Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Steven Hauschka field goal lifts Locomotives to overtime victory

Las Vegas Locos tackle Jason Capizzi lifts up kicker Steven Hauschka after his field goal against Hartford Colonials during the Locos 24-21 overtime win Saturday, October 23, 2010 at Sam Boyd Stadium.

By Ray Brewer

October 23, 2010

On a typical windy Las Vegas fall afternoon, Steven Hauschka’s game-winning field goal Saturday for the Las Vegas Locomotives football team was easier said than done.

The distance of the 53-yard attempt was only half the battle.

Hauschka also had to account for wind gusts up to 20 mph that severely altered game strategy, passing plays and kicking all afternoon.

Still, he was able to drill the long attempt
— a wobbling kick that didn’t win any style points but still did its job by splitting the uprights for a 24-21 overtime victory against the Hartford Colonials.

The winning boot came with 17 seconds to play in overtime, lifting the Locomotives (4-1) to their fourth straight victory. It was the first regular season overtime game in the history of the 2-year-old United Football League.

A Hauschka miss would have likely resulted in the league’s first tie. But the former NFL kicker, who honed his craft of kicking in poor conditions while with the Baltimore Ravens and growing up in the Boston area, was calm under pressure.

“I hit it pretty solid on my foot and I felt it, so I knew it was going to be good,” Hauschka said.

Las Vegas led 21-13 late in regulation before Hartford scored the equalizing touchdown and 2-point conversion with 1:04 to play. Hartford’s Josh McCown threw a 4-yard scoring strike to Tyson Devree for the touchdown, then connected with Syndric Steptoe for the conversion to even the score at 21.

That’s when strategy took over.

Las Vegas coach Jim Fassell ran out the clock in regulation, opting to be conservative with rookie quarterback Drew Willy making his first professional start. He knew it would have been asking a lot of Willy, a rookie from the University of Buffalo taking over for injured veteran Tim Rattay, to lead the Locos into field goal range going into the wind.

Then, when Las Vegas won the overtime coin toss, Fassell made the no-brainer decision of having the wind at the Locomotives’ back while on offense.

Fassell allowed Hartford to receive the ball first, knowing UFL overtime rules guarantee each team receives the ball once. In the NFL, overtime is sudden death, meaning the winner of the coin toss always elects to receive.

The strategy paid off as Hartford kicker Taylor Mehlhaff missed a 38-yard attempt wide right with five minutes remaining in overtime — a kick clearly hindered by the wind.

“I thought the team that won the wind in overtime would definitely have an advantage,” Hartford coach Chris Palmer said.

Fassell credits his nine seasons coaching the NFL's New York Giants for helping him become comfortable with managing the game with windy conditions. The UFL's overtime rules didn't hurt, either.

“I think it’s better than the college system, and I think it’s better than the NFL system," Fassell said.

Willy was effective in his debut, completing 18 of 29 passes for 191 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He connected with Adam Bergen for a 4-yard score in the third quarter to give Las Vegas a 14-13 lead.

When the 23-year-old Willy returned to the sidelines, Bergen gave him the ball to keep as a souvenir. It was that kind of day from Willy, who spent time with the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts before signing with the UFL.

He’s making the most of his opportunity. He solidified his spot as the Locos quarterback and will be in the spotlight as the UFL’s first-place team looks to defend its championship.

“I felt good out there. I thought I made some good decisions,” Willy said.

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