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Florida Tuskers open with 27-20 win in Las Vegas

( – Edited version of release by Florida Tuskers – )

Brooks Bollinger threw for 308 yards and a pair of touchdowns while Odell Thurman had a sack, forced fumble and an interception to lead the Florida Tuskers to a 27-20 win over  Las Vegas in the United Football League season opener for both clubs.

Florida had to rally from a 10-0 deficit.

“We did enough to win on offense, but it was the defense that carried us today,” Tuskers Head Coach Jay Gruden said. “I believe Odell Thurman is one of the best linebackers in pro football and he showed it again today.”

The defense limited the Locos to 186 yards, including just 112 in the first three quarters. In all, the Tuskers forced four turnovers in the game.

Still, Gruden lamented penalties that kept Las Vegas in the game as his team was flagged for nine penalties for 130 yards.

“We have to clean up that part of the game. Penalties and turnovers really hurt us tonight,” Gruden added. Fourteen of the Locos 20 points came after a turnover and both of their touchdown drives were aided by multiple penalties.

“Las Vegas has a great defense and they came in with a good game plan,” Gruden said. “But the bottom line is that when you go on the road – particularly when you have to travel across the country – you will take any win you can get.”

The win kept the Tuskers undefeated in UFL regular season games with a 7-0 record dating back to the league’s inaugural campaign in 2009.

The Locomotives jumped out to a quick lead in the first quarter, thanks mainly to its defense. On Florida’s second possession of the game, Locos linebacker Teddy Lehman stepped in front of a Bollinger pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead.

On the next possession for Las Vegas, a stalled drive resulted in a 32-yard field goal by Parker Douglass to make it 10-0.

Florida’s offense finally camp alive early in the second quarter, capping an 88-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Bollinger to Dominic Rhodes. On the touchdown, Bollinger managed to keep the play alive on a scramble before finding Rhodes open. The Tuskers converted two third downs in the drive, including an 18-yard scramble by Bollinger and a 19-yard pass from Bollinger to Jermaine Wiggins.

The Tuskers would then take their first lead of the game on a bizarre series of plays. Arnold Harrison set the Tuskers up on the Las Vegas 11-yard line on a sack and forced fumble of quarterback Tim Rattay, which Tim McGarigle recovered.

Three plays later, Rhodes apparently fumbled on the Locomotives goal line, but after an official review the Locomotives were called for an illegal defense to set the Tuskers up with a first-and-goal. One play later, Rhodes got in and Florida led 14-10 at the 9:15 mark of the second period.

On the ensuing drive, Rattay drove the Locomotives down to the Florida 19, but Douglass would miss a 37-yard field goal and Florida held on to its 14-point lead. The Tuskers would up the lead to 17-10 when Nick Novak hit a league-record 54-yard field goal with 52 seconds remaining in the half.

Las Vegas would tie the game at the midway point of the third quarter. A Cortez Hankton fumble gave the Locomotives possession deep in Florida territory and following a pass interference penalty on Fahkir Brown, Rattay hit Bobby Brown on a 1-yard touchdown pass to make it 17-17.

Following a Las Vegas turnover, Bollinger set the Tuskers up with a first-and-goal from the seven on a 33-yard pass to Hankton. But three plays netted no yardage and Novak booted a 24-yard field goal to give the Tuskers a 20-17 lead.

Florida would then build a 27-17 lead in the waning seconds of the third period when Bollinger hit Calvin Russell on a 68-yard bomb on a third-and-12 play.

Rattay would put together his best looking drive of the day on the Locomotive’s next possession, only to have Simeon Castille come up with an interception in the end zone to thwart the drive. The next possession for the Locomotives ended when they drove down to the Florida 7 and stalled in exchange for Douglass’ 24-yard field goal to cut the lead to 27-20 at the 4:49 mark.

The Tuskers return to action next Saturday, traveling to Sacramento to take on the Mountain Lions (0-1).

– (Contact Orlando Sports Central at JC@OrlandoSportsCentral.com) –

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