Two former Nebraska football players found themselves on the winning side of a game as teammates once again on Sunday. Brandon Reilly and De’Mornay Pierson-El are both members of the St. Louis Battlehawks team that pulled off the biggest upset of a very young XFL season. The Battlehawks entered the game as a 9.5 point underdog to the Dallas Renegades, a team led by coaching legend Bob Stoops. The upstart St. Louis squad ended up winning the game 15-9.
The Battlehawks won thanks in no small part to Reilly and Pierson-El. The two former Nebraska stars both lined up to take wide receiver positions during the game, and Pierson-El also played a very big part in giving St. Louis good field position as the team’s punt returner. It was Pierson-El’s performance on special teams that made many Husker fans stand up and take note, as it looked like the player — who has suffered through a string of injuries — was playing like the skilled returner he had been during his freshman year at Nebraska.
On the offensive side of the ball, Pierson-El led the Battlehawks in receiving yardage, hauling in four passes for a total of 64 yards. His 41-yard catch was the longest pass of the day for either team, per the XFL.
Brandon Reilly didn’t see as much action as his former Nebraska football teammate on Sunday, but he was able to have a positive impact on the game. Reilly hauled down just one pass, but it was a 19-yard catch that moved the Battlehawks from the shadow of their own endzone to a position near the middle of the field.
The two former Huskers’ successful XFL debuts were in line with what has been described as a successful opening weekend for the new league as a whole. While advocates for the league spent much of the months leading up to opening kickoff talking about how the league could succeed, an NFL offshoot had been tried — and had failed — before, several times in fact.
While the official rating numbers for the entire weekend haven’t come in yet, initial Saturday results have league officials optimistic. ProFootballTalk reported that more than 3.3 million viewers watched the first-ever XFL game on ABC. The biggest takeaway from those ratings was that the audience numbers went up as the game went along. Analysts have said it will be important for the upstart league to find a way to keep the attention of viewers.
In the past, upstart football leagues have had a decent viewership for the first week or two, seeing interest drop off afterward. For Nebraska football fans, having both De’Mornay Pierson-El and Brandon Reilly producing on the St. Louis Battlehawks could hold their interest throughout the season.