Monthly Archives: July 2015

There Is No Calm

There Is No Calm

By Gordon Lienau

Last season in the Arena Football League, the Tampa Bay Storm went (8-10) and lost a gut-wrenching “Win and They Are In” game at home against the Philadelphia Soul which kept them out of the playoffs. With a loss against the Jacksonville Sharks last week that would have helped the Storm’s chances to make the playoffs this year, they are put in quite the predicament.

In order for the Tampa Bay Storm (6-10) to make the playoffs, they need some help. The Storm plays the Los Angeles Kiss at home this Saturdayand the Orlando Predators on the road the week after. They need to win both of these games and have the Cleveland Gladiators drop both games against the Shock and Soul. The Gladiators own the tiebreaker over the Storm for the 4th seed because the Gladiators beat the Storm twice in their three game series this season.

The Cleveland Gladiators (7-9) have a four game losing streak. They play the Spokane Shock, who are on a win streak of two games and the Philadelphia Soul, who have beaten the Gladiators twice this season and look for a clean sweep to close out the regular season. They play both these teams at home but have a (2-5) record this season.

What would seem improbable for the Tampa Bay Storm to take the 4th seed is not impossible.

The Tampa Bay Storm takes on the Los Angeles Kiss on Saturday, August 1st at 7:30PM and division rivals Orlando Predators on Saturday, August 8th at 7PM. Both games can be viewed on ESPN3.

The Tampa Bay Storm with their experience and youth will look to do just that. When looking at the playoff picture, THERE IS NO CALM!

Sharks Defense Takes Step Back, Earns Split against Killer P’s

Sharks Defense Takes Step Back, Earns Split against Killer P’s

By Erik Watkins

Over the last two games, the Jacksonville Sharks (8-7) have been outscored 139-122. In that time, they lost a game they had no business losing, only to win a game they had no business winning just one week later. Nevertheless, they find themselves with a good chance to win the division and still earn a home playoff game.

Against the Portland (4-11), Jacksonville was expected to fly out west and at the very least come out with a win, if not blow the Thunder out of their own arena. Portland, however, had other ideas with former Shark Kyle Rowley leading the charge. The two teams spent the first half going toe to toe, with Portland opening and closing the first half scoring. Special teams was the biggest factor of the first half, with both teams managing a long kick return and recovering their opponents’ onside kick. Finally, both defenses got into the game in the second quarter, starting with Thunder DB Varmah Sonie intercepting Tommy Grady in the end zone, followed by Joe Sykes netting his 14th sack of the season, forcing a fumble that Alvin Ray Jackson recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Following the trade of stops, both kickers missed field goal attempts in an effort to get one last score before halftime (Julian Rauch wide right from 64 yards out for Jacksonville, Zach Ramirez missed from 27 yards out for Portland). At the half, the Thunder looked prime for an upset thanks to a 33-28 lead.

Jacksonville reverted to their early season form in the second half, and that’s what spelled their doom. First, a Joe Hills fumble set up the first Portland score of the third quarter. The Sharks still held on, thanks to Derrick Ross’ second touchdown of the night and a 54-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Going into the fourth quarter, Jacksonville was still down, but only four points at 46-42.

With the game still in reach, the Sharks fell apart. On their first drive of the fourth quarter, Jacksonville committed back-to-back penalties to set up 3rd and 25. Following a Marqui Jackson sack of Tommy Grady, the Sharks couldn’t gain field position on 4th and 32, giving the Thunder a short field and an easy score. On the ensuing kickoff, Greg Reid fumbled, and Portland DB Andre Martin returned it for another score. Jacksonville did manage one last touchdown of their own, but it was too late. Portland scored a franchise record 72 points in the win, and it was the fourth time this season that Jacksonville has allowed at least 63 points on the road.

Just seven days later, Jacksonville returned to the friendly confines to take on a 13-2 Philadelphia Soul team who just locked up the #1 seed in the American Conference, meaning that if these two teams met for a fourth time this season, it would be in Philly.

