07/27/2016 6:58 AM -
JACKSONVILLE - The Jacksonville Sharks follow up on last week’s win at home with a matchup against the Tampa Bay Storm on Saturday, July 30 before as the regular season comes to a close. Kickoff on Sea Best Field is set for 7:00 p.m.
Saturday’s game will be the third and final contest between Jacksonville (6-9) and Tampa Bay (2-13) in the regular season. Jacksonville made two trips to Tampa’s Amalie Arena earlier this season, capturing victories in both Week 5 and Week 11. In their most recent contest, Jacksonville used a colossal first half to take command of the game, outscoring the Storm 47-14 before the halftime whistle. After the break, the Sharks stayed strong and ended the game 67-34. The Sharks look to earn their first three-game season series sweep over an opponent in franchise history.
This week’s game does not affect playoff seeding, as Jacksonville is locked into the No. 3 spot in the American Conference, while Tampa Bay is set as the No. 4 seed. The two teams’ first-round playoff opponents have yet to be determined, pending Saturday’s game between the Orlando Predators and the Philadelphia Soul. The winner of that game will host the Storm, while the Sharks will travel to face the loser.
The Sharks come into this week’s contest having snapped their four-game losing streak last Saturday night against the Los Angeles KISS. The Sharks used three first-half defensive stops to build a 26-13 halftime lead, and matched the KISS score-for-score in the second half, ultimately cruising to a 46-32 victory in front of a season-high crowd of 11,840 in the Shark Tank.
In the win, Derrick Ross carried the football with authority, setting season highs with 14 rushing attempts for 64 yards. Ross found the end zone three times in the game, as the Sharks’ effective ground game took pressure off of Tommy Grady. Grady completed 25 of his first 27 passes - with two throwaways - before a pair of late incompletions, finishing 25-of-29 passes for 180 yards and four touchdowns.
Though the Sharks offense turned the ball over twice, both of those giveaways came when the team was up by at least two scores, and the KISS never came closer than 13 points for the entirety of the second half. Jacksonville scored on each of its other seven possessions. With the absence of Reggie Gray, London Crawford stepped up and led the team in receptions (9), while Joe Hills continued to add to his MVP-caliber season with three touchdowns.
The Sharks’ defense put together a stellar performance even though they did not record an interception or recover a fumble. Jacksonville’s front four recorded two sacks and constantly hit both Nathan Stanley and Pete Thomas. In the back, the secondary blanketed KISS receivers for the full 60 minutes. Greg Reid and LaRoche Jackson combined to record 23 tackles combined and Reid swatting away four passes which could have been game changing plays.
On the other side, Tampa Bay has struggled to put wins together this season, though the Storm snapped a six-game losing streak with a 41-40 victory over the Portland Steel. Tampa Bay has used three different starting quarterbacks this season, as Adam Kennedy took the reins last week. The third-year quarterback is capable of moving outside the pocket, so the Sharks will have to collapse the Storm’s offensive line as quickly as possible to get to him. Should Kennedy get the start, he would be the third different Storm signal-caller to face the Sharks this season, as Jonathan Bane got the nod in Week 5 while Jason Boltus started in Week 11.
The Storm offense does benefit from an experienced weapon in the form of wide receiver T.T. Toliver. A longtime Orlando Predator now in his 14th season in the AFL, Toliver has become the League’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and all-purpose yards this season. Toliver leads the Storm with 110 receptions for 1,494 yards and 23 touchdowns this season.
On defense Tampa Bay has had trouble keeping opponents out of the end zone, yielding an average of 54.6 per contest. Though the Storm were able to force two turnovers in their last contest against the Gladiators, the team has had trouble all season forcing quarterbacks into tough positions, recording just eight interceptions and eight sacks.
The Sharks take the field this week with a chance to continue building a rhythm as they aim to enter the postseason with back-to-back wins. Saturday’s kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. ET.
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 2017 season are now available, two tickets as low as $99. 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.