Category Archives: Jacksonville Sharks

AFL Outsiders by AFL FanZone Power Rankings Week 03

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Week three was a mixed bag with two close games and two blow outs. Arizona was 33 point favorites going into their home opener and won by 33, Philly made sure Portland didn’t have a similar performance this week that they had against Orlando. Overall it was a typical week in the Arena Football League which was nice to see. Here are your AFL Fan Zone Week 3 Power Rankings:

  1. Arizona Rattlers (3-0) (Last Week 1, Change –)

The Rattlers remain far and away the best team in the AFL. Nick Davila continues to play some of the best ball of his career while no one seems to be able to stop Rod Windsor. Windsor hauled in four touchdowns for the third week in a row. When a team like Arizona just walks through its competition seemingly untested, almost like a glorified skeleton drill, you start to wonder if there are any weaknesses or flaws on this team. On the field it’s very tough to find any, but if you look at point differential in the first three week’s you start to notice a trend. Arizona won by 52 Week 1, 41 Week 2, and now 33 in Week 3. I’m not saying Arizona is destined to lose, but I am saying that teams may have been able to find something on film to exploit to slow down the Rattlers (as microscopic as it seems on the scoreboard). We will find out this week when the Rattlers travel out East to take on the 1-2 Jacksonville Sharks and their high octane offense.

  1. Orlando Predators (3-0) (Last Week 3, Change +1)

If there was a team in the league that frustrates you the most, it’s the Orlando Predators. After laying an egg in Week 2 against Portland by allowing the Steel to travel cross country to the Amway Center and nearly steal a game in the 4th, Orlando turns right around and takes it to Jacksonville on Monday night at Sea Best Field. The Predators even found themselves in a little bit of adversity going down 34-21 late in the 2nd Quarter. After scoring in the final seconds of the 1st half, Orlando took that momentum into the locker room and came out firing in the second half on their way to a last second victory. At 3-0, Orlando looks to be the most able to deal with adversity and possibly the only team to challenge Arizona. Coach Keefe’s main goal in practice this week is to preach consistency and intensity. They can’t continue to play to their competition. If they can play more consistent we won’t be seeing them in these tight 2nd half ballgames. Week 4 at home against Los Angeles will be our focus as Game of the Week.

  1. Los Angeles KISS (2-1) (Last Week 4, Change +1)

Los Angeles found out where they were among the elite Week 2 when Arizona came to town and dominated the second half in route to a 69-28 pounding. Week 3 saw the KISS go to Cleveland for their first away game of the season. Even though they needed an interception by Fred Obi late in the 4th quarter, I thought LA proved Week 2 was an anomaly. For the second time this season, LA forced the opposing QB into mistakes in the 2nd half. After throwing an early pick six, Cleveland QB Dennis Havrilla settled into the game and was playing well up until the 4th quarter. Midway through the final quarter, Havrilla clearly fumbled on a QB scramble, but Cleveland was sent a gift by the football gods in the tune of an inadvertent whistle. Then when the game was on the line with Cleveland only down five, Havrilla stared down his receiver which gave Obi the chance for the interception to seal the game late. Los Angeles is clearly a better team than they were the last couple years, but they are going to need their best effort of the season if they want to come out of Orlando with a victory in Week 4.

  1. Philadelphia Soul (2-1) (Last Week 5, Change +1)

In the preseason, I had Philadelphia as my Arena Bowl 29 champions over the Arizona Rattlers. I think Arizona has proven that outside of an injury or fluke game, they will be hosting the title game this year. On the other side of that prediction, the Soul are too up and down to really predict. They go into Cleveland Wk1 and smack around the Gladiators only to return home and get embarrassed by the Jacksonville Sharks in a game that even Luke Collis took some snaps it was so ugly. Then you look at Week 3 and you have a team in Portland who took Orlando to the brink in Week 2 and the game was over by halftime. QB Dan Raudabaugh finally looked comfortable for the first time this season over the course of an entire game and this game might have been the one that will get Philly back to their winning ways. On Saturday they welcome Cleveland to town and if the Soul can show some kind of consistency, look for a repeat performance of Week 1 when Philadelphia confused QB Chris Dieker on their way to a blowout victory.

