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.