The Jacksonville Sharks had their backs against the wall going into their game against the Orlando Predators, but they prevailed with a 44-41 win to improve to 7-3 and end their losing streak.
Jacksonville couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start, as Orlando (2-7) scored less than a minute into the game after a Dominic Jones returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. However, the Sharks were able to answer quickly thanks to Bernard Morris. After being benched last week, he quickly responded to regaining the starting job with a 12-yard run on the first offensive play, followed by three completions in four attempts, culminating in finding Markee White in the end zone to tie the game after less than five minutes.
Predators QB Aaron Garcia was quick to strike against his former team. On his first play, he found WR T.T. Toliver for 35 yards. Two plays later, he found WR Prechae Rodriguez in the end zone to retake the lead.
Jacksonville used a combination of excellent defense and mental mistakes by Orlando to score 23 unanswered points through the second and third quarter. It started with a second down sack of Bernard Morris, who lost the subsequent fumble. Sharks LB Matt Marcorelle returned the favor by sacking Aaron Garcia, and DL Jerry Turner recovered the fumble to give Jacksonville the ball back. The Sharks were helped by a pass interference penalty, moved the ball along the ground, and WR Jeff Hughley ran into the end zone on a trick play to start the Jacksonville run.
The second score was also set up by penalties. The Predators committed not one, but two holding penalties that nullified touchdowns. Combined with a Jerry Turner sack, Orlando was forced into a 44-yard field goal attempt. Kicker Mark Lewis missed, and Jeff Hughley gave the Sharks great field position late in the second quarter. He would score on a deep pass four plays later, and the Sharks had their first lead of the night, 21-14, with 3:21 left in the first half.
Jacksonville’s offense had no time to rest, as Orlando WR Dominic Jones lateraled the ball forward on the kick return, and DB Jamaal Fudge scooped up the ball and gave the Sharks a chance to extend their lead. After a trick play netted a 10-yard catch for FB Rendrick Taylor, Jacksonville couldn’t move the ball on offense. The Sharks were forced into a 23-yard field goal attempt by Marco Capozzoli. He missed, but there was no damage done as DB Tracy Belton forced another T.T. Toliver fumble. Fudge recovered again, and with two seconds left until halftime, Capozzoli made good on a 34-yard field goal to extend the Sharks’ lead to 24-14.
The Sharks started the third quarter strong, with QB Bernard Morris leading the last touchdown drive in the 23-0 scoring run. He needed only three completions to set up an end around fake, and Jacksonville found themselves up 30-14 after a blocked extra point.
DB Jamaal Fudge was involved on yet another T.T. Toliver fumble, but this time he forced it. DB Terrance Smith recovered, but the opportunity was squandered. After back-to-back misses, Bernard Morris scrambled to find an open receiver only to throw an interception to Orlando’s Dominic Jones. QB Aaron Garcia got the Predators back on the board thanks to a touchdown pass to Prechae Rodriguez, who made one of many amazing one-handed catches on the night. With 7:31 remaining in the third quarter, Jacksonville’s lead was cut to 30-21.
Jones also continued to shine, as Jacksonville once again began to stall on offense. They were able to convert a fourth down to keep the drive alive, but lightning didn’t strike twice as Jones broke up a pass intended for WR Jeron Harvey. The Sharks’ defense kept the momentum going in reverse as WR Marcus Everett scored to bring Orlando within two points as the third quarter came to a close.
Bernard Morris caught a break early in the final quarter as he avoided another interception. He found WR Josh Philpart, who made his first big play of the game with a 20-yard catch. Jeron Harvey was on the receiving end of another touchdown, and with 8:02 left in the game, Jacksonville was up 37-28.
Orlando wouldn’t go down without a fight, however, as their receivers found the final frame to be the right time to make their best catches. It started with Prechae Rodriguez, who caught a scoring pass in double coverage to cut the lead back to two with 5:17 left. After a failed onside kick led to another Bernard Morris touchdown run 47 seconds later, T.T. Toliver took his turn to make a catch in tough coverage. Despite Jacksonville’s best defensive effort of the half, they found themselves up by only three points, 44-41, with 1:54 left in the game.
The Predators tried another onside kick, and the Sharks were again up to the task and recovered. After a penalty pushed them back, they only needed a few short plays to run out the clock and win their sixth straight against their in-state rivals.
Bernard Morris was back to his usual self under center, completing 23 of 39 passes for 226 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He also continued his powerful ground game with 10 carries for a game-high 39 yards and two more scores.
Jeron Harvey led the team at receiver with nine catches for 101 yards and joined Markee White and Jeff Hughley in registering a touchdown catch. Josh Philpart started to break back into the offense with three catches for 31 yards in his third game back with the team.
The entire Jacksonville defense chipped in, with four players (Fudge, Turner, Belton, and Marcorelle) forcing fumbles, and three getting recoveries (Turner, Terrance Smith, and Fudge with two). Turner and Marcorelle also registered sacks, which means Turner has taken the league lead again with eight.
Aaron Garcia had a modest game against his old team, completing 20 of 27 attempts for 251 yards and five touchdowns. T.T. Toliver had a game-high 124 yards and a touchdown from eight catches.
Jacksonville will look to start a new winning streak as they return home to host the Pittsburgh Power on Saturday, June 1. Kickoff from Sea Best Field is set for 7:00 p.m, and the game will be broadcast over the air on WBOB AM 600. The game will also be televised on WJXT Channel 4, and streamed through AFL Live. For more information, including tickets and team promotions, log on to www.jaxsharks.com. For more on the rest of the Arena Football League, including the latest news and standings, log on to www.arenafootball.com.