  1. Jacksonville sharks (1-2) (Last Week 2, Change -3)

No team has moved up and down this list as much as Jacksonville has. For the amount of talent they possess on both sides of the ball, there is no reason they should struggle late in games they way they have in their two losses. Just like in Week 1, a late first half touchdown by the other team seemed to deflate the team at halftime. Of course, there is plenty of time for the Sharks to right the ship. If you look back to last year, remember it took until Week 5 for the Sharks to find the win column. They just need to settle down, stop out thinking themselves, and work on some time management strategy. Les Moss is one heck of a coach, so don’t worry Sharks fans, Jacksonville will be there at the end when the playoffs roll around. I’d be very surprised if they knocked off Arizona this weekend, but I expect them to at least compete and give the Rattlers their toughest test to date. They have the offense to get the job done, they just don’t have the mental toughness to withstand adversity right now.

  1. Cleveland Gladiators (1-2) (Last Week 6, Change –)

The good news for Cleveland is they seem to have found a quarterback they can trust this season. I know it has only been two games, but Havrilla is still young and has plenty of room to develop. They have the WR core and the talent on defense to compete, the Gladiators just haven’t been able to put it all together for an entire game yet. They got Joe Phinisee back last week, but then had to face All Arena WR Donovan Morgan without rising superstar Joe Powell. Of all the teams in the lower group, Cleveland looks to be the most poised to break through. Outside of one half vs Philly, Cleveland has gone toe to toe with two top four teams. The Gladiators pack their bags and hit the road for the first time in 2016 as they head East in a rematch with the Soul in Week 4.

  1. Portland Steel (0-3) (Last Week 7, Change –)

If the league hopes to market Portland to the owner of the Trailblazers, then they can’t be happy with the effort they saw in Week 3. After going down to Orlando and pushing an undefeated team to the edge, they laid an absolute stinker of a game against the Soul. A game in which Coach James saw his team down 42-6 at halftime. Danny Southwick isn’t the answer for the Steel, but even a great QB like Davila would struggle behind Portland’s offensive line. Southwick was punished yet again this week which now seems to be a weekly occurrence, the main reason they see themselves at 0-3. Losing how they did in Orlando seemed to still be in the back of the heads of the players, but they need to head into the bye week this week and erase the first three weeks. They come back to action Week 5 against Arizona and if they hope to compete, they are going to need to forget this loss and move on.

  1. Tampa Bay Storm (0-3) (Last Week 8, Change –)

I tend to see football a lot differently than most people do. I say this because I saw an article posted this weekend that mentioned Tampa Bay looking lifeless, almost as if they didn’t want to be in Arizona. I must have been watching a different game. Did Tampa Bay get run off the field, sure, but let’s be honest here, the level of talent on both rosters isn’t even comparable. Tampa Bay’s best WR is on Injured Reserve, TT Toliver is clearly showing his age, and Philip Barnett and V’Keon Lacey are both good receivers, but neither is a number one Jason Boltus returned three days before kickoff and was thrown right into the mix because the team would rather that than throw out Jonathan Bane again. But what I saw, was a team who clearly looked out-matched that continued to fight and push Arizona to their lowest margin of victory of the season. With Boltus back at the helm, I think Tampa Bay is going to climb out of the cellar at some point in the season. Are they going to be contenders at the end of the season, not a chance, but they will get better than this. They weren’t given any favors from the schedule makers either as they welcome Jacksonville to the Amalie Arena when they return from the bye week in Week 5.

 

Biggest Jump – Predators, KISS, Soul  – +3

Farthest Drop – Jacksonville Sharks – -3

Week 1 Power Rankings

Week 2 Power Rankings

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Sharks in the Water: 2015 in Review

Sharks in the Water: 2015 in Review

by Erik Watkins

The Jacksonville Sharks started 2015 by assembling the greatest team on paper that the Arena Football League has ever seen: 13 All-Arena players, a veteran QB with more than 500 TD passes to his credit, the greatest fullback in league history, and two star wide receivers, just to name a few. They ended the season by running into the greatest team on the field that the league has ever seen, but losing to a team earning their record-breaking 20th victory of the season is nothing to be ashamed of, even though it took some crazy roads to get there.

If you look back on my season preview, I had the Sharks winning somewhere between 8 and 14 games. They almost landed exactly in the middle by winning 10 for the second time in three years, marking their fifth winning season in the six-year franchise history. But, for a team that was picked by many to win it all, the first few weeks of the season cast nothing but doubt.

To a man, the team said that they had to build chemistry. They had great individual talent, but all of that was achieved with other teams. They had to get timing, cohesion, and all sorts of things that help build a winning team.

