JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Sharks battled back to erase a two-touchdown deficit on Saturday, tying the game in the third quarter, but the Sharks ultimately fell short in a 54-41 defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Soul at Wells Fargo Center.
The turning point of Saturday’s contest came late in the third quarter. Jacksonville (2-3) had just tied the game at 27, as Aaron Garcia hit Jeron Harvey for a 10-yard touchdown pass, erasing a deficit that had been as large as 14 points. The Sharks then pinned the Soul at the one-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, but Philadelphia (2-3) responded immediately with a 49-yard pass from Dan Raudabaugh to Ryan McDaniel.
The Soul then tried a surprise onside kick, and McDaniel hopped on the loose ball to give Philadelphia another possession. As the fourth quarter began, the Soul converted the short field into a score, as Raudabaugh hit Tiger Jones from nine yards out. Jones’ touchdown gave Philadelphia a 41-27 lead early in the final frame.
From there, the Sharks offense found a rhythm, marching down the field for touchdowns on back-to-back possessions. First, London Crawford got behind the Philadelphia defense and Garcia found his target for a 25-yard touchdown. On the Sharks’ next drive, Garcia connected with Jomo Wilson from 17 yards out for Wilson’s first touchdown in a Shark uniform since the 2011 season.
But Raudabaugh and the Soul offense responded to both scores with touchdowns of their own, as Derrick Ross scored from 12 yards out and Raudabaugh and Jones connected yet again. As a result of those Philadelphia touchdowns, Jacksonville’s offense never had the ball with less than a two-score deficit at any point in the fourth quarter.
The Sharks had a chance in the game’s final minutes, needing a score and an onside kick, as Wilson moved the ball inside the Soul’s 10-yard line with a long catch-and-run on the first play after the one-minute timeout. But the Sharks could not get into the end zone, as Philadelphia stuffed Crawford and Jared McGriff-Culver on consecutive runs on third and fourth down. Jacksonville turned the ball over on downs with 31 seconds left, and the Soul ran out the clock to seal the result.
Jacksonville had opportunities to take control early in the game, as a playmaking defense forced four Soul turnovers, three in the first half. The Sharks racked up three interceptions in game’s first 30 minutes. First, Micheaux Robinson grabbed a ball off the wall on the game’s opening drive. In the second quarter, defensive lineman Jerry Turner hit Raudabaugh from the blind side, forcing a throw that popped high in the air and into the arms of Charlie Hunt, who then raced 40-yards for the Sharks’ first pick-six of the season.
On the Soul’s very next drive, Hunt came up with another pick, as this time the Jack linebacker used all of his rangy six-foot-four frame to dive into a throwing lane and haul in his third interception in the last two games. In the second half, Hunt forced the issue again, ripping the ball away from a Soul receiver just in front of the goal line. Aaron Robbins hopped on the loose ball in the end zone to record Jacksonville’s fourth takeaway of the game.
What cost the Sharks is that the Jacksonville offense was not able to capitalize on all those turnovers. Aside from Hunt’s return for a score, the Sharks managed just one touchdown on the three possessions immediately following those takeaways. In addition, Jacksonville had the ball on both the last drive before halftime and the opening drive of the third quarter and was not able to find paydirt on either occasion.
After throwing one pass in the Sharks’ Week 5 victory over the Tampa Bay Storm, Garcia started under center for the Sharks for the first time since ArenaBowl XXIV in 2011. He completed 26 of his 41 passes for a total of 253 yards, tossing five touchdowns against one interception. Garcia seemed to get more comfortable as the game progressed, as the Sharks’ signal caller went 13-for-18 in the second half.
Though he was the only one of the Sharks’ three starting receivers to have never caught a pass from Garcia before Saturday’s game, Crawford found a rhythm with his new quarterback, leading Jacksonville with 13 receptions for 120 yards and two scores. Harvey also found the end zone twice, totaling 60 yards on his seven catches, while Wilson added six grabs for 73 yards and a touchdown.
On defense, Robinson led the Sharks with six tackles to go along with his interception. Hunt finished his all-around excellent performance with two solo tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble, while Brodrick Brown added four solo tackles.
On the other side, Raudabaugh went 15-of-25 for 197 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. Ross ran effectively throughout the game, totaling 58 yards and three touchdowns on his 10 carries. Jones and McDaniel were the only Soul players with more than two catches on Saturday, as the former led his team with three touchdowns. On defense, Rayshaun Kizer racked up 10.5 total tackles (10 solo), while James Romain notched both an interception and a fumble return for a touchdown.
The Sharks will return to Jacksonville for the first of two home games next Saturday night, as the Porland Thunder head to town on Saturday, April 26. Kickoff from Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is set for 7:00 p.m.
About the Jacksonville Sharks
The Jacksonville Sharks are members of the Arena Football League (AFL). The ArenaBowl XXIV and four-time South Division Champions are presented by Sea Best Seafood and play all home games on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Season Tickets for the 2014 season are now available, two tickets as low as $153. To reserve your season tickets or for more information, please call (904) 621-0700. Follow the Sharks on facebook at facebook.com/jaxsharks and on Twitter @jaxsharks, as well as the Attack Dance Team at facebook.com/sharkattackdance and Chum at facebook.com/chumsharks.
About the AFL
Since its inception in 1987, the Arena Football League has showcased a fast-paced and exciting game to millions of fans in a myriad of markets across the country. The ESPN family of networks and CBS Sports Network will nationally broadcast AFL games each week for the entire season. The AFL schedule then culminates with the ArenaBowl Championship game live on ESPN.