as a pocket passer.
The Vipers defense was just as strong as the offense, pitching a shutout while holding Defenders QB Cardale Jones to 9/22 passing for 72 yards and an interception. The Defenders were only able to gain 107 yards to the Vipers 477, and Jerry Glanville’s defense added on two sacks and five tackles for loss.
“Very impressed with the defense,” said head coach, Marc Trestman after the game in a press conference. “That’s not an easy offense to stop. We got a good pass rush and we can run and chase and get to the ball as good as anybody in this league.”
After a two game homestand that saw much improvement, the Vipers return to the road this week, as they head to Los Angeles to face the Wildcats. Sitting at 1-3 with only six games remaining in the short ten game season, every game the rest of the way counts as Trestman and the Vipers look to make a playoff push in the inaugural season of the XFL.
Ben Jansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org