The season started against New Orleans, in what would be the last season in franchise history. In an early sign of what could go wrong, the VooDoo scored three touchdowns before the Sharks even blinked. In an early sign of what could go right, Jacksonville rallied to tie the game halfway through the third quarter, but a fourth down incomplete pass sent the team to 0-1. Orlando provided another tough test, but this time Jacksonville was more up to the challenge. The end result was still the same, as a blocked Fabrizio Scaccia missed extra point dropped the team to 0-2.

After the first meeting with San Jose left the Sharks at 0-4, the calls rang loud for head coach Les Moss’ head. The team was one of only two winless teams in the league, Orlando had clear control of the South division, and nothing was going well consistently on the field. Finally, Jacksonville got the cure for all of their ails: the Las Vegas Outlaws. In their only season, they struggled as modern expansion teams do, and against a team that has a tremendous amount of talent at home looking for their first win, it spelled trouble. Vegas was competitive for nearly a half, but Jacksonville put their foot on the gas and scored four consecutive touchdowns, then another three in a row on their way to a 60-28 win.

While times were turning, there was only one thing on Coach Moss’ mind: “We’re 1-4.”

Week 6 provided the last bit of humiliation for some time, as Tampa Bay gave their home fans something to cheer about with a 63-28 win in which Jacksonville looked discombobulated. Couldn’t throw, couldn’t defend, and another 21-0 run gave the Storm a field day.

That game could’ve easily shut down the 2015 season for Jacksonville, but instead, they opted to really show the league what they were about. After the loss to the Storm, they went on their Run of Revenge. Starting with their first road win against Cleveland, the Sharks won five in a row, including beating Orlando, Philadelphia, and New Orleans to tie all three season series. At 6-5, Jacksonville was a first place team and opening pundits’ eyes league-wide. They had arrived.

Still, things weren’t perfect. Going back to Tampa Bay, the Sharks had a chance to extend the winning streak, show a national TV audience who they really were, and prove to everyone that they were the team to beat come ArenaBowl time. However, what they did show was the one thing missing: a finishing touch when they need one. The Sharks had a chance to close out a wild first half tied at 49, but instead couldn’t complete a drive and let Tampa Bay take a two-score lead into the locker room. They had another chance to force overtime, but couldn’t complete the clutch passes and instead give the season series to the Storm and headed back home 6-6.

With the South division now ultra competitive, Jacksonville knew they were in a dogfight, and that loss hurt twice as much, especially because they had a bye week to sit and let it fester. It did give some motivation, as Cleveland found themselves victim to a re-energized Sharks team that beat them 74-41.

Jacksonville shouldn’t have needed another kick to help them into the playoffs, but they got one anyways. After the league-wide 4th of July bye, they headed west to take on the Portland Thunder. Former Sharks QB Kyle Rowley had something to prove against his old team, and the team had something to show the league: yes, we’re still new, but we’ve got indoor snow, teddy bears, and a team that can compete with anyone.

Jacksonville laid arguably their worst egg of the season, losing by 24. At 7-7, they were back where they started, with Orlando on top and almost on the outside looking in on the playoff race. With the 13-2 Soul coming into town, things were looking grim. But Jacksonville remembered…they were one of the two.

Both teams came out swinging, and the Soul got a couple extra good punches in early on. Philadelphia first claimed a two-score lead late in the second quarter, and used it to keep Jacksonville at arm’s reach for most of the game. However, a newly found, not-so-secret weapon emerged in Greg Reid. The former Florida State DB intercepted 2015 MVP Dan Raudabaugh and ran 49 yards to tie the game, and nearly did it again a few plays later to give Jacksonville the lead. The Soul had a few seconds left to drive and tie the game, but the clock ran out and the Sharks found themselves back on track.

With that momentum, Jacksonville gave Tampa Bay the last word in their lone visit to the Shark Tank. Thanks to a touchdown celebration by WR Tiger Jones, the Sharks earned respect from the league, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and a new nickname: The People’s Team. They left that night 63-16 winners, playoff bound, and with a chance to take back the South from Orlando.

With the division title on the line, Jacksonville had one last chance to step up and give themselves an easy road to a title. However, the early-season demons resurfaced. Bad penalties, turnovers, and not keeping that killer instinct doomed them. For all the good the 17-0 lead did, the Predators scored 16 unanswered as part of a 30-7 to win the game and own the South.

In an unimpressive effort against a team that gave away almost everything they owned a week earlier, Jacksonville played out the string against a three-win New Orleans team. Trailing 33-21, Lee Chapple got to show the world what he could do, engineering a comeback win. At 10-8, there was only one thing on the Sharks’ mind: winning.

