Winning Streak Ends with Fireworks and a Thud in Tampa
by Erik Watkins
After an undefeated May, the Jacksonville Sharks (6-6) suffered their first setback in a tricky June schedule, losing to the Tampa Bay Storm (5-6) 63-56 on Friday night.
This means that Jacksonville will go into their first bye week with a bit of a sour taste in their mouth, and staying in a fight with Orlando for first place in the South division. However, the Sharks will have plenty of time to lick their wounds and prepare for Cleveland at home on June 27th before the July 4th league-wide bye.
The Sharks had a chance to tie the game and force overtime, with the ball on their own four-yard line, 56 seconds left on the clock, and all three timeouts to work with. QB Tommy Grady moved the team down the field, first with a 14-yard pass to Tiger Jones, followed by another six-yard pass to Jones. Jacksonville looked deep, missing Tiger twice to bring up 4th and 4. Needing to make a play, Grady looked for Joe Hills, but Storm DB Alfred Phillips was there in coverage, forcing a third straight incompletion to seal the end to a five-game winning streak, and throwing the South division into chaos.
That drive was just one example of a second half dominated by defense, despite both teams putting up 98 first half points, the second highest total in AFL history. Both teams scored on every possession, save for time running out on Jacksonville at the end of the first half. Tommy Grady was firing on all cylinders, completing 12 of his first 17 passes for 211 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions. Tampa Bay was equally as efficient, bolstered by a Kendrick Ings kickoff return for a touchdown.
Defense then ruled the third quarter, with only three total possessions, and the Sharks took advantage thanks to Chris Smith’s first interception as a Shark, which turned into the first score of the second half as Tommy Grady found Joe Hills in the end zone. After 98 first half points and none whatsoever in the third quarter, Jacksonville cut the deficit to 56-48. Alvin Ray Jackson continued the stout defense, intercepting Jason Boltus on 3rd-and-goal to set up another Grady to Hills touchdown, tying the game after the pair connected again on the two-point conversion.
Julian Rauch attempted the onside kick, but failed, leaving the Storm with a short field. QB Jason Boltus found T.T. Toliver from six-yards out to give Tampa Bay the 63-56 lead, setting up the final minute.
Overall, Tommy Grady had a decent game on offense, completing 26 of 46 passes (only 13 of 29 in the second half) for 351 yards, seven touchdowns, and no interceptions. Joe Hills, who earned
Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Week honors, caught nine passes for 126 yards, and tied a Sharks franchise record with six touchdown catches. Tiger Jones had game highs with 12 catches for 162 yards, while accounting for the other score.
On defense, Greg Reid and Terrance Smith led Jacksonville with five tackles each, and Jerry Turner registered the lone sack. Both Smiths, Terrance and Chris, also notched a pass breakup.
On the other side, Jason Boltus completed 22 of 34 passes for 243 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions. The wealth was spread around a bit, with Julius Gregory (9 catches, 89 yards, 3 TDs), Emery Sammons (7 catches, 69 yards, and a TD), and T.T. Toliver (4 catches, 59 yards, and 2 TDs), all making major contributions on offense; while Al Phillips was the star on defense, with game-highs in tackles (13) and passes defended (6).
Jacksonville will now have two weeks to get back to the drawing board as they prepare for Cleveland, who will be the Sharks’ next host at Sea Best Field on Saturday, June 27. The spotlight will be on both teams, as the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network, with kickoff set for 7 p.m.