The Florida Tuskers enjoyed a memorable ride to the inaugural United Football League Championship Game.
The ending to the league's historic first overtime game Friday is a memory they would rather forget.
Florida quarterback Brooks Bollinger was intercepted on the opening drive of overtime, leading to a 33-yard field goal by former Florida State kicker Graham Gano that gave the Las Vegas Locomotives a wild 20-17 win in the finale of the UFL's debut season.
The Tuskers (6-1) failed in their bid to run the table and beat Las Vegas (5-2) for a third time this season in front of an announced crowd of 14,801 at Sam Boyd Stadium.
"It's really difficult," Bollinger said. "It's hard to put into words how tough it is. We had such a good group of guys. That's the way this game goes; it'll hurt you sometimes."
In UFL overtime rules, each team gets at least one possession. If the game remains tied, it goes to sudden death.
Florida coach Jim Haslett defended his decision to receive the overtime kickoff, instead of choosing to defer and wait to see if his team needed a field goal or touchdown to win.
"If they don't score and you don't score, the next possession wins,"
Haslett said. "So we don't want to defer, give them possession, have neither team score, and then all of a sudden they get possession and it's sudden death now."
Bollinger's pass intended for Marcus Maxwell on third-and-7 from Florida's 12-yard line was intercepted by Isaiah Trufant, whose fumble on the return was recovered by Las Vegas safety Tony Parrish at the 14. Two plays later, Gano connected on the game-winning field goal.
"It was a shallow cross," Maxwell said of his route on the interception. "Brooks started scrambling. I tried to get in his vision so he was able to see me. (Trufant) stepped in front and picked it off."
Bollinger, a candidate for the league MVP award to be announced next week, completed 22 of 45 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
His 10-yard scoring strike over the middle to Frank Murphy gave the Tuskers a 14-10 lead with 10:27 remaining.
But Bollinger fumbled on the Tuskers' ensuing possession, and Las Vegas nose tackle Ross Kolodziej returned the ball 36 yards to Florida's 2-yard line. Three plays later, DeDe Dorsey's 1-yard TD run gave Las Vegas a 17-14 lead with 5:58 left in regulation.
Haslett was convinced Bollinger's arm was moving forward on the lost fumble, but the play was not overturned after a challenge.
"Whatever replay the referees had today and what was shown on the field, the guy upstairs must have been drunk," Haslett said. "I don't know what they were doing.
"But the Locos played well today. I thought they played excellent on defense."
The Tuskers tied the game at 17 on Matt Bryant's 27-yard field goal with 2:10 left before the teams traded punts on each of their next possessions.
Dorsey, who carried 11 times for 66 yards and two scores and caught four passes for 32 yards, was named the game's MVP.
Las Vegas avenged 29-15 and 27-24 losses to Florida during the regular season.
"Right now, we're the only ones, and we'll keep that title for a little while," Las Vegas coach Jim Fassel said. "It's a good feeling."
It was the opposite feeling for the Tuskers, who outgained the Locomotives, 358-260, but fell short.
"It hurts," said Maxwell, who caught five passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. "To play your butt off during the season and end up losing, it definitely hurts."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun