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Defending UFL champion Locos clinch berth in title game

Jim Fassel got his wish.

The Locomotives coach said he would have no problem spending Thanksgiving in Omaha, Neb. Thanks to his team’s five-game winning streak and a little help from the Hartford Colonials, the Locos will get to defend their title Nov. 27 in the United Football League championship game at Rosenblatt Stadium.

The Locos lead the five-team UFL at 5-1 and clinched a spot in the title game after Hartford beat Sacramento 27-26 on Saturday on a last-second field goal.

Las Vegas’ opponent has yet to be determined as the other four UFL teams remain in the hunt.

Omaha (3-2) and Florida (2-3) are second and third, respectively, and will play each other twice over the next three weeks. Hartford and Sacramento are 2-4.

But Fassel wasn’t concerned about that on Sunday.

His focus is on his own team and making sure there is no slippage over the final two games, beginning Saturday when the Locos play their final home game of the season, an 8 p.m. start against Sacramento at Sam Boyd Stadium.

“The goal is to win the games,” Fassel said, whose team closes the regular season Nov. 20 at Hartford. “I don’t want us to get sloppy.”

Given the Locos already have sustained season-ending injuries to key personnel, including starting quarterback Tim Rattay (Achilles’ tendon) and free safety Nick Turnbull (knee), the temptation is to rest people to make sure no one else gets hurt.

Fassel said the plan is to limit the minutes for some players during the final two games, but he will not hold anyone out who’s healthy enough to play.

“I’m not going to make wholesale changes, but I am going to give some people who are nicked up some time off,” he said.

Fassel said backup quarterback Chase Clement likely will see action in the final two regular-season games. Drew Willy, who struggled at times in Thursday’s 24-10 win over Omaha, will start Saturday.

“He didn’t make the kind of progress you hope to see from Game 1 to Game 2,” Fassel said of Willy, who threw for just 98 yards on 14-for-28 passing and was sacked four times and intercepted once by the Nighthawks. “But we’ll go back to correcting the mistakes — not just Drew’s, but everyone’s — and make sure we’re doing everything the best we can.”

The Locos should have some added motivation Saturday night. The team has a bye scheduled for the following week and Fassel’s plan is to give his players the entire week off.

“They’ve earned it,” he said. “I just hope they come back ready to get back to work. Our main goal is still in front of us, and that’s defending our championship.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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