UFL woes don’t dull Locos’ focus as title game looms

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — No one knows if today’s championship game will be the last played in the United Football League. But the Locomotives are treating it as if it will be the 3-year-old league’s swan song.

The Locos (3-1), who had their final two regular-season home games canceled because of the league’s financial woes, are seeking a third straight UFL title. To get it, they’ll have to come into the Virginia Beach Sportsplex at 5 p.m. PDT and beat a Virginia Destroyers team that dominated them Sept. 24, winning 34-17 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicates.

“It changes so fast, but our plan the whole time has been to get to the championship game,” Locos coach Jim Fassel said. “All things considered, they’ve done a good job this week with everything that’s been going on. They’ve kept their focus. I think they’re ready.”

By canceling the regular season’s final two weeks, the UFL expects to save $4 million. For a league that has lost $100 million in its first two years and expects to lose in the neighborhood of $28 million this year, $4 million doesn’t seem like much.

But no one is getting rich off today’s title game. The league has yet to announce how much each member of the winning and losing teams will make today. But the Locos players say they aren’t worried about money.

“We’ve been through this before,” safety Nick Turnbull said. “We have a chance to make history and be the only team to win the championship. This is a very close group of guys. Whether or not this is the last-ever game or not, we want to go out on top.”

Said cornerback Wale Dada: “We’ve always had a flexible mentality around here. We hope they’ll do the right thing for the players.

“It took a little while for us to get rolling. But now that we’ve got it going, we want to finish it the right way.”

To do so, Locos quarterback Chase Clement said he needs to play much better than in the first meeting with the Destroyers.

“The biggest thing for me is to take care of the football, keep drives going and keep our defense off the field,” said Clement, who was sacked three times and threw for just 75 yards Sept. 24. “I know I can play better, and I will.”

Clement was the Most Valuable Player in last year’s UFL title game when he passed for 239 yards and two touchdowns in the Locos’ 23-20 win over Florida in Omaha, Neb.

But the Tuskers moved to Virginia, became the Destroyers and, under first-year coach Marty Schottenheimer, have looked strong. They have relied on veteran running back Dominic Rhodes and a physical defense to make it back to the title game.

However, Virginia (3-1) is dealing with adversity for the first time in this abbreviated season, having lost to Sacramento in overtime last week, 27-20.

“You can’t do anything about the last game,” Schottenheimer said. “It sounds trite, but all you can do is play better the next game. And we’re going to have to play much better in order to win.”

Schottenheimer said he expects to see Clement at his best and the Locos in general to play better this time around.

“We caught a few good breaks the first time we played them,” Schottenheimer said. “But I expect a very tough, competitive game. Playing against Jim’s teams, you expect a tough game.”

Fassel said regardless of the UFL’s future, he wants his team to concentrate on today and get the third championship.

“It would be a travesty if we lost our focus and lost the game and everything worked out financially and we were back next year,” he said. “We’ve worked too hard to let this slip away from us, and I’m going to stay on their butts right up until game time.”

■ NOTES — Running back DeDe Dorsey will not play after he was not medically cleared of concussionlike symptoms following Saturday’s game at Omaha. Everyone else on the Locos’ roster will play, including fullback Bobby Rome, who has been nursing a right calf injury. … A crowd of 12,000 is expected at the Sportsplex, where capacity is 14,000. … Though the game will be televised in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area, it will not be shown in Las Vegas. … While the Locos go for a three-peat today, the UFL will hold a third-place game at the same time with 1-3 Sacramento playing at 1-3 Omaha. The game is being played because the Nighthawks sold approximately 15,000 tickets and didn’t want to have to refund the money to fans.

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

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