Chris Greisen directed Virginia to two second-quarter touchdowns and Delbert Alvarado kicked three field goals Thursday to lead Virginia to a 23-13 victory over Omaha in the opening game of the United Football League season.
The win, before an announced crowd of 15,836 at TD Ameritrade Park, came in the Destroyers' first UFL game and marked a successful return to football for Marty Schottenheimer. He spent 30 years in the NFL, winning 200 games, but hadn't coached for the past four seasons.
"It's delightful,'' Schottenheimer said. "The essence for me is that I'm a teacher, and I love to teach the game of football. Marty walks out of here feeling like we won this one.''
Greisen threw for 167 yards, completing 19 of 35 passes. He directed scoring drives of 81 and 62 yards to help the Destroyers take a 14-7 lead late in the second quarter.
It marked the third time in the last five UFL games in which Greisen has played that he has beaten Omaha. He led Florida to two late-season victories over the Nighthawks last season that carried the Tuskers into the UFL championship game.
"He's got great leadership ability,'' Schottenheimer said. "He can make all the throws. He had four or five throws tonight that were that close to being completed. If we can tighten that down a little bit and come up with three out of the five, we'll add another 80 yards to the stat sheet and additional points.''
The Destroyers finished with 375 yards, 15 fewer than Omaha. But Virginia's ability to come up with big plays, particularly on third down, hurt the Nighthawks continually throughout the game.
"That wasn't our best performance,'' Omaha defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek said. "We let them have too many third-and-short chances that kept drives alive. We can't let them get so many yards.''
Alvarado kicked field goals of 42, 22 and 20 yards after Virginia took a 14-7 lead late in the second quarter to keep the Nighthawks from mounting a comeback. Omaha did manage to score on its final possession.
Overall, Schottenheimer was pleased with his defense's play against Omaha's unconventional spread offense.
"Our defense accepted the challenge we presented to them and carried it out,'' Schottenheimer said. "I can't describe the time and energy it took to prepare to play against this kind of offense.''
Omaha's offense struggled at key points in the game. The Nighthawks turned the ball over four times, three on interceptions, and had several big plays negated by penalties.
Eric Crouch started at quarterback for Omaha and split time with Jeremiah Masoli. Masoli led the Nighthawks to their touchdowns but threw two of the interceptions.
Greisen was sharp in the opening half, completing 16 of 24 passes for 119 yards.
Greisen put the Destroyers ahead when he directed a three-play, 81-yard drive early in the second quarter. Seventy-three of the yards came on a Greisen to Audrae Allison pass-run play that carried to the Omaha 3-yard line.
Dominic Rhodes scored on the next play to make it 7-0 with 11:08 left in the second period.
The Nighthawks countered as Masoli led a 70-yard drive that ended with an 18-yard pass to Chad Jackson. Masoli also had completions of 17 and 13 yards on the march, and Shaud Williams chipped in a nifty 11-yard run on the play that preceded the touchdown.
The Destroyers took the lead for good with 1:53 left in the half when Greisen passed 5 yards to Billy Latsko to cap a 14-play, 62-yard drive. Virginia converted three third-down plays on the march that chewed more than six minutes off the clock.
Virginia added to its lead after Jerome Carter intercepted Crouch's pass and returned it 27 yards to midfield. Greisen threw 16 yards to Adrian Peterson on second down to give the Destroyers a first down at the Omaha 32.
Greisen scrambled for 5 yards and then passed for 3 yards to John Standeford before throwing away a third-down pass. Delbert Alvarado then put Virginia ahead 17-7 with a 42-yard field goal.
"That was very important because it began to put in a position where you knew if you didn't do anything ridiculous that we'd be all right,'' Schottenheimer said. "We did have the one turnover but I was pleased with our football team.''
The Destroyers had a chance to add to their lead midway through the second quarter after moving from their 36-yard line to the Omaha 13. Ricardo Colclough kept the Nighthawks within 10 points when he blocked Alvarado's 30-yard field goal attempt.
Tony Taylor set up another Alvarado field goal when he intercepted Masoli at the Omaha 19-yard line and returned the pick to the 8-yard line. The Destroyers got to the 3 before Greisen threw incomplete on third down, but Alvarado made it 20-3 with a 22-yard kick.
Alvarado completed the scoring midway through the fourth quarter when his 20-yard field goal capped a drive that carried from the Virginia 35 to the Omaha 1. The Nighthawks stopped Rhodes for no gain on first down and dropped him for a 2-yard loss on second. Greisen had to throw the ball away on a third-down pass but Alvarado converted the chip-shot field goal to push the Destroyers lead to 16 points.
Omaha closed to within 10 points with 1:22 to play when Masoli scored on a 4-yard keeper to cap a 70-yard drive. The Nighthawks went for the two-point conversion but Masoli threw incomplete.
Attendance down in Omaha
The sellout string is over.
Omaha was the rage of the UFL last season, selling out its four home games and leading the league in average attendance at more than 22,700 per contest.
Thursday's opener at TD Ameritrade attracted a crowd that filled about half of the stadium's 24,500 seats. Nighthawks officials had said they had sold about 13,000 season tickets.
Ex-U.Va. LB with Nighthawks
Former U.Va. linebacker Angelo Crowell is an Omaha starter.
Crowell missed all of last season after tearing a bicep muscle in training camp with the Nighthawks. Crowell played five seasons in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills.
Crowell had a 4-yard sack in the first half and a key pass break-up in the third quarter. Two plays later, Ricardo Colclough blocked Delbert Alvarado's 36-yard field-goal attempt to keep the Destroyers from extending their halftime lead.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun