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Big game lives up to hype, ends in defeat for Sharks

Predators WR Khalil Praden celebrates with teammates after scoring his first touchdown of the night.
Predators WR Khalil Praden celebrates with teammates after scoring his first touchdown of the night.
Erik Watkins

The Jacksonville Sharks (3-6) took a blow to their playoff hopes on Saturday night, losing to the Orlando Predators (6-3), 57-50, on Saturday night.

With a minute left on the clock, Orlando was driving down 50-42. In a curious turn of events, Jacksonville called a timeout on defense. Former Shark and starting Predators QB Bernard Morris found WR Khalil Paden, who made a spinning catch and ran into the end zone for the score. WR Larry Brackins scored on the two-point conversion, and with 30 seconds left, the game was tied at 50.

Orlando kicked deep, and Jacksonville got the ball at their own three-yard line with a chance to win. QB R.J. Archer had no communication with his receivers, and after three straight incompletions forced a 4th-and-10, Fabrizio Scaccia got the call to give Jacksonville at least good field position to play for overtime. What would have been a record 64-yard field goal was wide left and short...and stayed in bounds. Orlando WR Gerald Young found enough daylight to weave around defenders for a 49-yard return touchdown, sealing a tough, physical game that started even before opening kickoff.

The Predators set the tone early, getting in Jacksonville’s face during pre-game introductions and warmups. The Sharks defense, who wanted to send a message of their own, did against friend turned foe Bernard Morris. The line got early pressure, and DL Rashaad Duncan and LB Charlie Hunt combined for the first sack of the night. However, as has been a theme this season, the defense couldn’t get off the field on fourth down, giving up a 47-yard TD pass for the opening score of the night.

After a lost fumble led to another Orlando score, Jacksonville finally woke up and started to make a game of things. WR London Crawford slipped a tackle and nearly scored on a long catch and run, and he did get into the end zone one play later to put the Sharks on the board.

Following another long TD pass for the Predators, R.J. Archer put together his first efficient drive of the night, following a near TD to Jeron Harvey with a scoring pass to Jomo Wilson across the middle.

Down 20-13, the calls were starting to go against Jacksonville, especially star DB Terrance Smith. DB Micheaux Robinson had an interception denied by an illegal defense penalty, but DE Jerry Turner recovered a third down fumble, ending a drive that started with a big hit on the kickoff return. It went to waste thanks to Orlando’s defensive pressure. Their defensive line forced R.J. Archer to scramble, and they forced a turnover on downs.

With 45 seconds left until halftime, the teams traded quick scores, with Jomo Wilson beating a defensive back to score and cut the deficit back to seven. Jacksonville did get a fortuitous bounce on the kickoff, as the ball hit the iron on top of the net and bounced near midfield. The ball hit the wall, though, giving Orlando possession. The constant defensive pressure continued, and Micheaux Robinson got an interception in the end zone to give the Sharks a chance to tie the game. Wilson got stopped short, and Jacksonville went into halftime down 27-20.

Jacksonville caught a couple breaks to start the third quarter. First with London Crawford scoring to make up for a near touchdown on the first play, then scoring a safety when Bernard Morris fumbled into his own end zone. Then, after suffering a second down sack, R.J. Archer found WR Jeron Harvey on 3rd-and-13, leading to another Crawford score and a 36-27 lead.

Morris, known for using his legs to make plays, did just that to end the third quarter, and initially found WR Larry Brackins for a touchdown. Sharks head coach Les Moss successfully challenged the call, forcing a 3rd-and-14 after offensive pass interference. It quickly became moot when Orlando scored on the next play. Jomo Wilson answered back after DB Xavier Brewer recovered a fumble on the kickoff, but the Predators were proving ever more dangerous as the fourth quarter went on.

DE Justin Parrish sacked Bernard Morris on first down, and Terrance Smith nearly intercepted him on second down, but Orlando kept finding ways to hang around. WR Gerald Young beat Micheaux Robinson on his way into the end zone, and after the two-point conversion Jacksonville saw their lead trimmed to 43-42 with 5:59 left in the game.

The Sharks recovered the onside kick, and Jeron Harvey caught a TD pass in the corner of the end zone with 4:05 left in the game. The final fireworks began when Predators WR Greg Carr got ejected from the game after earning an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for spiking the ball against the boards.

R.J. Archer had another solid, yet more muted performance, completing 25 of 40 passes for 271 yards, six touchdowns, and no interceptions, despite being sacked twice. After the game, he reflected on another tough loss. “It’s not good. They’re a big rival, and they pulled it out at the end.” He noted the team was on the same page for most of the night, despite the tipped balls, and is moving in the right direction.

He also commented on the decision to kick at the end of the game. “We gotta be smart. We have to get the ball with position and play for OT. We can’t give the team the ball in that [field] position.”

In his first game at Veterans Memorial Arena since leaving Jacksonville, Bernard Morris had a typical night by his standards, completing 19 of 33 passes for 342 yards, seven touchdowns, and one interception. He was sacked three times, but he also ran four times for 13 yards.

Jomo Wilson and Jeron Harvey each had a game-high nine catches, for 102 and 74 yards respectively. Wilson found the end zone three times, and Harvey scored twice.

Gerald Young was the star of the night, with a game-high 222 all-purpose yards. Khalil Paden led the field with 149 receiving yards and three scores on just six catches.

Six different players recorded at least a half sack on defense. Orlando DL Ko Quaye led overall with two, and Rashaad Duncan (1.0), Justin Parrish (1.0), Jerry Turner (0.5), and Charlie Hunt (0.5) all got on the sack sheet for Jacksonville. Duncan, Parrish, and Turner also recorded tackles for loss.

It doesn’t get too much easier next week, as Jacksonville goes on the road to face another division rival, the Tampa Bay Storm. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 24. Like every Sharks game this season, the game will be broadcast over the air on WBOB AM 600, and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network as part of their Net10 Wireless Arena Football Saturday package.

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