Like the last meeting, the Sharks built a lead. Unlike the last time, Orlando clawed back in early, trailing 21-14 with less than a minute left in the first half. However, the defense turned on a switch they didn’t quite have fixed before, and dominated the rest of the way. They helped Jacksonville score the last two touchdowns of the first half, and the first three of the fourth quarter en route to a 55-33 win, setting up a third American Conference Championship matchup in four years against Philadelphia. While there was a renewed sense of hope, it was something of a Pyrrhic victory, as DE Joe Sykes, who broke his own record with 18.5 sacks on the season, broke his leg, ending his season.

In another game of deja vu, both teams went back and forth all over again. This time, though, it was Jacksonville’s turn to play keepaway with the score. The teams traded TD for TD and stop for stop, and the Sharks did their job to hold on. Despite a little mismanagement on their last offensive possession, LaRoche Jackson made sure the team got over the hump, ended the Soul mystique, and made it to the ArenaBowl. Les Moss, sitting up in the box due to an injury suffered prior to Week 7, released all of his emotions and found himself in tears as the horn sounded.

Jacksonville, after another tumultuous, drama-filled season, ended on something of a high note. There were plenty of records and milestones: Tommy Grady joining the 600 TD club, Tiger Jones leading the league in receiving yards and netting his fourth 2,000 yard campaign in five years, Derrick Ross completing the list of top five rushing seasons in league history, Joe Sykes with his record sack total, you name it. There were also awards: Joe Sykes as Defensive Player of the Year and seven All-Arena players (Sykes, Hills, Ross, Jones, Moqut Ruffins, Reid, and Alvin Ray Jackson).

However, the 2016 season motto has already written itself: Swim for a Ring.

In speaking with many fans (one of them a senior citizen who holds a special place in my heart) and other writers, and covering the team throughout this year, the one thing missing was mental toughness. Jacksonville allowed too many long scoring runs just by getting in their own way and inside their own heads. When things went right, you saw world beaters. When things went wrong, you saw a team that could easily go 0-18. If they can stick together and capitalize on adverse moments as well opponents’ mistakes, they will be the ones holding the James F. Foster trophy as the 29th champions of the Arena Football League.

Sharks Finish One Half Short of a Title

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.

Sharks Reach ArenaBowl in Dramatic Style

Sharks Reach ArenaBowl in Dramatic Style

by Erik Watkins

The Jacksonville Sharks (12-8) have never really made it easy on themselves this season. They were a team that came in with 13 All-Arena players, and seven came away with honors this year. The pundits touted their talent and punched their tickets to the title game long before toe hit leather. While the 0-4 start had heads shaking league wide, the end result proved them right and made history in the process. Yes, the Jacksonville Sharks became the first team to start 0-3, let alone 0-4, to make the ArenaBowl. How they got there will be talked about for ages, right after a certain call that probably should have been a fumble…

Jacksonville put themselves on the AFL map right away, winning the South division title in their rookie season in 2010. They immediately printed t-shirts and made signs saying “We own the South.” The Orlando Predators reminded them the order of things with a 73-69 upset at Veterans Memorial Arena. Fast forward five years, and the shoe was on the other foot. Orlando, coming off of their second straight division title, brought back the red and black slogan and wore it with pride. The Sharks, however, remembered what happened before, and sought to make it happen again.

The offense was comfortable in the first quarter. When I say comfortable, I mean extremely comfortable. Tommy Grady completed his first 13 passes of the game, a streak that spanned more than a quarter and led to two scoring drives, including Grady’s first touchdown run in nearly two full years. The defense matched the intensity and tone of the game, as the first defensive possession ended with a Terrance Smith hit on Larry Brackins on 4th-and-goal to finish a stand. In fact, the only hiccup came when London Crawford fumbled on a 20-yard catch and run to give the Predators the ball. The defense saved the day when DE Moqut Ruffins (one of the aforementioned seven All-Arena players) recovered a Michael Simons fumble. Grady found Joe Hills in the end zone to extend both the touchdown streak and the lead.

To Orlando’s credit, they did get going as the first half wore on, and started matching Jacksonville with touchdowns of their own. However, when the Sharks defense starts swarming, you’ll get bit. Randy Hippeard, who set a record for completion percentage in a season, found that out the hard way after Alvin Ray Jackson intercepted him to set up one last touchdown and a 35-14 halftime lead.

