04/02/2016 10:33 PM -
ANAHEIM, CA – A series of fourth-quarter miscues proved costly for the Jacksonville Sharks on Saturday night, as the team fell to the LA KISS, 64-39, in the 2016 season opener at Honda Center.
The pivotal stretch of Saturday’s game came early in the fourth, as Jacksonville (0-1) trailed by a 47-39 count entering the final period. On the first play of the quarter, an LA (1-0) kickoff ricocheted off the iron and into the arms of a member of the KISS’ kick coverage unit, giving LA a first-and-goal at the Sharks’ three-yard line. KISS fullback Rory Nixon scored on the ensuing snap, giving the home team a two-score lead, 54-39.
From that point forward, the Sharks were unable to close the gap. On Jacksonville’s next offensive series, the team moved into the red zone before a Tommy Grady pass was batted high into the air and intercepted by LA’s Rayshaun Kizer. Though the Jacksonville defense got a stop on the KISS’ next possession, the Sharks’ offense again came up empty, as four straight incompletions led to a turnover on downs.
The KISS got the ball back with approximately five and a half minutes remaining and burned off a majority of the remaining time, as Andre Heidari connected on a 19-yard field goal with 1:08 to play, putting LA ahead by a 57-39 score. The cascade continued as the ensuing kickoff bounced off the iron – this time into the arms of D.J. Stephens, who secured a KISS touchdown for what proved to be the game’s final score.
Ultimately, the Sharks came up empty on each of the team’s last three offensive possessions and yielded two bar-ball recoveries in the fourth quarter, allowing LA to turn a one-score game into a 25-point final margin.
Prior to the KISS’ fourth-quarter run, the contest began as a back-and-forth affair. The Sharks’ offense wasted no time in getting into a rhythm, as on the game’s first play from scrimmage Grady hit Joe Hills deep down the middle for a 41-yard touchdown. The score extended Hills’ personal streak of 55 consecutive regular-season games with a touchdown catch and gave the Sharks a 6-0 lead.
After LA quarterback Nathan Stanley sneaked in for a one-yard touchdown of his own, the Sharks’ offense marched back down the field, embarking on a six-play drive that ended with a five-yard pass from Grady to Roger Jackson. Jackson’s first score as a Shark gave his team a 13-6 lead until the KISS answered with an 11-yard pass from Stanley to Donovan Morgan that put LA ahead by a point.
The teams continued to trade scores throughout the first half. On the Sharks’ third offensive possession, Tiger Jones made an outstanding diving grab to haul in a 33-yard score, and Grady hit Hills in the corner for a 3-yard touchdown on Jacksonville’s next possession. But each time, the KISS responded, as the two sides were knotted at 27 entering the final minute of the first half.
The Sharks managed the clock well in the final minute, forcing LA to use all of its timeouts before Derrick Ross powered in from a yard out for his first touchdown of the season. But the KISS were able to convert on their final possession of the half, as Stanley hit Brandon Collins from 19 yards out. With that score, the teams entered the locker rooms with a 33-33 score.
In the loss, Grady completed 22 of his 33 pass attempts for 279 yards and four touchdowns against one interception. Hills led all receivers with nine receptions for 151 yards and two scores, while Jones (three receptions, 58 yards) and Jackson (five receptions, 28 yards) each found the end zone once. On the ground, Ross carries the ball nine times for 18 yards and two scores.
On defense, Chris Smith recorded a game-high total of 11.5 tackles (11 solo), while Greg Reid recorded eight stops (seven solo) and Khreem Smith notched the game’s lone sack.
For the KISS, Stanley went 27-of-36 for 283 yards and five touchdowns. Stephens led LA with nine receptions for 101 yards, while Morgan collected seven grabs for 81 yards and three scores. Kizer led LA with six solo tackles to go along with his interception.
The Sharks will head back on the road next week, as the team travels to meet the Philadelphia Soul in a rematch of the 2015 American Conference Championship on Monday, April 11. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. ET, as the game will air live to a national audience on CBS Sports Network.