After a heartbreaking loss in Orlando and an early bye week, the Jacksonville Sharks (1-1) came in focused for their home opener. The 10,144 fans in attendance were treated with a resounding 63-22 win over the San Antonio Talons (0-3).
It was never really competitive, as Jacksonville got off to a hot start. They led 26-0 after just over 20 minutes, and they never looked back.
San Antonio came out hitting, and WR Mardy Gilyard was one of their main targets of abuse, but he was still able to hang on and make plays, including scoring an early touchdown after an unsuccessful Talons challenge. Both WR London Crawford and QB R.J. Archer got in on the act, and the Sharks led 20-0 at the end of the first quarter.
As good as things were on offense, Jacksonville had an even better performance on defense. San Antonio QB Mitch Mustain targeted former Shark WR Jomo Wilson early, but with no success, including a stretch where he completed one of eight passes.
After Jacksonville FB Jared McGriff-Culver scored on a 14-yard run early in the second quarter, the Talons finally got on the board thanks to returning the ensuing kickoff. Then, following Mardy Gilyard’s second scoring catch of the night, the Sharks’ special teams helped San Antonio again. The bobbled extra point snap landed in K Fabrizio Scaccia’s hands, and doing his best Garo Yepremian impression, he tried to throw a pass. Backup QB and holder Kyle Rowley tipped it in the air, and it found a defender’s hands. The Talons scored the quick two points, creating an awkward 32-9 scoreline late in the second quarter.
San Antonio finally found the end zone thanks to Jomo Wilson, but Jacksonville countered with a drive filled with acrobatic catches. First Jeron Harvey reaching out and snagging a ball for a first down, then London Crawford stealing the ball from a defender in the end zone to give the Sharks a 38-16 lead.
Special teams kept haunting Jacksonville, as they couldn’t recover a loose ball on the kickoff, but the defense came up with a stop to set up another Jeron Harvey touchdown catch. Thanks to five straight missed extra points and mishandled snaps, as well as a Jerry Turner sack, the Sharks carried a 44-16 lead into the locker room.
The defense picked up where they left off with Terrance Smith picking off Mitch Mustain in the end zone, setting up Crawford for a 45-yard catch and run and another botched snap.
San Antonio backup QB Marcus Jackson was welcomed with another sack by Justin Parrish and Jerry Turner, and Jared McGriff-Culver helped literally run down the clock on his way to the end zone. Mitch Mustain was then called back into action, and Terrance Smith greeted him with another interception to end the third quarter.
Kyle Rowley finished out the game under center, and got some help from Jeron Harvey, who bobbled, caught, fumbled, then recovered the ball in the red zone. The drive stalled, but it had little effect on the result, as both teams traded scores one last time to end the game.
R.J. Archer bounced back with an incredible effort, completing 16 of 22 passes for 194 yards, six touchdowns, and no interceptions. After the game, he gave credit to a good practice throughout the week, and praised his offensive line for giving him great protection throughout the game. “They did a great job. I didn’t really hit the ground.”
London Crawford had a game-high 96 yards and three scores on just six catches. He acknowledged both the overall team performance and his individual strengths. “I have a full year under my belt. I’m learning patience with my routes and how to play the indoor game.” He also gave credit to good team practice, unity and camaraderie, and leadership at the quarterback position.
FB Jared McGriff-Culver had a big home debut, running 12 times for 43 yards and two touchdowns. He joined in the chorus favoring the offensive line. “Everyone blocked, they created a red sea for me.”
Terrance Smith finished the night with two interceptions a pass breakup, and praise for the team as a whole. With “Being on the field brings enthusiasm. Coach [Les Moss] has confidence, and A-Rob [Aaron Robbins] created pressure.” He said that the defense had a more impressive performance by forcing the quarterback to make the perfect throw.
On the losing end, Mitch Mustain only completed nine passes in 29 attempts. Deuces were wild in his statline: two touchdowns, two interceptions, and he was sacked twice.
San Antonio offensive coordinator Raymond Philyaw said it was a game to forget. “It’s one of those games where you wish the clock ran faster. We only scored one touchdown in the first half, and we played catch up.” His focus is now watching film and seeing who will be the top quarterback next week.
For Jacksonville, their next game is on the road against the two-time defending ArenaBowl champion Arizona Rattlers on Saturday, April 5. Kickoff is set for 9:00 p.m., and the game will be broadcast locally on WBOB AM 600, and can be seen live on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app.
For more on the Jacksonville Sharks, including the latest news, updates, and transactions, log on to www.jaxsharks.com. For more on the rest of the Arena Football League, log on to www.arenafan.com and www.arenafootball.com.