Sharks Get Revenge, Take First Place from Orlando
by Erik Watkins
The Jacksonville Sharks (6-5) needed to rebound from their near loss to LA last week, and they did in style, scoring 50 points in the second half against the Orlando Predators (6-5) to notch a 66-51 win and even the season series at a game apiece, snapping a four-game losing streak to their in-state rivals in the process, and sending the largest home crowd of the season (10,127) home happy.
The first half wasn’t too kind to Jacksonville, as Orlando struck early for the first score of the game, and the Sharks turned the ball over on downs to start the night. Tiger Jones finally found the end zone with four minutes left in the first quarter, and the defense started to get on track despite the early hostilities between the teams. Early on, Predators QB Bernard Morris had issues figuring out Jacksonville’s coverage, but he still found Larry Brackins wide open behind the defense to give Orlando the 14-7 lead.
The second quarter was filled with both penalties and big plays. First, a Tiger Jones catch and run to midfield was called back on holding. Then, after Predators DB Rod Issac intercepted Tommy Grady’s throw into double coverage, Brandon Thompkins had a score called back on holding himself. Jacksonville’s defense held at the goal line, and a Mark Lewis field goal pushed the lead to 17-7. Jacksonville marched on despite an early sack, and FB Derrick Ross got on to the scoresheet and cut the lead to 17-13 after Julian Rauch missed the extra point.
The big plays kept coming, as Larry Brackins scored just one play later to again push the lead to ten. The onside kick went out of bounds, but Jacksonville had nothing to show for it due to Orlando DB Rod Issac breaking up a touchdown pass and Julian Rauch missed a 31-yard field goal wide right. Sharks DB LaRoche Jackson gave his team another chance with an interception, but due to a missed call by the referees on a Joe Hills catch over the boards being ruled incomplete, Rauch had a chance for redemption, and cashed in from 18 yards out to make the score 23-16 at halftime.
Jacksonville started the second half on fire, with LaRoche Jackson netting a long kick return and Derrick Ross scoring his second TD of the night to pull the Sharks within a point. After Larry Brackins scored again for Orlando, Jacksonville went on another one of their scoring runs that has defined this win streak. First, Jeron Harvey caught a Tommy Grady pass in the end zone to cut the deficit back to a point at 30-29. Then, Jackson forced a Predators fumble which Greg Reid recovered to set up a Tiger Jones touchdown, giving the Sharks their first lead of the night at 36-30. Finally, DE Joe Sykes added another sack to his league-leading total (11), stripping Bernard Morris of the football. Jerry Turner recovered, and Joe Hills scored on the next play to extend the lead to 43-30 to close out the third quarter.
The Predators didn’t give up the fight, scoring to start the fourth quarter, but the best they could do was trade scores with Jacksonville. Finally, Joe Sykes sealed the deal, stripping Morris again on his 12th sack of the season, and he made the tackle in the end zone for a safety, putting the game away at 59-44. Derrick Ross completed his hat trick in the final minute, but Orlando managed one last touchdown and some extracurricular activities before the game was through.
Tommy Grady had a solid night under center, completing 26 of 36 passes for 275 yards, throwing six touchdowns and two interceptions. On the other side, former Shark Bernard Morris completed 19 of 32 passes for 292 yards, also throwing six touchdowns against one interception. Morris also ran twice for 15 yards.
Tiger Jones, who had game highs in catches (10), yards (136), touchdowns (3), and highlights (falling down while catching a 27-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter), felt great after the game. “We continue to roll, and we’re fighting with our backs against the wall.” He gave credit to the defense, and noted that the team would stick to their process of prep and film review as Tampa looms next week.
Derrick Ross, who rewrites the AFL record books every week, had another stellar performance with 15 carries for 32 yards and three touchdowns. He noted how the team chemistry has evolved through the course of the season. “We feel good, all the selfishness is out the window. We didn’t know each other at the beginning. Everyone was trying to give their own input, and our mentalities had to mesh. It’s amazing from where we started.” He also notes sticking to the process is important, but also mentioned that the two byes in the next four weeks would be good for the team.
The whole defense was the star of the night, with at least two different players registering five tackles (three), a pass breakup (three, two with two), a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a sack. This is the defense that Sharks fans are used to seeing, and will need it against a tough Tampa Bay Storm team next Friday night, and again against Cleveland in three weeks. Jacksonville is finally a team to be reckoned with, and the rest of the American Conference is now on notice.