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Clement gets job done as Locomotives top Tuskers to repeat as UFL champs

OMAHA, Neb. — Chase Clement turned in an award-winning performance Saturday in leading the Locomotives to their second straight United Football League championship.

Clement threw touchdown passes of 75 and 30 yards to lead Las Vegas to a 23-20 victory over the Florida Tuskers, but the win wasn’t assured until Alfred Malone blocked Nick Novak’s potential game-tying 45-yard field-goal attempt on the final play.

Clement was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after passing for 237 yards and rushing for 30 in finishing his unlikely rise from third-string quarterback to championship-game hero.

Someone asked Locos coach Jim Fassel how improbable it would have been at the start of training camp to forecast the role Clement would play for his team.

“I didn’t know who Chase Clement was in July,” Fassel said. “It’s interesting how things turn out. A buddy of mine told me this guy could play, and I liked what I saw after watching tape.

“He’s got moxie and savvy and toughness.”

And now Clement has a championship ring.

“It’s crazy how it worked out,” he said.

The same could be said for the game’s ending. Florida had driven from its 10-yard line to the Las Vegas 22 in a minute and 35 seconds. Facing third down with 10 seconds to play, Tuskers coach Jay Gruden called for Novak, the UFL’s Special Teams Player of the Year, to tie the game.

Novak had not missed a field-goal attempt since Sept. 30, making 12 straight, including two Saturday. But before Novak could attempt a 40-yard kick, the Tuskers got called for delay of game.

That turned the kick into a 45-yarder.

“When you push them back like that, it changes the trajectory of the ball,” Malone said. “Maybe that kick’s a lot higher if they hadn’t been pushed back five yards.”

Instead, Malone swatted away Novak’s kick.

“We had a great push, and I was just fortunate to get my hand on it,” said Malone, still clutching the football that he blocked. “I heard this is the last game at Rosenblatt Stadium, and what a way to go out.”

Malone’s block ended an entertaining game that drew an announced crowd of 15,310 for the final game at Omaha’s historic stadium, which has served as the home for the College World Series since 1950. Las Vegas entered the game having lost its previous two but finished 6-3.

“This team has always been resilient, tough and extremely competitive,” Fassel said. “I think everyone had kind of counted us out because we hadn’t played well the last two games. That’s not the case for these guys, and I knew it.”

The Locos showcased that resiliency in battling back from 7-0, 10-7 and 17-14 deficits. They scored the winning points when Hakim Hill, a third-string running back with a checkered past, ripped off a 37-yard touchdown run with 5:53 left in the third quarter.

Hill had been out of football since 2007 after being released by the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders following a string of run-ins with the law.

“I was out of the game and I didn’t know if I would ever play again,” Hill said. “To get this chance means so much to me. My teammates were great in helping me throughout the year.

“And I can’t thank Coach Fassel enough. He took a chance on me. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. He believed in me, and I’m so thankful for that.”

Hill’s touchdown put the Locos ahead 21-17. Novak’s second 22-yard field goal pulled Florida within 21-20, and Las Vegas scored its final points on a safety.

“Overall, it was a heck of a game,” Gruden said. “Their defense is outstanding, and every yard we got we earned.”

Florida finished with a 468-343 edge in total yards. The Locos picked up 105 yards on two plays — touchdown passes of 75 yards from Clement to Andrae Thurman and 30 yards from Clement to George Wrighster.

“At the end of the day, this game came down to what all games come down to: a mistake,” Fassel said. “We blocked that field goal. When the game was on the line, our guys came hard.”

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