Outlaws struggle on and off the field in opener

Monday Night Football finally came to Las Vegas.

But not the kind of MNF that former Mayor Oscar Goodman envisioned bringing to town. Instead of the NFL and 80,000 people in a downtown stadium, it was the Arena Football League inside the Thomas &Mack Center with 6,564 on hand to watch the debut of the expansion Las Vegas Outlaws.

And as is the case with most start-up franchises, it was a tough opening night for the Outlaws as they were handled by the San Jose SaberCats 59-41.

“We know going in it was going to be a challenge, it being our first game and us playing one of the best teams in the league,” Outlaws coach Aaron Garcia said. “We started slow but I thought we got a little more comfortable in the second half.”

Opening night is not without its hiccups and the Outlaws found that out the hard way — both before and during the game.

The field was still being prepared two hours before kickoff as officials put padding on some of the railings in the corners while securing the rigging that holds the nets in each end zone. And it turns out the field is a tad shy of regulation with each end zone 1½ yards short. Of course, it was the same for both the Outlaws and the SaberCats and commissioner Scott Butera said the league was fine with the field in its current state.

Outlaws owner and Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil was supposed to sing the national anthem but someone forgot to give him a microphone. But he got the mic, belted it out and just before kickoff, he encouraged the crowd, saying, “It’s (expletive) game time!”

Maybe he thought he was back with the Crue.

The Outlaws, who were 14½-point underdogs at the Station Casinos sports books, got off to a somewhat ignominious start as the opening kickoff by Las Vegas hit the Jumbotron scoreboard at midfield resulting in San Jose starting from its 20. A defensive holding penalty advanced the ball into Las Vegas territory and, three plays later, Odie Armstrong punched it in from the 2, giving the SaberCats a 7-0 lead.

Las Vegas’ first-ever possession resulted in an interception as J.J. Raterink was picked off in the end zone by David Hyland as Raterink was trying to connect with Tysson Poots. And like any experienced team would, San Jose cashed in on the miscue as Erik Meyer found Reggie Gray all alone in the end zone on a 32-yard pass to make it 14-0 just 10:04 into the contest.

The scoreboard, however, gave San Jose an additional 100 points as the SaberCats were shown on the board leading 114-0 in another opening-night glitch. But when San Jose’s Adron Tennell made a sensational one-handed grab in the end zone and went halfway over the boards for a 28-yard TD late in the opening quarter, he probably should’ve been given 100 points for the play. Instead, the Tennell TD made it 21-0 and the rout was on.

It was 28-0 before the Outlaws finally scored their first points.

Raterink snuck in from the San Jose 1 with 6:20 to go in the first half to cut the deficit to 28-7. But San Jose struck right back as on the first play, Meyer found Darius Reynolds on a 41-yard streak pattern to give the SaberCats a 35-7 lead. At halftime, it was 42-13 and many decided they’d seen enough.

Las Vegas made a belated attempt to get back in it, cutting the deficit to 42-20 and driving for another score in the third quarter when Raternick fumbled at the San Jose 4 and the SaberCats’ Hyland returned it to the Las Vegas 5. Three plays later, Meyer and Tennell hooked up again, it was 49-20 and it all but sealed the Outlaws’ fate on opening night.

The Outlaws got as close as 49-34 early in the fourth quarter but a failed onside kick was converted into a touchdown by San Jose and that negated what momentum the Outlaws had mustered.

If there was an upside to Monday, it was Poots, the former Coronado High star who hauled in three touchdown passes from Raterink and showed he can be an effective go-to guy on offense.

“We were a little nervous with it being the first game,” Poots said. “But we came out and fought back and proved we can play in this league.”

And while much will be learned from the opening night loss, it won’t get any easier. Garcia’s team is back in action at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against the defending league champion Arizona Rattlers, who have won the last three ArenaBowls.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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