The Predators still had a little fight in them, starting the second half with a ten-play, near seven-minute scoring drive and a fourth-down stop that led to another score. The hope didn’t last long, as the Sharks struck quickly to start the fourth quarter and extend the lead to 42-27. When Greg Reid caught a Randy Hippeard pass off the top of the wall (a call made after a successful Jacksonville challenge), the game was effectively over. A Derrick Ross TD run, then a stop, then another Ross TD run made it 55-27 with five minutes left, and an Orlando cosmetic touchdown was the only action the rest of the way. Jacksonville came out of the Jungle alive and on to Philadelphia. While the Sharks as a team left the arena and headed back on the bus to prepare for Philadelphia, the fans left a sign of their own as a bit of justice and as a reminder of what transpired: Straight Outta the Playoffs.

Fresh off that win, Jacksonville found themselves on the road taking on the Soul one week later. There, they faced a different bit of history. The last time Jacksonville went to face Philadelphia in the American Conference title game, they were 11-8, the Soul were 16-3, and the game ended with the worst loss in Sharks franchise history (34-89). This time, the Sharks were 11-8, the Soul were 16-3, and Jacksonville didn’t want history to repeat itself. Sometimes, determination can work wonders…


As a note, these two teams met three times in the regular season. In the lone game at the Wells Fargo Center, the Soul won by 11. The other two meetings in Jacksonville were decided by a single score, and the Sharks took both. Those signs of improvement led to just an inkling of hope for the red and black. In football, when you combine hope and determination, you’re likely to get a champion. Keep that in mind.

The Sharks started off like a house on fire on both offense and defense. On offense, it was more of a repeat of the game against Orlando, as Tommy Grady ended his first three drives with touchdown passes. On defense, the secondary used a mix of man and zone coverage schemes to slow down First Team All-Arena QB Dan Raudabaugh and throw off his timing. While the Soul scored, Jacksonville got a quick advantage thanks to an Alvin Ray Jackson forced fumble recovered by Terrance Smith, redeeming himself for dropping a sure interception earlier in the game.

With a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter, the Sharks were in full control once again. However, the Soul finished as the top seed in the American Conference for a reason. After LaRoche “Action” Jackson intercepted Raudabaugh deep in Philly territory, the Soul took the ball right back when LaRico Stevenson intercepted Tommy Grady on the very next play. That set up a long, penalty-ridden drive to cut the lead in half. Jacksonville still maintained their early dominance, though, as Joe Hills extended the streak once again by finding the end zone for the first time thanks to an 11-yard pass from Grady.

While things weren’t immediately unraveling, Philadelphia became a pesky team that stayed within arm’s reach. Jacksonville had one last play to score after a Tommy Frevert 39-yard field goal attempt went wide right, but an incomplete pass meant Jacksonville, again, would take a halftime lead, this time 28-14.

While defense was the order of the day against the Predators, the Sharks knew that the only way to exact another matter of revenge against the Soul was to attack early and often. Philadelphia scored 63, 47, and 67 points in three meetings this season, so beating last week’s total of 55 was the first thing on the team’s mind.

Philadelphia reminded them of just that when QB Dan Raudabaugh found Marco Thomas on a 31-yard strike to start out the second half. This started a tennis-style back and forth which saw the two combatants trade scores throughout the third and fourth quarter. Both teams remained on serve until a slight hiccup with 5:45 remaining. After QB Tommy Grady found Joe Hills in the end zone from 11 yards out, the Soul’s Teddy Jennings came through the middle and blocked the Julian Rauch extra point, keeping the lead at 54-42. Philadelphia capitalized when Raudabaugh threw to Lonnie Outlaw for a nine-yard touchdown. London Crawford recovered the ensuing onside kick, and the Sharks literally ran down the clock, finishing the drive with Tommy Grady’s third touchdown run of the playoffs. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Jacksonville went for two to play catchup, but Grady’s pass fell incomplete.

The Soul still had life down by 12 at the one-minute warning, and used that life to engineer a surgical, methodical four-play drive that preserved their three timeouts. With 38 seconds left, Philadelphia had no choice but to onside kick, and Crawford recovered yet again.

There’s one name that hasn’t been mentioned in some time: Derrick Ross. At this point, he only carried the ball three times for a grand total of eight yards. In fact, he did more to hurt the team than help thanks to penalties and poor pass blocking. Despite this, the typical convention is to hand him the ball, force the defensive timeouts, and look to ice the game. Instead, Coach Moss lived dangerously…real dangerously. He called three straight passes from Tommy Grady to Joe Hills — and none found the mark. Facing 4th down with 22 seconds left, on came Julian Rauch to attempt a 28-yard field goal. The kick went up, and wide right. Then the referees conferred, and changed the call to good. Then they conferred again, and went to a review. As the head zebra saw the ball go over the right upright, he made the final call that the kick was no good.

