• Photo Showcase: Nighthawks vs. Locos (game action)
• Photo Showcase: Nighthawks vs. Locos (fans)
* * *
The Omaha Nighthawks did Thursday night exactly what they knew they couldn’t do against Las Vegas.
“I told the team that the only way we cannot win this game is if we turn the ball over,’’ Omaha coach Jeff Jagodzinski said. “We did.’’
Five times, to be exact. The Locomotives converted three of the turnovers into 17 points that propelled them to a 24-10 victory before 23,554 at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Las Vegas, which improved to 5-1 and strengthened its hold on first place in the United Football League, intercepted Omaha quarterback Jeff Garcia four times. The Locomotives also converted a bad pitch by Garcia into the go-ahead touchdown with 7:43 left to play.
“I feel responsible for this game and how it turned out,’’ Garcia said. “It shouldn’t have ended that way.’’
Especially with the way Omaha’s defense played. The Nighthawks limited Las Vegas to 145 yards, 63 of which came on the Locomotives’ only sustained drive of the game.
Las Vegas, which came into the game averaging 132 yards rushing, finished with 79 on 35 attempts. Quarterback Drew Willy, making his second professional start, completed 14 passes and was sacked four times.
Omaha linebacker Patrick Thomas said it was the defense’s best effort of the season.
“But there were still some plays that we left out on the field,’’ he said.
Not many, Jagodzinski said.
“Our defense played with high energy,’’ he said. “They got to the quarterback. They made plays. Offensively, we just put them in such bad position. We can’t do that.’’
Garcia’s first interception finished on Omaha’s initial offensive series of the game as C.J. Wallace picked him off in the Las Vegas end zone. Garcia’s second came midway through the third period with Omaha holding a 10-7 lead.
Flushed out of the pocket, Garcia threw back across the field.
“I know better than to do that,’’ Garcia said. “That’s quarterback school 101 right there.’’
Jamal Lewis’ diving interception gave Las Vegas the ball at the Omaha 32-yard line. The defense grudgingly yielded the tying field goal — a 36-yarder by Steve Hauschka — nine plays later.
The Locomotives took their first lead midway through the final quarter after Garcia, on a first-down play from the Omaha 20, pitched the ball behind running back Ahman Green. Green tried to corral the loose ball at the 10 but it squirted away, with Las Vegas linebacker Brandon Moore finally covering it at the 3-yard line.
Marcel Shipp scored on the next play, and the Locomotives added a clinching touchdown when defensive end Eric Henderson stepped in front of Garcia’s fourth-down pass and returned the interception 36 yards for a score.
Kevin Hobbs came up with the final interception on a tipped pass.
“You just can’t win games that way,’’ Jagodzinski said. “We have to do a better job of executing.’’
While acknowledging Omaha’s outstanding defensive effort, Las Vegas coach Jim Fassel said the play of his own defense kept him from getting wild and crazy on offense.
“I wasn’t going to do anything stupid with our offense when our defense was playing so well,’’ Fassel said. “No matter what’s going on, and no matter how frustrated I might get as a play caller on offense, this is a team game.
“I’m going to play to the defense’s hand.’’
Omaha finished with 247 yards but had only 96 yards in the second half. Fifty of that total came on the Nighthawks’ first possession of the third quarter that ended with Jeff Wolfert’s 35-yard field goal that put Omaha ahead 10-7.
Three interceptions, three punts and a fumble ended the Nighthawks’ final seven possessions of the game.
The loss, Omaha’s first at home, left the Nighthawks 3-2 with three regular-season games to play. The next two are on the road — at Florida on Nov. 5 and at Sacramento on Nov. 13. They’ll close the regular season with a Nov. 19 home game against Florida.
“It’s not going to be easy,’’ Jagodzinski said. “We’re going to have to fight and scrape and scratch if we want to play here at the end of the season.’’
Las Vegas Locomotives (5-1).....................0 7 3 14—24
At Omaha Nighthawks (3-2)...............................0 7 3 0—10
ON: Clarett 1 run (Wolfert kick)
LV: Willy 1 run (Hauschka kick)
ON: FG Wolfert 35
LV: FG Hauschka 36
LV: Shipp 3 run (Hauschka kick)
LV: Henderson 36 interception return (Hauschka kick)
First downs 15 12
First downs by rushing 8 5
First downs by passing 5 7
First downs by penalty 2 0
Third-down efficiency 6-16 3-14
Fourth-down efficiency 0-0 0-1
Total net yards 145 247
Total plays 67 60
Average gain per play 2.2 4.1
Net yards passing 66 143
Passes 14-28-1 13-32-4
Net yards rushing 79 104
Rushing attempts 35 25
Total returns yards 118 105
Kickoff returns 2-53 5-98
Punt returns 3-28 3-7
Fumble returns 1-0 0-0
Interception returns 4-37 1-0
Miscellaneous yards 0 (-9)
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-1
Sacks by-yards 3-12 4-32
Penalties-yards 3-25 7-55
Red-zone efficiency 2-3 1-3
Possession time 33:33 26:27
RUSHING: LV, Dorsey 16-24, Shipp 11-30, Willy 7-13, Thurman 1-12. ON, Green 11-38, Williams 5-30, Clarett 5-13, Garcia 4-23.
PASSING: LV, Willy 14-28-98-1. ON, Garcia 13-32-155-4.
RECEIVING: LV, Parker 5-56, Wrighster 3-14, Shipp 2-14, Thurman 1-9, Bergen 1-4, Rome 1-1, Dorsey 1-0. ON, Ferguson 5-44, Hass 3-43, Darling 1-23, Clayton 1-17, Green 1-13, Hall 1-8, Putzier 1-7.
PUNTING: LV, Baugher 9-43.9. ON, Brantly 7-44.9.
KICKOFF RETURNS: LV, Hernandez 2-53. ON, Colclough 2-42, Williams 2-35, Clayton 1-21.
PUNT RETURNS: LV, Hernandez 3-28. ON, Williams 3-7.
TACKLE LEADERS: LV, Hartwell 6.5, Lehman 6, Trufant 4. ON, Thomas 9, Colclough 5, Phillips 4.
QUARTERBACK SACKS: LV, Lehman 1, Moore 1, Cooper 1. ON, Basped 1.5, Phillips 1, Dvoracek 0.5, Wynn 0.5, Veal 0.5.
INTERCEPTIONS: LV, Henderson 1, Hobbs 1, Lewis 1, Wallace 1. ON, Rouse 1.
Contact the writer:
* * *
• Video: Highlights from the Nighthawks-Locomotives game: