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• Video: Highlights from Omaha's 27-26 win over Hartford:
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The Omaha Nighthawks are going to have to work to top the finish that produced Friday night’s 27-26 victory over Hartford in their United Football League debut.
Jeff Garcia’s 12-yard pass to Robert Ferguson with six seconds to play pulled Omaha into a tie, and Jeff Wolfert’s extra-point kick sent the Nighthawks — and a sellout crowd of 23,067 at Rosenblatt Stadium — into celebration mode.
“That’s the way to start a franchise,’’ Omaha coach Jeff Jagodzinski said. “Our guys are as pumped as they can be. It’s always fun to win games like that. It makes it all worth it.’’
The Nighthawks, who trailed 23-10 with less than six minutes left in the third quarter, never led until the final six ticks of the clock. That’s when Garcia and an offense that had been misfiring started clicking.
Wolfert capped a 74-yard drive with a 24-yard field goal 47 seconds into the fourth quarter. On Omaha’s next possession, Garcia finished off a 54-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Devard Darling to pull the Nighthawks within 23-20 with 8:05 to play.
Josh McCown then engineered a drive that ate up more than five minutes of precious time before the Nighthawks’ defense stalled the march at their 7-yard line. Taylor Mehlhaff came on to kick a 25-yard field goal that put the Colonials up 26-20 with 2:45 to play.
“I would have liked to have had a touchdown there but the field goal made them have to score a touchdown to win,’’ Hartford coach Chris Palmer said. “You have to give Omaha credit. They made the plays when they needed them.’’
Ricardo Colclough got the winning drive started with a 35-yard kickoff return that gave the Nighthawks the ball on their own 41 with 2½ minutes to play.
Garcia got things started with a 5-yard completion to Ahman Green, then sandwiched a 14-yard scramble in between 11-yard completions to Ferguson and Roy Hall. That gave Omaha a first down on the Hartford 18-yard line with 38 seconds to play.
Down to just one timeout, Garcia spiked the ball to stop the clock. He threw left to Darling, who slipped trying to get out bounds on a 6-yard gain. On the right side of the field, Garcia could see a disappointed Ferguson, who had beaten his man on a post corner route.
“I could see his reaction,’’ Garcia said. “He knew he had it.’’
Facing third and four at the 12, Garcia threw incomplete, stopping the clock with 12 seconds. Omaha then used its final timeout.
“With no timeouts left, we had to go to the end zone,’’ Garcia said. “I told Robert to run another post corner but this time to the left. He did a great job of selling it. I didn’t make the greatest of throws.
“It was just one of those throws where I wanted to give him a chance to make the play.’’
Ferguson did, latching onto the ball just as Hartford cornerback Manny Collins arrived. The veteran wide receiver hung onto the ball, then raced toward the grandstands, where teammates and fans mobbed him.
“That’s one of the advantages of having a great quarterback like Jeff,’’ Ferguson said. “It was open when we ran it on the right side, and we just ran it on the other side.
“I just tried to keep my composure. I knew he’d find me eventually.’’
In the end, the Nighthawks’ ability to keep their poise put them in position to win. The defense gave up three touchdowns in the first half, leaving Omaha facing a 20-10 deficit at the break.
“We did not play as well as we expected to play,’’ Nighthawks defensive coordinator Rick Lantz said. “They did some things that created some problems for us. But our guys hung in there and hung in there, and we found a way to win in the end.’’
The defense stepped up to hold Hartford to a pair of second-half field goals, the first of which put the Colonials up 23-10 with 5:53 left in the third quarter.
“We got caught out of position at times early in the game, and we knew we had to tighten things up,’’ Omaha linebacker Patrick Johnson said. “Holding them to that field goal on their last drive was critical. We knew we had to make plays to keep us in the game.’’
In doing so, the defense gave Garcia and the offense a chance for a storybook finish to punctuate what might have been the biggest night in the 2-year history of the league. A sellout crowd, a nail-biting victory.
Does it get much better than that?
Not for a beaming UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue.
“If this is foreshadowing what this league can be about,’’ he said, “then we’re really on to something special.’’
Box Score: Omaha Nighthawks 27, Hartford Colonials 26
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• Video: Nighthawks fans at Friday's opener: