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DC Defenders top Seattle Dragons as XFL relaunches in D.C.

The XFL officially returned Saturday afternoon when the DC Defenders hosted the Seattle Dragons in front of more than 17,000 fans at Audi Field. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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A new era of football began on a cool, sunny Saturday afternoon at Audi Field with the return of the XFL.

The DC Defenders defeated the Seattle Dragons, 31-19, before an enthusiastic crowd of 17,163 in a relaunch of a league that lasted just one season in 2001.

The first iteration of the league, founded by wrestling mogul Vince McMahon, was fueled by wrestling promotion, sex appeal and “tough” football. The reboot is taking a measured approach and embracing ideas to make the game more appealing to fans. New rules include the double-forward pass and the options to tack on one, two or three points after a touchdown to replace the standard point-after kick.

As for the football itself, a few familiar faces played key roles to lead the Defenders to the win.

Quarterback Cardale Jones, who helped Ohio State claim the College Football Playoff national championship in the 2014 season, completed 16 of 26 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns. Former Redskins wide receiver Rashad Ross caught two passes for 52 yards and a touchdown.

“You had a good sense, based on the energy in the stadium, that we all love football,” Defenders Coach Pep Hamilton said. “. . . D.C. is a great sports town. The energy was great.”

The Seattle Dragons are led by former Redskins coach Jim Zorn. Zorn, who was 12-20 in his two seasons leading the Redskins, had no qualms about coming back to the District.

“No emotions about coming back to D.C., although nice job by the XFL making that happen,” Zorn said after the game. “I really enjoyed it here. It’s very familiar. I actually enjoyed it because of the familiarity of being here.”

Jones found Ross for a 31-yard touchdown late in the third quarter to put DC up 25-19 and put a charge into the crowd at Buzzard Point.

“I thought [the environment] was awesome,” said Dragons quarterback Brandon Silvers, who passed for three touchdowns and two interceptions. “It’s a soccer stadium, but it looked damn good as a football stadium. They definitely got a nice home crowd.”

Defensive back Bradley Sylve bumped the Defenders’ lead to 31-19 with a 69-yard interception return, giving DC touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams.

Dragons wide receiver Keenan Reynolds, the former Navy signal caller who set the NCAA Division I record for touchdowns from scrimmage (88) and rushing yards by a quarterback (4,559), returned four kickoffs for 82 yards.

The Defenders opened the scoring with a 34-yard field goal from Ty Rausa. The Dragons answered with the first touchdown of XFL 2.0: a 14-yard catch by Austin Proehl, son of longtime NFL wide receiver Ricky Proehl. Seattle attempted a one-point conversion from the two-yard line, but the pass was intercepted.

DC retook the lead with 6:56 left in the second quarter after defensive back Elijah Campbell blocked a punt that was recovered in the end zone by linebacker Jonathan Celestin. The Defenders’ two-point conversion attempt from the 5-yard line was unsuccessful.

Trey Williams had a 13-yard scoring grab in the final minute of the first half to give the Dragons a 13-9 lead before Rausa drilled a 54-yard field goal to make it 13-12 at halftime.

The Defenders opened the second half with a flea flicker that resulted in a 39-yard touchdown to former Bowie State tight end Khari Lee. A two-yard extra-point run by Donnel Pumphrey gave the Defenders a 19-13 lead.

Proehl then pulled in a 57-yard touchdown reception to knot the score at 19.

McMahon’s son and WWE minority owner Shane McMahon, a Silver Spring native, was in attendance for the first game of the new XFL.

“It’s totally different,” he said. “There’s zero comparison on that. This is starting over, starting fresh. First game. [I] wanted to be here, experience it, feel it for myself, feel the energy of the crowd. That’s why I’m sitting here today.”

The Defenders host the New York Guardians next Saturday at 2 p.m. on ABC.

More from The Post:

What brought former Redskins star Kurt Gouveia back to D.C. and the XFL? ‘I need football.’

What is the XFL? The newest professional football league, explained.

The XFL’s reboot is ‘made-for-TV football,’ and ESPN’s Steve Levy will be its lead voice