COLUMN: Arlington Renegades may have to find a Luis Perez for their defense to salvage their season

"I don't like losing, man. I think I hate losing more than I like winning. It's a horrible feeling." - Arlington Renegades QB Luis Perez, to ESPN's Ian Fitzsimmons, on the sidelines during the second quarter of Arlington's game against D.C.
“I don’t like losing, man. I think I hate losing more than I like winning. It’s a horrible feeling.” – Arlington Renegades QB Luis Perez, to ESPN’s Ian Fitzsimmons, on the sidelines during the second quarter of Arlington’s game against D.C. (ESPN)

There was Luis Perez in the post-game press conference, seated next to his head coach, Bob Stoops, after a second straight incredulous loss that put Arlington at the bottom of the XFL Conference. By the end of the weekend, they’d be two games behind the other three teams after just three games.

Perez sat stoic, hands clasped on the table in front of him as the first several questions from reporters went to Stoops. The quarterback had done all he could do to lift the Renegades over the Defenders: He finished 24-of-40 passing for 290 yards and two touchdowns. For the season, Perez leads the UFL in passing yardage and has thrown for five TDs with just one interception.

Last year, those numbers were enough. Perez was able to come in and cure Arlington’s QB woes, sneaking them into the playoffs despite a 4-6 record. He cruised through Houston in the semi-finals and then D.C. in the XFL Championship, combining for six touchdown passes and no interceptions in those two contests. The thought was, a full season of Perez, as well as some upgrades elsewhere on offense, should provide the Renegades with enough firepower to continue their winning ways.

Instead, they’re one of two teams sitting at 0-3. The Renegades received no luck from the schedule-makers. They began the year with the juggernaut that is Birmingham (Arlington’s 0-3 record all the more noticeable against the backdrop of the undefeated USFL Champion Stallions), then had to play in front of 40,000 Battlehawk faithful before facing the runners-up to the XFL Championship last year in the Defenders. The combined record of those three teams so far in 2024: 7-2.

As Stoops spoke in the post-game presser, Perez looked over the stats from the game. At one point, with Lindsey Scott, Jr speaking, Perez gestured frustratingly to the stat sheet. He shook his head, then interacted briefly with Stoops off-mic. When he was asked questions, Perez answered patiently. Yes, the offense did some good things. No, the Defenders didn’t surprise them with anything. Yes, there were once again three-to-four plays that cost the team the win.

His voice didn’t belie any irritation, but few people like losing less than Perez because few people prepare the way that Perez does. It’s how he’s been able to survive playing for 11 professional teams across six leagues in seven years. This is a guy who learned how to play quarterback via YouTube videos. He’s a guy who, for the first time in his career, has the same offensive coordinator as he had the previous year.

Arlington finds themselves 0-3 not because of Perez and the offense – that side of the ball ranks second in the league in total yardage – but rather because of the defense that ranks seventh of eight teams. The defense hasn’t been able to get stops at opportune times and is far from what Stoops, a defensive coach at heart, wants out of his unit.

“Our execution wasn’t good enough,” Stoops said of the defense after the game. “Defense couldn’t come up with a stop. We needed to make one more stop and we didn’t do it.” Last year, Arlington was able to acquire Perez late in the season, and he immediately injected leadership and confidence into a side of the ball that had struggled throughout the year.

Right now, the Renegades need that on defense: Someone who hates losing more than he loves winning; someone to step up, take the lead, and help turn the defense around. The problem is, that player may not exist. The team may have to settle for finding that person from within. Whatever the answer is, wherever it comes from, they better find it quickly. Or else Perez will have to get used to that losing feeling, like it or not.

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