FOOTBALL: Garcia, Nighthawks eliminated from championship game contention with 41-3 loss

 

Cory Ross galloped for 125 yards on 11 touches, including an
electrifying 76-yard scoring burst in the third quarter as the
Sacramento Mountain Lions exuberantly kept their United Football
League championship game aspirations afloat while eliminating the
Omaha Nighthawks from contention in a 41-3 rout at Hornet Stadium
on Saturday night.
SACRAMENTO – Cory Ross galloped for 125 yards on 11 touches, including an electrifying 76-yard scoring burst in the third quarter as the Sacramento Mountain Lions exuberantly kept their United Football League championship game aspirations afloat while eliminating the Omaha Nighthawks from contention in a 41-3 rout in Sacramento on Saturday night.

“I was battling my tail off tonight,” Gilroy native Jeff Garcia said. “I was out there playing with as much passion as I’ve ever had, trying to make things happen, trying to make things work. It takes a team to make it happen and unfortunately we just haven’t been on the same page lately.”

Ross’ jaunt was the longest run from scrimmage in the two-year history of the UFL and put the Mountain Lions up 27-3 midway through the third.

Garcia made his return to Northern California with Omaha needing two wins in their final pair of regular-season games to extend its season and play in the championship game against the Las Vegas Locomotives on Nov. 27.

However, the Nighthawks fell behind 10-0 three minutes into the first quarter before Garcia and a beleaguered Nighthawks’ offense took the field.

“We have to find a way to block better, tackle better. We just have to play better,” said Omaha head coach Jeff Jagodzinski, whose Nighthawks have dropped three straight games after beginning the season 3-1. “I’m talking about the fundamentals part of it. Everybody do their job. They don’t have to do anybody elses job. You just have to do your job and when you do that you’ll be successful. And when you don’t you won’t.”

Sacramento, at 4-4 following Saturday’s victory, also faced a must-win situation in its season finale. The Mountain Lions now await next week’s outcome between Omaha and Florida. If the Tuskers lose the Mountain Lions are in.

“I’m praying and hoping that Omaha comes out with a lot of pride and puts it on Florida so we can get to the championship,” said Culpepper, who completed 17-of-28 passing for 212 yards. “I told (Jeff), go play, go play for the love of the game and hopefully you get a win.”

The offensive struggles the Nighthawks have endured over the past two weeks – losses to Las Vegas 24-10 and Florida 31-14 – reared its ugly head in the first half and left an uphill look for Omaha at a 20-3 score at halftime.

“It’s been very discouraging, very frustrating, very disappointing,” Garcia said of the Nighthawks’ performances over the last three games. “But we still have one more game left to play and it’s important that everybody be on board and come together and find a way to do this.”

Sacramento piled up 283 yards to the Nighthawks’ 85 in the first 30 minutes and the disparity only widened. The Mountain Lions’ balanced mix on offense led to a whopping 485 yards in the game to a mere 202 for the Nighthawks.

“We just don’t seem to have much of an identity, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” Garcia said. “We don’t seem to find ways to execute and look like we’re a polished team.”

The Mountain Lions wasted little time in creating a stir, converting a perfect flee-flicker with Daunte Culpepper hitting an extremely wide open Taye Biddle for 59 yards down to the Nighthawks’ 21-yard line on the game’s opening play. A personal foul on Nighthawks’ linebacker Cato June aided the drive further and the Mountain Lions scored two plays later on a nifty 5-yard scamper by Ross, the first of his two touchdowns.

Prince Kwateng recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff Omaha’s 24, eventually resulting in 36-yard field goal by Fabrizio Scaccia at 12:04 of the first quarter.

“I told our team that turning the ball over, you’re going to have a difficult time of winning anything,” Jagodzinski said. “We are not playing very disciplined ball right now.”

Scaccia added a 41-yard field goal two seconds into the second quarter to pad Sacramento’s lead 13-0.

Garcia connected with Mark Clayton for a 30-yard gain, ultimately transitioning into a Jeff Wolfert 28-yard field goal for the Nighthawks’ first points of the ball game, capping a nine-play, 70-yard drive, which stalled at the Mountain Lions’ 10-yard line.

Though lopsided on paper, the Nighthawks remained in touch on the scoreboard and received help by way of a Scaccia missed 46-yard field goal and a Ricardo Colclough interception to interrupt a Sacramento drive.

But on both occasions, the Nighthawks failed to capitalize on the openings. And a brief three-and-out following the interception left the Mountain Lions with 1:28 before halftime.

Culpepper hit Marcus Maxwell on a 15-yard button hook and the receiver took it upon himself to create a big play, breaking four tackles for a 39-yard pickup to the Nighthawks’ 18. Two plays, and a pass interference later, Culpepper hit fullback Tyler Clutts out of the backfield on play action for a 2-yard touchdown with 27 seconds remaining on the clock.

After Ross’ record-setter, Steve Baylark bounded in from 1-yard out to put Sacramento up 34-3 late in the third. John David Washington, son of actor Denzel Washington, finished matters with a 2-yard score with 1:12 to go in the fourth.

The Nighthawks (3-4) return to Omaha to wrap up the season with a chance to hit .500 for the season against the Tuskers on Nov. 19.

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