Monthly Archives: April 2015

Spokane Gets the Monkey off their Back

Spokane Gets the Monkey off their Back

By Alex Gustafson

The Spokane Shock had their second home game of the season facing the Orlando Predators. Orlando sported a 3-1 record before kickoff, and thoughts were still positive for the Shock faithful heading into the game albeit Spokane being winless in all three attempts this year. As a journalist, this was a very interesting and exciting game to watch and report on. As a fan, holy cow did the Shock need that win.

Carson Coffman came back ready to work. After his injury in the season opener against Arizona, he was ready to take his spot as the starting quarterback. For Orlando, Randy Hippeard wasn’t looking to be outshined as he looked to one up Coffman throughout the contest.

After a shootout of a first half ending 35-35, defense took over for both teams. The 3rd quarter was scored at 14 a piece highlighted by Terrance Taylor recovering a fumble at the Orlando 9 for a touchdown that was originally ruled a safety, then turned into a touchback before Spokane Head Coach Andy Olson threw his challenge flag.

“That felt good. We challenged each other (on defense) to step up and play our best” Said Taylor, who earned the AFL Highlight of the Game award for the play. After a stellar 3rd however, the entire 4th quarter was scoreless. Spokane got to see a rare treat in the form of an overtime game.

The last time the Shock went into extra time was May 11, 2012 when they hosted and defeated New Orleans. Though it was almost three full years since an overtime game for the franchise, the Shock looked ready to finish strong. Orlando started with the ball and drove for 5 minutes as a worn Hippeard found Kendal Thompins for the go-ahead score. The Preadators went for two, but failed as Bernard Morris was denied the endzone. Hippeard would finish with 397 passing yards and 6 touchdowns, winning the award for Offensive Player of the Game.

Coffman took over and after two incompletions, found Mike Washington for the tie. He would finish the game with 289 passing yards and 6 touchdowns as well. Taylor Rowan finished the game off with the extra point.

Defensive Player of the Game James Ruffin had four sacks and three forced fumbles, recovering two of them. “Orlando is a great team, no doubt. But we all stepped up and brought our A game tonight. It felt great.” Ruffin also indicated that there is a bit of friendly bickering between him and Terrance Taylor, and it is all in the spirit of competition. “We want the D to compete. He and I always go for it, I want to do better than him and he wants to do better than me. I think we tied today” he laughed.

Patrick Afif said this was an ugly game, but was very happy for the win. “We finally got the monkey off our back, but it felt like tonight took five years off of my life” he joked. The offensive lineman added “We have a lot of great talent, and it felt like a new season after our bye week. We’re starting to gel and it’s great.”

Andy Olson later commented “We still have a long way to go. We left some opportunities on the field we didn’t capitalize on and had some sloppy plays.” But asking about the revolving door at quarterback, he remarked “I’m happy to have some consistency at QB. The bye helped us as well. We just needed more time and we got it.”

Predators players and coaches obviously weren’t thrilled with the loss, but some showed different spirit than others. Orlando Head Coach Rob Keefe said that while he was happy to be back in Spokane for a homecoming of sorts, he was disappointed with the loss and strives to be better the rest of the stretch. “This is a learning experience. We’ll learn from this and get better because of it.”

Offensive Lineman Ryan Cave was not available for comment, but later posted on his Facebook page “7 turnovers n we loose by a point, yea I say we gave one away…..Live n learn from it n on to the next…”

Searching for available players for interviews, an interesting sentiment came up. Terrance Sanders was last year’s leading return man as well as a top 5 corner for Spokane, winning such accolades as “Playmaker of the Year.” As Sanders left the Shock, a vacancy had to be filled. Enter Ruschard Dodd-Masters. After coaching defensive backs such as Sanders last year, Dodd-Masters decided to put the pads back on and fill the void.

“It’s next man up.” Said Dodd-Masters. “We make plays, and when we get cohesive, it shows. I feel we’re 0-0 going into every week, and we keep this going one game at a time.” When asked about replacing Sanders after his career year, he answered “There is no replacing him. I tip my hat to him, but this year I want to be the best returner in the league. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.”

From the fan perspective, it felt like a great Shock game of old. It may not have been a high scoring affair like other attempts, but the energy and excitement was missed. After a loss from Philadelphia, this game was a great way to get back in the swing of things for Spokane. Many of the players shared the same sentiments that they are finally gelling with each other and the pressure for the first win is finally off them.

Though it’s still early in the season, the next couple of games look to be better contests for the Shock as the next two games are against teams with only one win between them all season. Of course anything can happen in Arena Football, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to Los Angeles making their first ever visit to the Spokane Arena.

The Predators will head home to face the Cleveland Gladiators while Spokane’s next effort finds them back on the road against the New Orleans VooDoo. Both matchups take place May 2nd with start times at 7pm ET in Orlando and 8pm ET in New Orleans. As usual, all games can be seen online on ESPN 3 and the WatchESPN app.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Sharks Fall to San Jose, Drop to 0-4

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Sharks Fall to San Jose, Drop to 0-4

by Erik Watkins

The Jacksonville Sharks (0-4), desperately needing a win to stem the losing tide, made it a competitive game against the visiting San Jose Sabercats (4-0), but collapsed in the 4th quarter of a 68-48 loss on Friday night.

Jacksonville started out well, with FB Derrick Ross scoring on a 3rd down play following a miscommunication between QB Tommy Grady and his receivers. The Sharks defense appeared to step up to the task with a Demarcus Robinson interception, but the pick was called back due to a defensive penalty. The defense stiffened again for three downs, but the Sabercats tied the game on a 4th-and-goal pass from Erik Meyer to Adron Tennell.

San Jose started to open up the game on both sides of the ball, first by intercepting Tommy Grady to set up a score near the end of the first quarter, and then stopping the Sharks on downs to open up the second frame. Down 21-7, Jacksonville came back to life. First, Joe Hills converted a 3rd-and-5 by shaking a defender and sprinting downfield for 20 yards, setting up Derrick Ross’ second touchdown of the night. Then, following a Jimmy Gordon fumble recovery at the two-yard line, Jacksonville marched right down the field. This time, Tiger Jones, coming off a record-setting 239-yard performance last week, made a diving catch over the boards at the San Jose two-yard line, setting up Ross’ third score and tying the game at the one-minute warning.

The Sabercats recovered the onside kick, then proceeded to get one final score before halftime. Jacksonville, who couldn’t get out of their own way, were called for two key penalties on the drive. The first nullified DE Scooter Berry’s first sack in his second stint with the team, and a defensive pass interference call on DB Terrance Smith gave San Jose a first down. While the Sharks held on the first three downs, San Jose, who took advantage of a vulnerable left side of the defense, scored again on 4th down to take a 28-21 lead with just 25 seconds left.

Newly signed kicker Julian Rauch made a 34-yard field goal to close out the half with Jacksonville down 28-24. After a Sabercats score, Derrick Ross made history, becoming the first player in Arena Football League history to score 150 rushing touchdowns, and the deficit was cut to three. However, that was the closest Jacksonville would be for the rest of the night.

The fourth quarter spelled doom for Jacksonville, as the Sharks surrendered a kickoff return for a touchdown, a touchdown on 4th-and-10, and a touchdown following a kickoff where Terrance Smith couldn’t handle the ball.

In the loss, Tommy Grady completed 26 of 39 passes for 324 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions, only his second and third of the season. His counterpart Erik Meyer needed only 19 completions in 30 attempts for 246 yards and eight touchdowns, three going to Reggie Gray (9-80) and four to Adron Tennell (5-65). In all, Jacksonville’s defense allowed 10 touchdowns in 11 drives on the night. For San Jose’s defense, David Hyland had a game-high of his own with 13 tackles to add to his interception. Eric Crocker also picked off Tommy Grady, and Francis Maka notched the only other sack in the game.

Joe Hills was the star of the night at receiver, with game highs in catches (14) and yards (155) to go along with his score. While he admitted that he wasn’t physically 100%, he was committed to fighting through injury. On defense, Jason Holman and Joe Sykes recorded the lone sack to go along with Holman’s forced fumble, and Terrance Smith led the team with four tackles.

Tiger Jones, who caught another seven balls for 109 yards, didn’t imagine that his season would start off 0-4. “No one expects 0-4, but shocked is a strong word. I’m disappointed and motivated.” He focused on the two offensive stops, but did note that the team showed more discipline in only being called for four penalties on the night. “We can’t let our emotions get the best of us. We have to go 1-0, focus on the process, and trust the coaches.” In speaking of his catch that was named the Cutters Catch of the Game, he knew exactly what he had to do. “I thought a double move was possible since [the defensive backs] were playing up. I just had to go up and make the catch, since the first thing on their mind was a knockout.”

Derrick Ross, who had plenty to celebrate individually on the night, instead focused on the team aspects of the winless streak. “I can’t celebrate individual goals. I can’t get too happy when we’re losing as a group. We’re not together right now.” Ross focused on keeping a positive attitude, pushing forward to beat next week’s opponent, Las Vegas. “We can’t have any negative right now.” He also showed surprise in the team’s performance, noting that the defensive backs studied throughout the week and had success on the first three downs. “Fourth down killed us several times. Everyone’s on the same page sometimes, we have to get them there all the time.”

There were a few former Sharks in attendance watching the game from the sidelines, including DBs Micheaux Robinson and LaRoche Jackson. Jackson, who was on Jacksonville’s 2011 championship team before spending time with both Cleveland and Las Vegas, showed his desire and interest to return to the team. “It’s good coming back. The fans showed me a lot of love in my first year, but I understand that the situation was a business decision.” He also implored the fans to stick with the team despite the hard times. “Fans are putting Coach Moss on the hot seat, but he’s not out there catching or throwing balls. You have to look at the players, they have to make plays.”

He noted the overall assembly of the team, and that losses like this are tough. However, he did note one missing attribute. “There are a lot of guys I played with and against [on the team]. We have more talent than we did when we won a championship in 2011, but I don’t see the chemistry. That’s the key.”

In terms of returning to the team and making a run at another title, Jackson didn’t hold back. “I’d love to be a part of that. I’m a fan of the team, and if Coach Moss wants me back, I’ll be back.”

The Sharks will look to avoid going 0-5 when the Las Vegas Outlaws, coached by former Shark QB Aaron Garcia, come to town. Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m. on Friday, April 24, at Veterans Memorial Arena.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat: Special Teams Woes Lead to Another One-Point Loss for Jacksonville

Lather, Rinse, Repeat: Special Teams Woes Lead to Another One-Point Loss for Jacksonville

by Erik Watkins

The Jacksonville Sharks (0-2) were in good position to get their first win of the season at home against the Orlando Predators (1-1).  However, a series of failures in key moments led to another one-point loss, 55-54.

After giving up a touchdown pass with 6:27 left, the Sharks received the ball and marched down the field. After a Joe Hills score was called back, Tiger Jones found the end zone to get Jacksonville within a point. However, at the one-minute warning, Fabrizio Scaccia’s extra point got blocked. When the Predators got the ball back, the Sharks defense started out strong. Defensive lineman James McClinton started the last drive with a near 1st down sack, and Xavier Brewer broke up two passes to force 4th-and-10 from the Orlando two-yard line. The last pass fell incomplete, but LB Pierre Turner was called for illegal defense, Jacksonville’s 14th penalty of the game, and the Predators ran out the clock to end the game.