It was a sense of deja vu for the Sharks, as a solid first drive ended in a Tommy Grady fumble on a quarterback sneak attempt. Soul QB Dan Raudabaugh immediately went to work, finding Ryan McDaniel on an early strike. Consecutive defensive pass interference penalties by Jacksonville set up FB Tommy Taggart’s first score of the night and an early Philadelphia lead.

After the first onside kick attempt of the night hit the wall, Grady shook off the early mistake and found Tiger Jones in the end zone from 17 yards out to tie the game. This would be the theme of the first quarter, as despite a big hit by Terrance Smith and a near interception by Greg Reid, they could only slow down the Soul offense. On the other side, Jacksonville’s offense was firing on all cylinders, as has been the pattern in recent home games.

Both teams held serve, and Dan Raudabaugh became only the 11th man in AFL history to throw 500 touchdown passes, with the milestone going to Ryan McDaniel. This started another trend of the second frame: missed extra points. Tommy Frevert had his first of three consecutive misses, and the lead was only six. The Soul caught a break after Greg Reid fumbled his second kickoff return in as many weeks, and Tommy Taggart punched it in to give Philadelphia a 33-21 lead.

Jacksonville continued to respond, with Joe Hills scoring his third touchdown of the night to trim the lead back to six after a Julian Rauch extra point hit the Christmas in July lights on the upright. The Sharks appeared to get the possession back by recovering the onside kick, but they were offsides, and Raudabaugh scrambled into the end zone two plays later to regain the two score lead.

After London Crawford scored his lone touchdown of the night, the Sharks looked to contain the Soul going into halftime. Despite holding Philadelphia to a field goal attempt that missed wide right, Jacksonville couldn’t capitalize on their untimed down given after the Soul were called for kick catch interference, as a miscommunication between Tommy Grady and Tiger Jones meant a pass went into the wall and both teams went into the locker room with the Soul nursing a slim 39-33 lead.

Both teams continued to trade scores and dramatic moments. First, Philly had a near interception on 1st and 10, only to set up Derrick Ross’ first score of the night. He needed two tries thanks to a failed challenge on 3rd and goal, but he got into the end zone to cut the lead to 46-40. After a failed onside kick led to a quick Soul touchdown by TE Adam Smith, LB Joe Goosby dropped what would’ve been a pick six after Tommy Grady threw it in his chest. Jacksonville would make him pay, as Grady found Tiger Jones for 39 yards on the very next play, the last of the third quarter.

Neither team let up going into the final 15 minutes. Raudabaugh kept adding to his career TD total, finding Ryan McDaniel for the third time of the night, only to be answered by another 39-yard pass from Grady to Jones. With that pass, Tiger Jones broke the franchise single-season record for receiving yards, totalling 1,757 with three games to go. That record-breaking pass started to turn the tide towards Jacksonville. Greg Reid, who wanted to bounce back from his performance both last week and earlier in the game, finally avenged the early stop. He intercepted Dan Raudabaugh and took it 49 yards into the end zone to tie the game. The very next play, he nearly did it again, although this time an illegal block in the back made the celebration a bit premature.

Neither that penalty nor another penalty could stop the Sharks, and Derrick Ross scored again, this time from three yards out, to give Jacksonville their first lead of the game, 67-60, with 3:51 left in the game.

Philadelphia had one last bit of fight, as Dan Raudabaugh found Alex Smith yet again, and with 46 seconds left, the game was tied at 67. The Soul tried one last onside kick to potentially steal the game, but Jacksonville recovered. In an attempt to bleed out the clock, the Sharks turned to the league’s all-time leading rusher, who wanted to get a second bite of the cherry of beating his former team. The man they call Crockpot did a sidestep to the side boards, but he did it a split second too late, as he crossed the goalline. He gave his current team a 74-67 lead, but he also gave his former team 34 seconds, a timeout to work with, and one last chance to claim supremacy.

