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.