In what could arguably be described as the toughest week of the season, the Jacksonville Sharks (4-8) played two tough opponents, the Spokane Shock and the Orlando Predators. They scored an upset, but also suffered a season sweep.
Last Saturday, Jacksonville found themselves at 3-7 and in dire straits when it comes to making the playoffs. They faced a 6-5 Spokane team that was hurting without their MVP quarterback, who was out due to injury. The Sharks had another advantage of both being healthy and coming off of their last bye week of the season.
As usual this season, things didn’t start out well for Jacksonville. After giving up a quick pass, the Sharks caught a break as there were some equipment issues with the down markers. This only slowed down Spokane, as QB Bryan Zbydniewski worked the sidelines down the field, including a long pass to WR Mike Washington, to set up a one-yard sneak to open the scoring. Jacksonville struck back quickly, with a big return from new WR Maurice Williams and a 22-yard pass from RJ Archer to Jeron Harvey. The offense stalled inside the five-yard line, but FB RJ Bibbs cashed in with a one-yard run of his own to tie the game at seven.
That’s as close as Jacksonville would get for some time, and the incredibly slow pace of the game didn’t help. Bryan Zbydniewski found Nick Truesdell to get in the red zone, but the Sharks, like the Shock, stiffened. However, Mike Washington still scored, and Spokane took a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter.
Both defenses took over for the rest of the half. Jacksonville had a chance to tie the game, but the Sharks receivers just couldn’t make the catches they needed. Terrance Smith did his job on the other side of the ball, knocking away two passes to force a four-and-out. After a four-and-out of their own, however, Jacksonville gave up a 28-yard touchdown to Mike Washington, and the Shock had a two score lead. The Sharks caught a break on their next drive, as Jomo Wilson recovered a Jeron Harvey fumble in the end zone for a touchdown and a 21-14 score.
The two teams traded scores to end the first half, and Jacksonville could’ve tied the game going into the locker room after recovering an excellent onside kick by Fabrizio Scaccia, but the Sharks couldn’t take advantage. There was no scoring whatsoever in the third quarter.
After a second half of near scores, Jacksonville finally broke the deadlock to tie the game on a 16-yard pass from RJ Archer to new receiver Charles Gilbert. Terrance Smith then did what he does best, intercepting Bryan Zbydniewski and returning the ball 10 yards for a touchdown and a 34-28 lead.
Spokane tried to force overtime on the last drive of the game, but Jacksonville’s defense stiffened yet again. First by keeping Zbydniewski out of the end zone on two quarterback sneaks, then forcing a bad pass to Mike Washington, sealing the win on the last play of the game.
Jacksonville took that momentum to CFE arena for their third and final meeting of the season against the archrival Orlando Predators. Like on Thursday, the Sharks started strong. This time, they opened up the scoring, thanks to a 36-yard pass from RJ Archer to Maurice Williams. Orlando quickly tied the game on a one-yard run by FB Michael Simmons, but Archer found Williams again for a 14-7 lead. Jacksonville’s defense then made their statement, with James McClinton III, Justin Parrish, and Jerry Turner combining for two sacks on consecutive plays, leading to a turnover on downs.
It only took one play for Jacksonville to score again, as Archer threw a 17-yard pass to Charles Gilbert, but a blocked extra point left the lead at 20-7. Orlando answered right back thanks to a crazy bounce that allowed Kendal Thompkins to make a 10-yard catch near midfield.
After Jomo Wilson’s 10-yard TD catch made the score 27-14, it was Orlando’s turn to score back-to-back touchdowns. Greg Carr, a successful onside kick, and Bernard Morris all added up to a 28-27 Predators lead with 50 seconds left in the first half.
Orlando and Jacksonville traded touchdowns throughout the third quarter, and the Sharks got down to the Orlando one-yard line early in the fourth quarter, but the Predators defenders were just too good, and RJ Archer couldn’t find an open man in the end zone. A 42-yard touchdown pass from Bernard Morris to Gerald Young later, and the Sharks were down two scores.
FB Jared McGriff-Culver bowled in on a one-yard run, set up by a long Maurice Williams catch and run. However, RJ Archer’s two-point conversion pass got picked off by DB Anthony Shutt, who returned it 49 yards to extend the Predators lead to 51-40. To add further insult, the Sharks couldn’t only fail to recover the onside kick, but the hot potato football found its way into former Jacksonville DB Tracy Belton’s hands in the end zone. Maurice Williams got one more catch and long scoring run, but Jacksonville’s fate was already sealed. For the first time ever, Orlando swept the season series, winning all three games.
RJ Archer didn’t start well, but improved to have an average two-game performance, completing 41 of 76 passes for 558 yards, eight touchdowns, and one interception. Jeron Harvey shined against Spokane, leading the team with six catches for 111 yards. In his absence due to injury, Maurice Williams more than took over the #1 spot, with 12 catches for 199 yards and three touchdowns against the Predators.
On defense, four different players recorded at least half a sack, James McClinton III leading the way with 2.5 in the two games. Terrance Smith had two interceptions, including the game winning touchdown return, against Spokane. Xavier Brewer led the team with nine total tackles in the two games.
The Sharks now get some well-deserved rest before heading back on the road, as they travel to New Orleans to face the VooDoo in a must-win game if Jacksonville has any hopes of making the playoffs. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. The game, as every game this season, will be aired on WBOB AM 600, and the can also be seen online through ESPN3 or 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.