The Florida Tuskers returned two interceptions for touchdowns and punched a return ticket for next Saturday’s United Football League Championship Game back here in Omaha with a 27-10 win over the Omaha Nighthawks Friday night. The win sets up a rematch of the inaugural UFL Championship between Florida and Las Vegas, which the Locos won 20-17 in overtime last season.
It was the Tuskers’ third straight win after starting the season 2-3.
Tusker coach Jay Gruden had his team pack a week’s worth of clothing for its regular-season finale, anticipating a week-long stay in the city that will host next week’s title game. He was proven prophetic thanks to a stingy Tuskers’ defense that became the latest team to feast on a struggling Nighthawks offense.
Omaha gained just 225 total yards and converted only 2 of 14 third-down attempts while being held without a first down on nine of its 13 possessions.
The Tuskers’ defense made a statement on the game’s first possession. Cornerback Darrius Vinnett picked off Omaha quarterback Jeff Garcia’s first pass of the night and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown to put Florida up 7-0 just 1 minute, 40 seconds into the game.
Chris Greisen continued his solid late-season play after replacing 2009 UFL Offensive MVP Brooks Bollinger three weeks ago. Greisen hooked up with nine different receivers and finished 17-of-26 passing for 200 yards and a touchdown without throwing an interception.
Florida led 10-3 at halftime and stretched the lead to 17-3 on Greisen’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Russell. It was Greisen’s fifth touchdown pass in his last three games. The former NFL Europe and Arena Football League star has completed 69 percent of his passes since taking over the starting job.
Gruden said after the game Greisen would get the start in the Championship Game with Bollinger, now recovered from several injuries which sidelined him midway through the season, available for fill-in duty.
For Omaha, the loss ended a frustrating, debut season. After a promising 3-1 start, the Nighthawks lost their final four games, often plagued by turnovers and offensive inefficiency.
Garcia finished 17-of-35 passing for 133 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown to Roy Hall, but was intercepted twice. He was replaced in the first half by backup Matt Guiterrez and again in the fourth quarter by D.J. Shockley, who fired an interception that Keiwan Ratliff returned 58 yards for a score in the game’s final minute.
The Nighthawks’ defense did provide a bright spot for Omaha, holding Dominic Rhodes, who leads the UFL with 10 rushing touchdowns, to 52 yards on 22 attempts. Omaha also recovered a pair of fumbles and sacked Greisen three times in the loss.
Omaha running back Maurice Clarett also continued his improved play in his return to pro football. Clarett led all rushers with 69 yards on 12 carries.
It wasn’t enough, however, to set up a rubber match between the Tuskers and Locos for the UFL Championship. The teams split their two meetings this year with each team winning on the other’s home field. Florida took home a 27-20 win in the season opener before the Locos won the rematch 20-17 on September 30th.