Sharks Finish One Half Short of a Title
By Erik Watkins
For the Jacksonville Sharks, the 2015 season has several ways to be remembered by. The promise, the hype, the People’s Elbow, you name it. However, now that a full week has passed and sights turn toward next year, there’s one thing that these Sharks will remember above anything else: The Snowball.
To go along with famous football moments: The Drive, The Catch, and The Fumble. Jacksonville added their own piece of infamy in their 68-47 loss to the San Jose SaberCats in ArenaBowl XXVIII, the Snowball, where they had the worst quarter of any team in ArenaBowl history, being outscored 28-0 as part of a 34-0 run, also one of the biggest ever.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the red and black, as the first half went back and forth. The Sharks got the ball first, and QB Tommy Grady opened the scoring finding guess who? Joe Hills, whose 23-yard scoring catch put his streak one game closer to 60. San Jose quickly volleyed back thanks to QB Erik Meyer finding WR Reggie Gray, but the Sharks led 7-6 after a Nich Pertuit missed extra point. Jacksonville held on to that lead until Julian Rauch’s third extra point kick of the game was blocked, cutting the lead to 20-13. The teams kept on serve, but another Rauch miss kept the lead at 33-27 with 15 seconds left. The SaberCats had one more chance to tie or take the lead, but DB Greg Reid continued his magical season by snagging an interception as time expired.
Then, Jacksonville went from flying high to hitting rock bottom. San Jose started first with Erik Meyer throwing a 26-yard pass to DJ Stephens to take a one-point lead. On the Sharks’ first drive of the half, an old familiar foe made its debut: penalties. Two holding penalties and a false start turned a 3rd-and-10 to 3rd-and-29, and the ensuing pass fell right through the fingertips of Michael Lindsey. On the very next play, Tommy Grady’s pass was batted at the line and into the hands of San Jose DB David Hyland, who ran 10 yards to the end zone to extend the lead to eight.
Kicker Nich Pertuit continued the misery by kicking the ball skillfully off the iron, and Hyland was Johnny on the spot to catch and run into the end zone, this time from only five yards out. The Sharks offense had some life left in it, as TE Moqut Ruffins took the ball inside the red zone, but the SaberCats got a stand and forced a turnover on downs. From there, Erik Meyer took matters into his own hands, and shook off two Jacksonville defenders during a 17-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 61-33.
The fourth quarter saw the touchdowns traded again, but it was too little, too late. Terrance Smith, playing offense due to an early London Crawford injury, had two touchdown catches to finish the game, but San Jose recovered both onside kicks. When SaberCats FB Odie Armstrong ran out the clock, the celebration was on.
To Jacksonville’s credit, they fought through injuries that forced both Smith and DB Micheaux Robinson into the game in the second half. Tommy Grady had a good game, completing 22 of 36 passes for 310 yards, seven touchdowns, and the one interception. Joe Hills tied a game high with nine catches, and had game highs by himself in yards (133) and touchdowns (4). Aside from Terrance Smith’s two scores on only four catches for 53 yards, Tiger Jones made the only other scoring catch when he reached over the wall late in the first quarter.
One name conspicuously absent was Derrick Ross. He started his playoff run with a strong, nine-carry, 19-yard day against Orlando, where he scored twice. Then, Philadelphia limited him to just eight yards on only three carries in a game where he had more penalties called than meaningful running plays. In the ArenaBowl, it was the same story. He finished his playoffs with a seven-carry, 13-yard day against San Jose, leaving a tough decision to make going into 2016.
For San Jose, Erik Meyer only needed 17 completions in 29 attempts in the victory, totalling 204 yards, four scores, and his lone interception, on top of three carries for 26 yards and two scores. Nathan Stanley also threw a six-yard touchdown pass in mop-up duty, and Odie Armstrong found the end zone on the ground. On defense, Hall of Famer Clevan Thomas had a game-high 7.5 tackles, while David Hyland had 4.5 tackles to go along with his two scores.
The Sharks will have a lot to look back on going into next season. They had a rough road, but did play for a championship. Now comes the time of sorting contracts and seeing who will stay to defend the American Conference title. If they can learn from how to bond and handle the pressure of being favorites in 2015, then they can easily handle what’s coming in 2016.