Philadelphia quickly got off their pins and needles and went to work. However, so did the Sharks defense. Scooter Berry put his name on the stat sheet by sacking Dan Raudabaugh on the first play of the drive. Timeout. Raudabaugh then completed three of his next four passes, including a clutch 4th-and-2 conversion, and got the Soul 14 yards from victory. Timeout.

Two seconds. Time enough for one play no matter what sort of football you play. If it works, Philadelphia appears in their third ArenaBowl in four years. If it doesn’t, Jacksonville gets their revenge and a crack at their second Foster Trophy. Raudabaugh dropped back, put the ball in the air, and it landed right into the hands of…Action Jackson. Jackson intercepted the ball in the end zone as the horn sounded, and Jacksonville barely escapes with the William L. Niro trophy and the right to play for the Foster Trophy in Stockton on Saturday, August 29.

Jacksonville was touted as the potential kings this season. After overcoming the worst start in franchise history, they face the mighty San Jose Sabercats, a team looking to make history themselves, for the right to the throne. From the horrible start to the last two games, the only thing we’re promised is one more wild ride.

Sharks Ride Rollercoaster into the Playoffs

Sharks Ride Rollercoaster into the Playoffs

by Erik Watkins

The Jacksonville Sharks (10-8) have had a season to be remembered for all sorts of reasons: 0-4 start, viral touchdown celebration, high expectations, milestones, upsets, you name it, the Sharks have done it. Nevertheless, there’s been one typically constant end to the season: playoffs. For the fifth time in six franchise seasons, Jacksonville will play a game on Week 21.

The madness started with the game against Tampa Bay. Jacksonville went into that game at 8-7, knowing that a win would not only secure a playoff berth, but a chance to restore the order in the South division the following week in Orlando. The Storm still had something to fight for, as the once proud franchise could finally shake off their AFL 2.0 woes and make only their second playoff appearance since losing ArenaBowl XXIII.

Coming fresh off of the 74-67 win against Philadelphia, the Sharks kept that momentum rolling, converting a 4th-and-7 to set up the first TD pass of the night, Tommy Grady to Joe Hills. Jacksonville was up 7-0, and Hills extended his streak to 50 regular season games (51 overall) with a touchdown pass. That would open the floodgates.

Storm QB Jason Boltus, who’s had a rough season to say the very least, managed a good drive on his first possession, but a crucial offside penalty led to 1st-and-20, and Jacksonville’s pressure took it from there, netting a turnover on downs.

The Sharks needed only three plays to score: two passes from Tommy Grady to London Crawford, and a Derrick Ross run to finish the drive. Following a big Storm return and a 31-yard TD pass from Boltus to Kendrick Ings to cut the lead to 14-7, Jacksonville went on a 21-0 run that ended when Tampa Bay kicker Greg Peterson made a 47-yard field goal to end the first half.

Tampa Bay had no real chance of recovering, as on the first drive of the second half, Nicolas Jean-Baptiste became the third different Shark (Scooter Berry, Joe Sykes) to sack Jason Boltus on the night, forcing 3rd-and-22 and another turnover on downs. Derrick Ross scored four plays later, and Jacksonville found themselves with a 42-10 lead. The Storm managed what would be their last scoring drive of the night on the next possession, going seven plays and ending with a Jason Boltus pass to Emery Sammons. When Jacksonville recovered the onside kick, they took the game and ran away with it once and for all.

The real highlight came early in the fourth quarter. With the ball on their own 10-yard line thanks to a Greg Reid interception (catching the ball is easier when it’s one receiver vs. two defenders), the Sharks were looking to be 8-for-8 on touchdown drives. On fourth and goal, they made it happen, with Tiger Jones scoring his second touchdown of the night. However, what happened next was the moment that defined the game.

All season, the Sharks have been known for touchdown celebrations. Be it Joe Hills keeping the “Yes!” chant on Sea Best Field, Derrick Ross starting the lawnmower, to Tiger Jones becoming a human windup toy, there’s always a little extra flare before the extra point. This time, though, the team decided to pay homage to The Rock himself, as Jones administered The People’s Elbow to Moqut Ruffins (when The Rock sends not one, but two tweets giving you a shoutout and rooting for you, you know you did it right).

