The Las Vegas Locomotives and Florida Tuskers are turning dramatic finishes in the United Football League Championship Game into a regular occurrence.
Las Vegas defensive lineman Alfred Malone blocked Nick Novak’s 45-yard field goal as time expired to give the Locos their second straight UFL championship with a 23-20 win at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb.
A year after the Locos spoiled the Tuskers’ unbeaten season with a 20-17 overtime win in the Championship, the two teams delivered another classic finish in front of a crowd of 15,310 fans. Championship Game Most Valuable Player Chase Clement threw for 237 yards and two touchdowns as Las Vegas rallied from deficits of 7-0 and 10-7 in the first half.
“I’m very proud of our guys – extremely proud,” Las Vegas Coach Jim Fassel said. “This team’s always been resilient and tough.
“I think anybody who snuck into this game better have paid on the way out.”
Florida quarterback Chris Greisen completed 24 of 42 passes for 346 yards and put the Tuskers in position to send the title game to overtime for the second straight year with a last-minute drive.
After the Tuskers took over at their own 10-yard line with 1:47 to play, Greisen completed six passes including a 23-yard strike to Cortez Hankton that gave Florida a first down at the Las Vegas 22.
After a pair of incompletions, Novak lined up for a 40-yard field goal with six seconds to play, but Florida received a critical delay of game penalty, pushing the attempt back five yards. Malone got a strong push through the line and got his right hand on the kick, setting off a wild celebration on the Locos’ sideline.
“On the first couple field goals they kicked, I felt one of them scraped my hand,” Malone said. “It was a team effort on the block, I was the one who got the hand on it. It was a great feeling when I felt it.
“When they got a delay of game and it pushed them back 5 yards, I knew the ball would come out with an even lower trajectory.”
Season Special Teams MVP Novak had kicked a pair of 22-yard field goals earlier in the game and had made a UFL-best 17 field goals this year. The game-ender was just his fourth miss of the season.
“We were hoping, ‘Block it, block it, block it,” Locos wide receiver Tab Perry said. “He had kicked a low one earlier today. We just got a great push and blocked it. We rushed the field. Champions.”
It was the final big play from a Las Vegas defense that, despite allowing 468 total yards, managed to find a way to keep the Tuskers out of the end zone in the fourth quarter.
Las Vegas took a 21-17 lead into the fourth quarter on back-up running back Hakim Hill’s 37-yard touchdown run with 5:53 to play in the third. But just when it looked like Florida had an answer, the Locos’ defense stiffened.
Greisen found Maurice Hicks for 36 yards on a screen pass to give the Tuskers a 1st-and-goal at the 4, but the Locos held on three straight plays, forcing Novak’s 22-yard field goal to pull Florida within 21-20 with 7:48 to play.
Then, disaster struck for the Tuskers on their next drive. After the Locos went three-and-out, Florida started at its own 14-yard line. On the Tuskers’ first play, Greisen couldn’t corral a shotgun snap and was tackled in the end zone for a safety by Josh Cooper with 5:42 to play.
The Locos led 14-10 after a first half that turned into a quarterback duel between a pair of starters that were considered afterthoughts at the start of the season. Clement, in just his third game replacing the injured Tim Rattay, threw for a pair of touchdowns, including a 75-yard score to Andrae Thurman on Las Vegas’ second play from scrimmage.
Greisen, a former Arena Football League star that replaced Brooks Bollinger at midseason, ran for both of Florida’s touchdowns on the ground and completed passes to 10 different receivers.
“He played great,” Florida Coach Jay Gruden said. “He had two touchdowns rushing, scrambled, made plays with his arm.
“Overall, it was a heck of game. We knew it would be. Every yard we got, we earned.”
The chilly, 35-degree kickoff temperature didn’t keep Greisen from getting the Tuskers out to a hot start with a 12-play, 84-yard march on the game’s first possession. Greisen connected with John Standeford for 29 yards on 3rd-and-9 early in the drive before capping it himself with a five-yard touchdown scramble to give Florida a quick 7-0 lead.
But Las Vegas found an answer just seconds later when Clement rolled to his right and found a wide-open Thurman behind the Tuskers’ defense to tie the game 7-7.
“It’s one of those plays, when you see a guy that wide open, it’s the longest three seconds,” said Clement, who celebrated his first professional win as a starter.
Florida regained the lead on its next drive thanks to a pair of big third-down conversions.
Greisen found Standeford for 20 yards to midfield on 3rd-and-7, then running back Dominic Rhodes took a shovel pass to the Locos’ 10 on another 3rd-and-7 to set up Nick Novak’s 22-yard field goal that put the Tuskers up 10-7 with 3:06 left in the first quarter.
Both defenses regained control in the second quarter until Clement put together Las Vegas’ first sustained drive of the game. Clement converted three third downs, including one on a 19-yard scramble, before capping the drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to tight end George Wrightster to give the Locos their first lead of the game with 5:56 to play in the second quarter.
The Tuskers retook the lead on their first drive of the second half on Greisen’s second touchdown run of the game – a 2-yard scramble – but again Vegas had a quick answer.
Back-up running back Hakim Hill capped a five-play drive with a 37-yard touchdown run to put the Locos up 21-17 with 5:53 left in the third quarter.
It was another big play in a championship game defined by them.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” Fassel said. “They battled and battled.”
1 2 3 4 F Florida Tuskers 10 0 7 3 20 Las Vegas 7 7 7 2 23
FLA – Chris Greisen 5-yard TD run (Nick Novak kick) 0-7
LV – Andrae Thurman 75-yard TD pass from Chase Clement (Steve Hauschka kick) 7-7
FLA – Novak 22-yard FG 7-10
LV – George Wrightster 30-yard TD pass from Clement (Hauschka kick) 14-10
FLA – Greisen 2-yard TD run (Novak kick) 14-17
LV – Hakim Hill 37-yard TD run (Hauschka kick) 21-17
FLA – Novak 22-yard FG 21-20
LV – Team safety. Greisen sacked in end zone by Josh Cooper 23-20