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.