From there, Lee Chapple came in to throw one more touchdown pass, and Action Jackson scooped up one last interception to seal a 63-16 win and a return to the playoffs for the Sharks following a long, miserable 7-11 2014 season.

The next week, it was a completely different atmosphere, as the rubber match vs. Orlando had the most meaning since the two teams last met in the playoffs. For the Sharks, win, and you put destiny in your own hands to take the South division title back to Jacksonville. For the Predators, win, and you defend, securing home-field in the first round.

Jacksonville added a little luck to their momentum in the first quarter, as a pass intended for Joe Hills bounced off his hands and right to London Crawford. After Orlando head coach Rob Keefe unsuccessfully challenged a potential fumble, the Sharks took advantage thanks to a Joe Hills catch in between two defenders to open the scoring. The defense then stepped right up, as Terrance Smith intercepted Randy Hippeard against the boards.

The second drive saw some chinks in the armor, as it opened with a Tommy Grady fumbled and recovered the snap. Two plays later, London Crawford took a hit against the boards while trying to make a catch, but doubts were set aside after a 30-yard pass from Grady to Joe Hills doubled the advantage. Greg Reid would nab an interception for the third straight game, but Orlando’s defense stood up at the goalline and forced a 17-yard Julian Rauch field goal attempt, which he made to give Jacksonville a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter.

From there, the wheels started to fall off. First, Brandon Thompkins gave the crowd of 12,184 something to cheer for in the Jungle thanks to a 44-yard kickoff return. After a Larry Brackins touchdown, Nick Taylor took the very next Tommy Grady pass and returned it 24 yards into the end zone. Within five minutes, the shutout became a 17-14 barnburner, and Orlando started to slowly seize control.

The Sharks needed a drive to quiet the crowd, and did just that thanks to a six-play drive that ended in a London Crawford touchdown catch. But, Brandon Thompkins decided to rev them up all over again with a 56-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and the Predators were right back to within three at 23-20. The two teams traded touchdowns for the rest of the half, and at 30-27, Jacksonville showed signs of some panic.

Brandon Thompkins nearly repeated his heroics with another touchdown, but a holding penalty spared the Sharks…just long enough for Randy Hippeard to complete three of four passes to set up a Larry Brackins TD run. Bad went to worse when Predators DL Austin Brown sacked Tommy Grady, and the ensuing fumble went into the end zone for a safety. To add to the misery, Hippeard led another touchdown drive to put Orlando up 43-30 with four minutes left in the third quarter.

Jacksonville continued to hold their ground, trading touchdowns with the Predators, only for DB Terence Moore to intercept Grady at the goalline and return it 50 yards for a score and a 57-37 lead. The Sharks added one last cosmetic score, but Orlando claimed the division title with a 64-50 win, meaning that the two teams would meet back in the Jungle in two weeks to begin their ArenaBowl runs.

Jacksonville went into their regular season finale with nothing to play for against a franchise who wanted to close their history on a high note. Normally that means a potential blowout or a few quirks, but nothing could replicate the comedy of errors that ensued.

If I were to tell you that the worst thing to happen was the cheer routines being thrown off and a little less coordinated than usual, only to make up for it by a special on-field ceremony honoring their leaving director, I’d be lying. If I told you that Jacksonville fought hard to capture a 10-win season in front of a home crowd of more than 11,000, I’d be telling a half-truth. If I told you that the better team won in the end, I’d be exactly right.

It didn’t start out that way, though, as the two teams combined for two turnovers and a missed field goal in the first three possessions of the game. When there wasn’t a battle for who could score first, there were individual battles between the players, creating early hostilities.

There were some highlights, though, as Joe Sykes garnered 1.5 sacks in the opening frame, leaving him a half sack shy of matching his jersey number (#19) on the season, and Alvin Ray Jackson intercepted VooDoo QB Adam Kennedy to maintain the defensive tone. The first quarter did end with a score, Joe Hills extended his touchdown streak to 52 regular season games (53 overall), the second-longest ever behind Damien Harrell’s 78 game stretch.

Up 6-0 after a Julian Rauch miss, New Orleans did strike back. WR Charles McClain was left wide open on a flare route to the left, and scampered into the end zone for a 7-6 lead. Not to be outdone, Tiger Jones was left by his lonesome and turned on the jets for a 48-yard catch and run to reclaim the lead. Continuing the theme of oneupmanship, Moqut Ruffins got his revenge and tapped Tiger out on the touchdown celebration (Ruffins was the “victim” of The People’s Elbow two weeks prior). Tiger did, however, get the last laugh as the score put him over the 2,000 yard mark for receiving for the fourth time in his career.