Jacksonville’s defense, which hadn’t been effective until Greg Reid’s interceptions, went back to their winning form. Terrance Smith laid another hit on Soul WR Marco Thomas, forcing him out of the game for a play. Then Reid broke up a pass intended for Harvey Binford, who earlier in the game collapsed on the team sideline, but was quickly attended to and did not miss any time. Binford came back to convert a crucial 4th and 1 after their last timeout, but the clock kept ticking…ticking…ticking. With no timeouts, Raudabaugh had to scramble to get his team ready for one last play. The referees stood over the ball…and that play never came. Jacksonville got back over .500 with arguably the biggest regular-season win in franchise history.

Tiger Jones was the first to echo a team sentiment after the game. “That was the ultimate team win, fighting through adversity down two scores. We felt like we hurt ourselves last week, and we wanted to come out and concentrate on not doing that.” He noted cutting down the penalties as the major factor of the turnaround.

Joe Hills, who became the second receiver in league history to catch a pass in 50 straight games, also acknowledged the team’s fight after a slow start. “I don’t know where we stand in the playoffs right now, but we figure it one game at a time. It’s always the playoffs for us. We flat out played bad in Portland, but we don’t reflect on it.”

Greg Reid, who attributed his time in the film room in preparation, put both his performance an the team performance in perspective. “We never lost faith in our game plan. It was a great night. I fumbled the ball and gave up a couple of touchdowns, but that’s in the past, and now we focus on Tampa.”

Tommy Grady showed respect for his Soul counterpart after the game, knowing that both he and Raudabaugh have spent more than five years in the league, and when you play against him and Philadelphia, you expect to need to score.

In the two games, Grady needed only four receivers (yes, Moqut Ruffins counts) to complete 48 of 60 passes for 516 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception. Tiger Jones, who had a game-high 148 yards against the Soul, had 206 in the two-game stretch. He was beat only by Joe Hills, who had back-to-back 100 yard games, and totaled 227 yards to go along with his five scores (Tiger only managed three).

On defense, there were sacks (Joe Sykes), interceptions (Greg Reid), and a lot of tackles. Terrance Smith continued his All-Star caliber level of performance, leading the team with 12.5 tackles and and 5 pass breakups.

Next week, the Sharks will be back at Sea Best Field for their third and final matchup against the Tampa Bay Storm. With Orlando on their bye week, a win could mean they travel to the Predators in two weeks’ time with a chance to wrestle the division lead back and clinch a playoff spot. For a team that started 0-4, no one wants to face them if they get a home game in the playoffs.

Sharks End June with Split, Go 2-1

Sharks End June with Split, Go 2-1

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).

After the bye week, Jacksonville took on the Cleveland Gladiators, in what should have been a tricky game with the schedule lined up as it was. However, Jacksonville took all of six and a half minutes to dispel those doubts. WR London Crawford, making his season debut, caught a Tommy Grady pass and ran 31 yards on the first play of the game, then took a pitch to the four-yard line, setting up his first score of the season two plays later.

Cleveland mirrored Jacksonville with a 31-yard catch by Amarri Jackson, but Greg Reid was there in the end zone with his fifth interception of the season, setting up a Tiger Jones touchdown catch and a quick 14-0 lead. The Gladiators finally got on the board thanks to a few Sharks penalties, but Tommy Grady answered Shane Austin’s touchdown run with his third scoring pass of the night, making the score 20-7 at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter wasn’t as kind to Jacksonville. After Alvin Ray Jackson intercepted Austin, Tiger Jones scored his third touchdown of the night, but the defense couldn’t leave the field on fourth down, setting up a touchdown and a tricky position after the Gladiators recovered the onside kick. Fortunately, DB Chris Smith, playing in just his second game of 2015, intercepted Shane Austin at the goalline to give the Sharks one last chance to score before halftime. Jacksonville got to the Cleveland two-yard line before running out of time.

