Wildcats Rally from 18-Point Deficit to Defeat Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Vipers v Los Angeles Wildcats

CARSON (CNS) - After their chances of a playoff berth were seemingly in great peril early in the second quarter tonight, quarterback Josh Johnson and the Los Angeles Wildcats combined for a rally and a 41-34 victory over the Tampa Bay Vipers.

Johnson threw four touchdown passes as the Wildcats scored 27 unanswered points to overcome an 18-point deficit first-half deficit to improve to 2-3 and move into a tie for second place with the Dallas Renegades in the four-team Western Conference at the halfway point of the XFL season.

The top two teams in each conference make the playoffs.

“We started slow but didn't fold,” said defensive tackle Boogie Roberts. “Possession by possession, defense stepped up and offense started making plays.”

Roberts returned a fumble by Tampa Bay quarterback Taylor Cornelius 23 yards for a touchdown with five minutes, 32 seconds to play. Johnson then passed to Tre McBride for a 2-point conversion which increased the Wildcats' lead to 41-27.

The Vipers drove 83 yards in six plays on the ensuing drive, pulling to within seven, 41-34, on Cornelius' 24-yard touchdown pass to Reece Horn and De'Veon Smith's 1-point conversion run.

Tampa Bay forced the Wildcats to punt after three plays and got the ball back on their own 20-yard line with 1:49 left. Completions for 19, 11 and 10 yards, plus a 12-yard unnecessary roughness penalty gave the Vipers a first down on the Wildcats' 13-yard line with 1:04 remaining.

A pair of runs advanced the ball to the 7-yard line, where Cornelius' third-down pass was intercepted in the end zone by safety Jack Tocho with 33 seconds remaining.

“We had two players that were going to be sitting just in the goal line and a receiver directly behind,” Vipers coach Marc Trestman said. “From my angle, I really couldn't see what happened.

“I know Taylor probably was assuming a receiver (would be) here and he wasn't, or he wouldn't have thrown with that much intention as he did.”

Johnson completed 20 of 36 passes for 288 yards with one interception for the Wildcats, who trailed 24-6 with 6:28 left in the second quarter.

The Wildcats took the lead for good with 1:48 to play in the third quarter on Johnson's 11-yard touchdown pass to McBride.

The Wildcats (2-3) increased their lead to 27-24 on Johnson's pass to Jordan Smallwood for a 1-point conversion. The conversion was attempted from the 7-yard line following a 5-yard false start penalty against the Wildcats.

Defensive tackle Reggie Howard intercepted a pass by Taylor Cornelius at the Vipers' 39-yard line on the ensuing possession and returned the ball 17 yards. Johnson threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Saeed Blacknall one play later.

Tampa Bay (1-4) scored its first points of the second half on Andrew Franks' 25-yard field goal with 9:21 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats were outgained, 434 yards to 345, and trailed 26-21 in first downs and 30:45-29:15 in time of possession in front of a crowd at Dignity Health Sports Park announced at 12,181.

Cornelius completed 22 of 34 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a third score. He had two passes intercepted and lost a fumble. The Wildcats converted his turnovers into 14 points.

The Vipers converted three first-half turnovers into 17 points.

Johnson threw an interception on the Wildcats' first play, with Franks kicking a 26-yard field goal six plays later.

A shotgun snap by Patrick Vahe went off Johnson's hands with 2:10 left in the first quarter, with defensive tackle Shane Bowman recovering at the Wildcats' 42-yard line.

Cornelius ran 2 yards for a touchdown eight plays later. Smith's 1- point conversion run increased Tampa Bay's lead to 17-0 with 14:00 to play in the second quarter.

Cornelius threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Tolliver four plays after McBride fumbled a punt, with Emmanuel Beal recovering at the Wildcats' 27- yard line. Cornelius passed to Dan Williams for a 1-point conversion, giving the Vipers a 24-6 lead 6:28 before halftime.

Johnson threw 9- and 8-yard touchdown passes to tight ends De'Quan Hampton and Brandon Barnes and passed to running back Larry Rose for a 2-point conversion on the Wildcats' final two possessions of the first half, reducing Tampa Bay's lead to 24-20.

Jacques Patrick ran 1 yard for the Vipers' first touchdown and ran for a 1-point conversion to give them a 10-0 lead with 5:33 left in the first quarter.

DuJuan Harris ran 1 yard for the Wildcats' first touchdown with 10:27 to play in the second quarter, cutting the deficit to 17-6, one play after Johnson's 54-yard pass to Smallwood, the game's longest play.

Photo: Getty Images

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