The rest of the second quarter was filled with VooDoo trickery and Terrance Smith penalties. Neither side gained too much of an advantage, however, as although the flags helped New Orleans march into the end zone, Nicolas Jean-Baptiste blocked the ensuing extra point, and Action Jackson got the ball and ran it into the end zone to make up for the two missed extra points.

The first half closed out in the following four ways: the VooDoo couldn’t keep the onside kick in bounds, Derrick Ross couldn’t get in the end zone despite four cracks from the one-yard line, the referees couldn’t get the ball in the last fifteen seconds to give Jacksonville a chance at another snap, and New Orleans couldn’t figure out they weren’t welcome on the field when halftime was about to start.

The second half was no different at the start, as former Shark Tracy Belton started to make appearances that helped his former team instead of his current one. He broke up a pass on the first drive, but Tiger Jones decided to run it in from three yards out to extend Jacksonville’s lead to 21-13. This gave the VooDoo a little fight, as Roger Jackson made a miracle catch along the ground and broke three tackles in a 37-yard catch and run. FB Roosevelt Falls finished the drive on the ground and New Orleans was right back within a point.

It became Lee Chapple’s turn to run the offense, and he came into the game to see his most meaningful action of his Sharks career, let alone this season. He completed his first pass, but on the next play Derrick Ross fumbled for the second time of the night, and New Orleans came out and scored. Roger Jackson started the drive with a 16-yard catch, and QB Adam Kennedy ended it with a four-yard scramble. Going into the final quarter of the regular season, the Sharks found themselves trailing 26-21.

New Orleans, auditioning for some potential owners, showed they can take advantage of what the other side of the ball does, as LB Cameron McGlenn caught a ball thrown right in his hands by Lee Chapple, and Adam Kennedy again used his legs to give the VooDoo a two-score lead with nine minutes left.

Chapple, who has some quick footwork of his own, reminded the crowd of Bernard Morris on a 16-yard run, setting up Tiger Jones on a 14-yard pass from Lee Chapple, his second scoring pass of the season. Down by five with time running out, Jacksonville decided to go for an onside kick, which they recovered, and Joe Hills broke free for 17 yards just two plays later. He and Chapple worked together on the drive, between Hills’ stutter steps and Chapple’s running, and after Tiger Jones scored his second rushing touchdown of the night, the two hooked up on the two-point conversion pass that gave the Sharks a three-point lead. The hostilities didn’t end there, as Tracy Belton reintroduced himself to his old teammates after the score. In frustration, he threw his helmet into the side wall, and was ejected for his troubles.

It was up to the defense to seal the game at the one-minute warning, and Nicolas Jean-Baptiste answered the bell by recovering a Roosevelt Falls fumble. Derrick Ross literally ran off a little clock, and Tiger Jones made his 148th and final catch of the regular season to close out the 36-33 win.

Overall, the postgame team mood was a need to play smarter football. “At the end of the day, we don’t want to put anything bad on film so Orlando feels they can beat us,” as Moqut Ruffins said while wearing an ice pack after a physical contest.

Tiger Jones, who finished with 2,101 yards receiving on the season, felt great about his personal achievement. “I have to give it to my teammates. The line blocking to give me enough time, it was the whole team.” He noted that the team has dealt with adversity, which is something they need against Orlando. “We all know what’s going on. We know what the deal is down there. It’s going to be crazy, but we can’t let that get to us like we did tonight. It’s a new season.”

Lee Chapple also noted the team effort in the comeback, and was glad to show what he could do under center. “It was a blast. We have a great group of guys, and I learned a lot from Tommy and Tiger Jones. It really slowed down for me the fourth, fifth, sixth series we had.”

On defense, Nicolas Jean-Baptiste mentioned the need to play four full quarters against Orlando next week. “We knew we had to be accountable on the defensive side [of the ball], and we had to play smart football. We got a wakeup call, and we’ll get ready on Monday.” While not the best, he was thankful of the performance because it gives the team a chance to make their final moves and work out all of the kinks.

Now that the regular season is done, all that’s left is to practice and prepare to get on the bus to Orlando. The Jacksonville Sharks officially begin their run at a second ArenaBowl title with their fourth and final meeting against the Predators this season. Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm on Saturday, August 15, and the game will be seen on ESPN3.

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.