The Gladiators kept making a game of it, with Amarri Jackson scoring to open the third quarter, but Joe Hills also found his way onto the scoresheet, finishing another good Sharks drive and extending the lead to 32-21 (thanks to a missed and blocked extra point). After Amarri Jackson nearly scored on the kickoff return, WR Collin Taylor kept Cleveland in the game with a six-yard scoring catch, putting the score at 32-27 just over halfway through the third quarter.

After that catch, Jacksonville went on a 21-0 run. First, Alvin Ray Jackson picked up a failed onside kick and ran into the end zone. Then, Terrance Smith caught Gladiators QB Shane Austin’s third interception of the night, setting up another Tiger Jones catch behind two defenders and into the end zone. Finally, Chris Smith recovered an Amarri Jackson fumble, ran the ball to the 10-yard line, and TE Moqut Ruffins earned Highlight of the Game honors by bowling over defenders on his way to the end zone.

Cleveland couldn’t come close the rest of the game, despite some good effort. Amarri Jackson scored on a kickoff return, but Derrick Ross answered back quickly thanks to a short field after Joe Hills knocked the onside kick out of bounds. Collin Taylor found the end zone again, but Jacksonville answered back again. First, LaRoche “Action” Jackson got a measure of revenge against his old team, taking another onside kick into the end zone, and Alvin Ray Jackson recovered a fumble to set up Derrick Ross’ second touchdown, the last score of the game, and sealing a 74-41 win in front of the second largest crowd of the season, 10,123.

London Crawford, who led the team with nine catches on the night (101 yards, TD), was glad to finally get on the field in 2015. “Words can’t explain, I’ve been waiting and working the whole offseason and season.” He noted the team has a sense of camaraderie now, and that everyone’s contributing to the team’s success, helping them towards the playoff push.

Alvin Ray Jackson, one of four players with an interception of the night, who also had a game-high 8.5 tackles, noted the team’s sense of urgency going forward. “We had to have a win. Our playoffs start now. Every game counts.” He noted the special teams effort and the need to do better defending, and gave credit to the Sharks’ defensive unit. “The [defensive] line gives us opportunities, and we have ball hogs in the secondary.”

Tiger Jones, who had game-highs in yards (141) and touchdowns (4) on just seven catches, talked about the team’s strategy going into the game. “We watched film and wanted to start fast. We got what they would give, and the defense made stops.” He also said that the bye week helped the team get healthy, and that they wanted to take advantage.

Moqut Ruffins, who scored his third touchdown of the season, knew what he had to do on the big play. “When they called my number, I just had to do my best and make something happen. We tried the same play before the half, but we were stopped.” He also noted that the team really had to listen and gel throughout the season, and the past few weeks have paid off. “We’ve started putting wins together, and we wanna win the division. We’re 7-2 in our last nine [games], and we don’t want to back [into the playoffs]. The early part of the season humbled us.” He also noted that the team, especially the offense, is starting to make more plays, and with London Crawford back, they can see what they can do for the remainder of the season.

Tommy Grady netted Offensive Player of the Game honors for his best game of the season, completing 23 of 26 passes for 286 yards and seven touchdowns. Shane Austin wasn’t as sharp for Cleveland, completing 16 of 25 passes for 211 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions.

Derrick Ross had another signature night, carrying the ball seven times for 38 yards and two scores, bringing him within 15 yards of the fifth best all-time single-season performance, which would give him the top five all time, all in the last five seasons.

On defense, in addition to the interceptions and three different players with two pass breakups, Joe Sykes recorded his 13th sack of the season, putting him within two of tying the all-time record set by James Ruffin last year.

Following the bye, Jacksonville begins their run-in with a visit to Portland to take on the Thunder on Saturday, July 11. Then, the Sharks come back to the friendly confines to face the Philadelphia Soul in the first of two key rubber matches on July 18.