The main difference between the game in New Orleans and last Friday’s game was the offense started out much better. Jacksonville still had issues on special teams, giving up a big return to start the game. The defensive issues showed up early, as the Sharks couldn’t get off the field on 3rd down, and the Predators got on the board first just over five minutes into the game.

Jacksonville had early offensive issues, including QB Tommy Grady being called for intentional grounding after a near TD pass, but Grady found Joe Hills to get the Sharks on the board and tie the game.

The teams traded scores in the second quarter, but Jacksonville started to generate the same defensive pressure they had on VooDoo QB Adam Kennedy last week. However, while the first three downs were successful, fourth down turned out to be a killer. First, a defensive pass interference on 4th-and-18 led to an Orlando score, and short yardage proved to be ineffective after the first two or three plays, and the Predators scored on three goal-to-go attempts in the second quarter.

Former Sharks QB Bernard Morris, who was traded to the Predators last season, saw time at wide receiver, quarterback, and on kick coverage throughout the half. He was on the field for the Predators failed onside kick, which led to a short field and a touchdown, but Sharks backup QB and holder Lee Chapple couldn’t corral the high snap in time, and had to kneel on the extra point.

On offense, Morris was in short yardage and goalline situations, and ran for three touchdowns, each inside of five yards (his third score came after a failed Sharks onside kick).

Jacksonville finally gained momentum and traction just before halftime, thanks to a Derrick Ross touchdown run, a Joe Sykes sack, and a Tiger Jones touchdown catch to start the second half. However, the penalties, which resulted in a touchdown being called back, and special teams continued to fail Jacksonville, as Fabrizio Scaccia missed another extra point to keep the lead at 40-35 with 12:25 left in the 3rd quarter.

Orlando pulled the momentum right back after Bernard Morris scored his fourth touchdown of the night, and taunted the crowd afterwards. Three incomplete passes and two false start penalties led to a 62-yard field goal attempt, which was promptly blocked. Predators TE Michael Simons, who also got a fair share of plays, scored his first touchdown of the night to extend Orlando’s lead to 48-40 to end the third quarter.

Jacksonville answered with a 10-play drive that took six minutes off the clock at the start of the fourth quarter, and FB Derrick Ross finished the drive with a three-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion to tie the game and set up the furious finish. He ended the night with 10 carries for 41 yards and his two scores.

The postgame mood amongst the Sharks was a little sour, but the team still holds hope as it’s early in the season. As Tiger Jones put it, “We can’t be demoralized. It doesn’t get easy, and we can’t let it snowball.” He noted that there was more energy amongst the team this week, and dismissed the early talk of Jacksonville being picked to make a deep playoff run. Jones had game highs in catches (10), yards (133), and touchdowns (5).

Tommy Grady, who completed 19 of 30 passes for 213 yards and six scores, also noted that it’s important that Jacksonville keep their spirits high. “It doesn’t feel good, and we have to learn to win. We got a lot better this week, but there’s a losing mentality. This is not how we expected to start the season.” He gave credit to his offensive line and team’s timing, and emphasized that Jacksonville stick together as a team.

For Orlando, Randy Hippeard only needed one touchdown pass to win, completing 17 of 31 passes for 214 yards in the process. Brandon Thompkins caught that touchdown, leading Orlando with eight catches and 97 yards.

Bernard Morris had the Ironman performance of the night, registering six carries for 13 yards and four touchdowns on offense, while coming in second for Orlando with 5.5 tackles on defense.

The defense started to step up, registering two sacks, seven passes defended, and three players tallying at least five tackles (Demarcus Robinson, Alvin Ray Jackson, and Terrance Smith, who also registered 79 yards on six kick returns).

It doesn’t get easier for Jacksonville, as they go on the road next Sunday to take on the Philadelphia Soul. Kickoff is set for 4:00 pm, and the game will be streamed live on ESPN 3 and through the WatchESPN app.

