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Late PAT miss dooms Knight Hawks in home loss to Strike Force

The Vegas Knight Hawks walked into The Dollar Loan Center on Saturday night with a chance to improve to 2-1 but fell in a heartbreaking loss to the San Diego Strike Force.

Vegas struggled offensively without head coach Mike Davis and starting quarterback Daquan Neal but despite a last-second touchdown to give them a chance to tie the game, kicker Stevie Artigue missed the ensuing PAT allowing San Diego to escape the Dollar Loan Center with a 37-36 victory.

The Knight Hawks will have a chance to bounce back from home, with their next game coming on April 21 at The Dollar Loan Center against the Duke City Gladiators. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

The first quarter was disjointed for both offenses, who struggled to find any rhythm. For the Knight Hawks, it began with an interception by quarterback Joe Mancuso on the game’s opening drive. After the teams traded field goals on consecutive drives, neither would score for the rest of the quarter.

Both defenses were stingy near the goal lines, bending but not breaking. This was especially true for Vegas, who twice allowed chunk plays to let San Diego inside the 10-yard line, but stood tall and forced field goal attempts on each possession.

The second quarter began the same way for Mancuso, who threw his second interception as the Knight Hawks were knocking on the door to the end zone.

The Knight Hawks’ defense did its part shortly after, and Mancuso made up for his error with a deep pass and a rushing touchdown on the next drive to give Vegas a 10-3 lead.

“We even could have made some better stops in the first half,” Knight Hawks linebacker Gabe McCoy said. “We played Knight Hawk football.”

Not to be outdone, San Diego quarterback Aaron Aiken connected with Carlos Thompson on a 40-yard touchdown just two plays into the ensuing drive, knotting the two teams back up at 10.

Though it looked like the offense had opened up, the big plays turned out to be one-offs, as each defense recovered from its mistakes. After another Knight Hawks field goal off the foot of Artigue, Vegas went into the half up 13-10.

The Strike Force switched things up on the opening drive of the second half, rolling with Demry Croft at QB after Aiken played the majority of the first half.

It immediately paid dividends, as he bowled his way over several Vegas defenders on the half’s opening drive for a spectacular rushing touchdown. A VKH fumble on the ensuing kickoff allowed San Diego to extend the lead further to 20-13 after a field goal.

The Knight Hawks gathered themselves, however, as Davonte Sapp-Lynch and Caleb Holley scored on back-to-back possessions to help Vegas roar back into the lead 27-20 by the end of the third quarter.

The game of runs continued though in the fourth quarter. After San Diego capped off 10 unanswered points with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Aiken to Thompson again, the Knight Hawks made another field goal to tie the game at 30 to set the stage for a spectacular finish.

One drive remained for each team, and each took advantage. A Strike Force rushing touchdown put the Knight Hawks in a seven-point hole ahead of their final drive, but Mancuso answered with his best drive of the game.

On a fourth and goal, he delivered a dime to Holley to cut the lead to one point. All that remained was the extra point, but Artigue, who had made two field goals, missed wide left allowing San Diego to escape with a narrow 37-36 victory.

“We showed resilience, but we have to win in that circumstance,” assistant head coach Kyle Moore-Brown said. “Disappointing but we’ve got to bounce back. We have a bye week so we can bounce back from this.”

Despite the absence of their head coach, Brown knew they had the tools to get the victory.

“There’s no excuse, we had a great game plan going in, we’ve got to execute. So, collectively we came up short.”

Mancuso finished 11-for-25 for 127 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in his first start of the season, in addition to his rushing score.

Holley hauled in two touchdowns while Sapp-Lynch ran for one of his own. Sapp-Lynch also added 78 yards of kick return yardage, with a return touchdown called back for a holding penalty.

The Strike Force offense worked mostly in big plays throughout the game. Wide receiver Carlos Thompson was the star, with 84 receiving yards and two scores on his two 40-plus-yard receptions.

While Artigue missed two field goals and an extra point, San Diego’s Aedan Johnson struggled as well. Though he was perfect on extra points, he missed four field goals during the game.

Neither team played up to their true potential, but the Strike Force made the plays when needed and gutted out a big win on the road for their first win of the season. Their six points off turnovers ended up being the difference in the game, leaving Vegas with things to correct before their matchup with Duke City in two weeks.

Even though this loss will leave a bad taste in their mouths, McCoy knows that this team is capable of winning on any day, though they’ll need better starts in order to play with a lead more often.

“One of the biggest things we preach is effort, McCoy said. “Last week we came back from 29-7. And this week we were able to keep fighting. We shouldn’t be in those predicaments in the first place.”

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