The Best Part of Arena Football

The Best Part of Arena Football

By Sharon Soares

After a long week of family, friends, and Arena Football; I have not had my fill, but am ready for my bed.  We started the week long vacation with a flight from Kansas City to Las Vegas on Friday, June 19th.  The next morning, we awoke and drove to LA for our first ever LA KISS home game.  It was a great surprise to find that an open conference had been called regarding the State of the Team.  The conference was exciting to hear and learn about some of the other things the LA KISS team hopes to have happen over the next year.  If you would like to see the review on it or hear the recording, go to https://aflfanzone.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/state-of-the-team-la-kiss-theyre-staying/ .

The best part about the LA experience was, of course, the game and the players.  LA was playing against the Philadelphia Soul.  We have met a lot of players over the past few years.  From Kansas City Brigade, Kansas City Command, Iowa Barnstormers, and various ArenaBowls, we know players from around the league at all different teams.  With the stability of the Philadelphia Soul’s roster over the last few years, the Soul have members that we have come to know well.  It was great seeing players from our old teams, as well as others we follow, in addition to coaches we have come to know.  Don’t let anyone tell you different, the LA production is great.  It might have been more extravagant last year, but it has a great team to put on the field, caring owners, an outgoing CEO who actually cares about the game and the players, and a production that could rival any veteran team.

This set the stage for what the next week would bring.  LOTS of reunions.

Over the next 24 hours, we traveled back to Vegas and watched the Las Vegas Outlaws take on the San Jose Sabercats.  Once again, many reunions were able to take place and we saw lots of beloved players.  We were able to get updates on their families and how they’re children have grown.  Many of the players we have followed for years now have children that are 4 years old, and some older, that we have watched grow since birth.  I remember making some welcome blankets for these kids when they were born and they are already ready to enter kindergarten.

We were able to visit the home office of the league, briefly.  No one was able to give an interview or give us any comments on what the status of the league or teams were, but we made it known we were around.  We visited the home office of the Outlaws and met some very dedicated and devoted office staff who were doing everything they could to make the team and production a success.  With only two people in the office taking care of all aspects from press passes to game day production, they did a great job making it look easy. The player practice for the Outlaws was open to the public and we took the team up on that opportunity to see how the team worked during practice and the comradery that is developing.

This last weekend was the best of the entire time.  Not only did we have the great reunion time with the players, but we were able to see two great games.  LA KISS only lost by 6 points and were in it to until the very end against Arizona Rattlers.  They don’t give up.  It was great to see them fighting until the end.  The KISS lost, but each game they play, they seem to become a stronger team.  Coaches are working with the players, the players are working with each other, and the leadership of the team help drive the team forward.  They have support from their ownership and the new CEO, Joe Windham.  I can see big things coming around the corner for this team.

The same thing happened in Vegas against Portland.  Down to the wire with only 40 something seconds left and a fumble occurred by Portland giving the Outlaws a final shot at the end zone and a chance to win.  Such excitement came from the crowd as their team was in position to win their first home game since May 4th against the LA KISS.  The players were excited and encouraged the fans to cheer loud throughout the fourth quarter, especially.  The win filled the arena with excitement and gave the team a little encouragement to finish the last part of the season.

So what is the best part of Arena Football?  The fans that you get to meet, reunite with, and become family with.  No, it’s the players that you follow from team to team and no matter what arena they see you show up in, they know they are supported from you just as they would their own family.  The sport itself, watching to the last minute and knowing anything can happen.  Yes to all of the above.  Arena Football is a great sport that can endear to the hearts of many.  Given a chance, it can become your passion, as much as it becomes the players’ passion.  Fans give up time and effort to volunteer to help out teams and to be the support that the players need.  Players give up their time and effort to put on the best show you could hope for.  Ownership and office staff support the fans and the players and make the game as special as it can be each and every week.

The best part of Arena Football is all of it.  Arena Football is a special game and given a chance, can become the game that you just can’t get enough of.