Jacksonville Sharks Week 1 Recap – Sharks at New Orleans VooDoo

Jacksonville Sharks Week 1 Recap – Sharks at New Orleans VooDoo

by Erik Watkins

It took a little while to gel, but the Jacksonville Sharks started to show flashes of their potential for the 2015 season. However, it was too little, too late against New Orleans. Jacksonville lost their season opener against the VooDoo, 51-50 on Saturday night.

After 45 minutes of a wild ride, featuring not one, but two three-score comebacks, the Jacksonville Sharks (0-1) found themselves locked up in a 44-44 tie game early in the 4th quarter. Terrance Smith, doing what he does best, made a diving interception inside his own five-yard line and returned the ball to the New Orleans VooDoo (1-0) 14-yard line to give the offense a short field. After new fullback Derrick Ross went around the left side for five yards to score on 4th-and-1, the Sharks had their first lead of the night, 50-44, after a crucial missed extra point by Fabrizio Scaccia.

Jacksonville increased their pressure on VooDoo QB Adam Kennedy as the game went on, and stepped up when it counted when they found themselves needing a goalline stand with five minutes left in the game. The Sharks pushed back for three straight downs, but a bit of New Orleans trickery helped Carlese Franklin dive into the end zone and give his team a 51-50 lead with 2:22 left.

The Sharks worked the clock and were near midfield at the one-minute warning. But, things started to unravel as a sack and false start led to a 3rd-and-14 with 23 seconds left. Two incomplete passes later, and New Orleans wrapped up the upset victory.

The first quarter was an early omen of what can go wrong, as the Sharks were down 20-0 after just over 15 minutes thanks in part to some early, and unfortunately familiar, special teams issues. Sharks QB Tommy Grady’s lone interception on the night, combined with good VooDoo returns and coverage, as well as a long Scaccia missed field goal, resulted in the early deficit.

The offense started to run on all cylinders, and Grady identified his favorite target, WR Joe Hills. Hills, who earned Playmaker of the Week honors, caught touchdowns to finish three straight Jacksonville drives in the second quarter. Despite those efforts, New Orleans was able to answer back, and the Sharks could only trim the lead to 34-21. The margin stayed at 13 after both Fabrizio Scaccia and the VooDoo’s Garrett Lindholm kicked field goals to end the first half.

The Sharks started strong in the second half, needing only two plays to get inside the red zone, and Derrick Ross finished the job with his first touchdown in a Jacksonville uniform, but a missed Scaccia extra point kept the lead at 7. The offensive momentum turned into defense, as Terrance Smith recovered a New Orleans fumble, and Joe Hills found the end zone for a fourth time to tie the game at 37. Hills scored his fifth and final touchdown of the night to start the fourth quarter, and the game was tied again at 44.

Tommy Grady, who started slow at first, recovered to complete 28 of 43 passes for 296 yards, the five scores to Joe Hills (who himself finished with 11 catches for 90 yards on the night), and the one interception that became a pick-six. Jeron Harvey made his presence known, catching six passes for 72 yards. Anthony “Tiger” Jones and Derrick Ross, stars and teammates for the Philadelphia Soul, showed Jacksonville their talents early and often. Jones caught 10 passes for a game-high 124 yards; while Ross, the AFL’s all-time leading rusher, started his season with seven carries for 40 yards and his two scores.

Terrance Smith was a force on defense and special teams, tallying a fumble recovery, an interception, and 160 kick return yards. Alvin Ray Jackson and James McClinton powered the front five, Jackson led the team with 6.5 total tackles, while McClinton got Jacksonville’s only sack on the night.

Adam Kennedy, despite taking a few hits, went 19-for-25 for 222 yards and four touchdowns, also notching an interception. On defense, Cortez Stubbs had a game-high 7.5 total tackles to add to his pick-six.

Next up, the 0-1 archrival Orlando Predators. Jacksonville faces them to open their Veterans Memorial Arena schedule on Friday, April 3. Kickoff at Sea Best field is set for 8:00, and the game will be streamed live through ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app.