The Road to ArenaBowl XXVI

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Image by Jacksonville Sharks Facebook Page
Image by Jacksonville Sharks Facebook Page

By: Jonathan Odom

Shark week in America is upon us, and as millions of Americans tune in to the Discovery Channel to get a glimpse of Shark week, fans here in Jacksonville get their own up-front experience of the Sharks this week. That’s because last week in Jacksonville, the Sharks managed to come back from a 21 point deficit with five minutes left in the third quarter in win a game against the Tampa Bay Storm 69-62. During the other match of the American Conference, the Philadelphia Soul defeated the Orlando Predators 59-55 to setup a rematch of last season’s Conference Championship. In that matchup over 12,000 fans watched as Philadelphia ripped the heart and Soul out of the Sharks, pummeling them 89-34. It was a brutal end to the Sharks attempt to defend their 2011 AFL Championship during a rocky 2012 season where they finished 11-9 overall.

Since the Conference Championship game, these two teams have only played one other time, on April 27, 2013. At the time of this game the Sharks were undefeated in the league 6-0 and the Soul were just 2-3. It appeared to be a dominating season for the Sharks and the Soul were looking to be out of the playoff picture entirely. By games end, the outlook would look even worse for the Soul as they would drop this game to the Shark by merely 2 points on a failed 2 point conversion with just 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Twice throughout the game the Soul was down by at least 15 points and fought back to get back within two points each time. The only lead the Soul held the entire game was after the team’s opening drive following a turnover on downs by the Shark. A big reason for the constant lead held by the Sharks was the tandem of Jeron Harvey and Bernard Morris. Who? That would be the team’s leading receiver in Jeron Harvey with 146 receptions for 1,593 yards and 35 Touchdowns on the season. Bernard Morris is the QB who had a passer rating of 110.86 in 15 games played, throwing for 55 Touchdowns over 2,746 yards. With the performance these two athletes have put up this season, including last week against the Storm, there’s no doubt that this Saturday’s matchup will be just as tough for the Philadelphia Soul.

So how did the Soul make it to the Conference Championship? After posting a 12-6 regular season record and winning the East division by 8 games over the Cleveland Gladiators (4-14) and the Pittsburgh Power (4-14), the Soul had a come from behind victory over the Orlando Predators. Now don’t get too excited here, because this come from behind victory wasn’t as exciting as the Sharks coming back and beating the Storm, in fact, it was far from it, quite normal and bland with a disappointing fourth quarter. The Predators started off on the right foot, going up 21-7 in the first quarter and 28-14 in the second. However, thanks to a field goal with time expiring, the Soul were able to pull within three at halftime at 34-31. The beginning of the third quarter marked the end for the Predators as the Soul came out and scored on the opening drive in 37 seconds on a 34 yard TD pass to take a 38-34 lead. From there the teams alternated scoring drives until the score was 59-55 with the Soul leading. The final 8:46 was a defensive contest to see who could hold off the other and ultimately both teams got within 10 yards of scoring a Touchdown but were stopped with a Turnover on Downs.

The Sharks also had a come from behind victory, however the Sharks did it in style and made it look good after a brutally ugly start. Being down twice in the game by 21 points, thanks in part to being shut out in the second quarter and going into halftime down 27-13, the Sharks had a major uphill battle to climb. The Sharks ended the second quarter by Fumbling and throwing an Interception before they could put any points on the board. The Sharks had the change to make up some ground though as they received the ball first in the second half. That all changed when Bernard Morris fumbled the ball away for the second time in just 6 minutes, 23 seconds of gameplay. That led to a Storm touchdown and a 34-13 lead, and although no fans had started to leave, the crowd got silent quickly. The Sharks were able to recover, exchanging touchdowns with the Storm to make the score 41-20, then 41-26 leaving the time clock at 5:44 in the third quarter. The next play would change the momentum of the game. After failing to kick the extra point, Marco Capozzoli kicked an onside kick that bounced off of the player directly in front of him and he was able to jump on the ball. With that the Shark Tank erupted and the Shark started their come from behind victory to seal a Conference Championship birth. Take a look at what happened just before the onside kick, and the comeback that the Sharks mounted against the Tampa Bay Storm.

As you witnessed, the Sharks are not the kind of team to take a game into overtime, as with eight seconds left in the game, they opted to go for the two point conversion and the lead instead of a tie game. That proved to be beneficial as Jeff Hughley rushed for the two point conversion and got it. Following the kickoff to the Storm, Derric Summers of the defense comes up with a huge play, recovering the fumble in the end zone by Tampa Bay Storm quarterback Shane Boyd to cap off the Sharks incredible come from behind victory.

This Saturday, August 10th, 2013 the Jacksonville Sharks will host the Philadelphia Soul in Jacksonville, FL. Both teams boast a record of 13-6, with the Sharks beating the Soul earlier in the season and holding home-field advantage. Do not let that fool you though, the Soul are just as much in this game as the Sharks are. Morris and Harvey will both be key factors in this game for the Sharks, as well as Hughley needing to make some plays to help send the Soul packing back home to Philadelphia.

The Sharks had just under 8,000 fans show up for the first round matchup against the Tampa Bay Storm. I know a big part of that has to do with the Jacksonville Jaguars scrimmage taking place on the same night, but there is no reason this game should not eclipse 10,000 or 11,000 in attendance. Any fan of football would really enjoy a game played by the Sharks. Sure, you don’t know the player’s names and it’s definitely not the NFL, however any fan of football realizes an exciting game and atmosphere when they see one. The atmosphere in Veterans Memorial Arena on August 3rd, 2013 for the Sharks and Storm matchup rivals only one I have ever been to before and that is the game winning Hail Mary touchdown from David Garrard to Mike Thomas on November 14, 2010. So if you don’t have any plans or are interested in giving the Jacksonville Sharks some time to try and win you over, I suggest making it out to Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville and watching a good football game. The best part is the fact that you’re wallet will barely receive a dent, depending on where you want to sit. This week, the Sharks have individual tickets starting at $12.00 or they are again offering Buy One, Get One Free tickets starting at $17.50, or $8.75 each.


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