The New York Guardians’ stout defensive effort, one that allowed only three points on Sunday, was one of the highlights of the XFL’s debut.
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ—The New York Guardians scratched plenty of franchise firsts off their to-do list on Sunday afternoon. Their first touchdown was a one-yard punch by quarterback Matt McGloin. Safety Andrew Soroh earned the team’s first interception. Tight end Jake Powell hauled in the first two receptions, the second coming on the team’s first fourth-down conversion.
But, with 60 minutes down, Guardians’ opponents are still looking for their first touchdown. That’s a checkbox the team is more than happy to leave blank.
The Guardians’ defensive prowess was one of the biggest headlines of the XFL’s opening weekend. They allowed a league-low three points in a win over the Tampa Bay Vipers, contributing to their cause with five sacks and two interceptions. The latter tally was part of a four-turnover day, ending with cornerback Jamar Summers taking back a fumble 13 yards for the last of New York’s 23 points.
Linebackers Ben Heeney and Garret Dooley spoke to ESNY after their strong effort. Heeney was tied for the team-lead with nine tackles, while Dooley forced a stolen fumble on a Tampa Bay possession in the first half.
Dooley was proud of an effort that was nearly two months in the making, one that allowed the Guardians to begin their XFL tenure on the right note.
“It started day one with (defensive coordinator Jim Herrman). He’s always drilled into our minds that the number one thing is to get after their offense and make sure that they don’t ever feel comfortable,” Dooley remarked. “We were just out there, having fun, enjoying ourselves.”
“Four turnovers, three points, that pretty much says it all right there,” Heeney concurred. “It was definitely an effort in all three phases.”
Yet, head coach Kevin Gilbride felt a little something was missing.
“In terms of shutting (the Vipers) down, we didn’t,” Gilbride admitted. “In terms of keeping them out of the end zone, we were terrific.”
“But it was a challenge. Their offensive line is a good offensive line, and they played well. We have a lot of confidence in our defensive line, and for them to play as dominantly as they did against us was a little bit surprising. But the guys just kept on fighting. When it got down to actually pushing it across the goal line, they didn’t do it.”
To Gilbride’s point, the Guardians had some trouble when Tampa Bay began to filter in mobile quarterback Quinton Flowers during the second half. Flowers wound up with 34 rushing yards on five carries and a single completion for 37 yards.
Tampa receiver Dan Williams also set an early XFL record with 123 receiving yards on the afternoon, part of a 394-yard day that allowed the Vipers to run three different possessions inside New York’s six-yard-line.
However, only one ended in points, a short Andrew Franks field goal that only prevented a shutout. Soroh’s historic interception ended the first, while two others were turnovers on downs.
“More than anything, I was just proud of the resiliency that we demonstrated,” Gilbride said.
Gilbride was sure to praise his defense for rising to the occasion. The players, in turn, acknowledged that things have to improve if the perfect start to the Guardians’ history is to continue on Saturday in Washington D.C. against the equally unbeaten Defenders (2 p.m. ET, ABC).
“(Tampa Bay) was driving the ball on us a little bit, but, when it came down to it, we held tough and made the stop,” Heeney said. “It was a good defensive effort today for sure.”
“I know that, as a defense, we have a lot of fight in us,” said Dooley. “I know there were a couple of times there got into the red zone, but we forced a turnover, forced a fourth-down stop. This defense is a lot of fun and I love being a part of it.”
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490