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Sharks handed first home loss in tension-filled, penalty-ridden game

Kyle Rowley (#6) prepares to face his former team.
Kyle Rowley (#6) prepares to face his former team.
Erik Watkins

The Jacksonville Sharks (2-4) had several opportunities to pull away from the Portland Thunder (1-5), but instead fell to the formerly winless team, 69-62, on Saturday night.

WR Jomo Wilson, in his first home game back with Jacksonville, scored with 1:26 left, then QB RJ Archer scored on the ensuing two-point conversion to get the Sharks within 69-62 with 40 seconds left. After Portland recovered the onside kick, Portland had to convert a 4th-and-23 after they committed offensive pass interference. They squandered the second chance, as Thunder and former Shark QB Kyle Rowley got flagged for intentional grounding, setting up a 4th-and-21 with seven seconds left.

Jacksonville’s defense stepped up, forcing an incompletion that gave them the ball with three seconds left, time for one last play. Archer got time and had two receivers downfield, but Portland stepped up to intercept the ball and seal their first win of the season.

The tension in the arena started on the first play, as Portland recovered a fumble, although Sharks DB/KR Terrance Smith appeared down on the play. The defense stepped up early on, forcing Portland into a 4th-and-10, but Kyle Rowley found WR Alvance Robinson for a 16-yard completion to keep the drive alive, and then in the end zone for the first score of the game.

Jacksonville FB Jared McGriff-Culver started out strong with a 24-yard run, setting up RJ Archer’s pass to Jeron Harvey in the end zone, redeeming a near interception and getting the returning Harvey back strong after his injury. Emergency kicker Nick Wallace tied the game with the extra point.

The teams continued to go back and forth throughout the first half. The physicality started to intensify after Thunder WR Alvance Robinson landed over the side wall to score a touchdown, the second time a touchdown occurred in that fashion during the game. On the kick return, Terrance Smith was injured and did not return. The teams traded fumbles, and after an illegal formation penalty cancelled a Jacksonville touchdown, WR London Crawford threw down a defender on his way to the end zone and a 21-20 Sharks lead with 6:17 left in the second quarter.

The defensive line gave Rowley fits all night, and Rashaad Duncan and Aaron Robbins combined to get a fourth down sack to set up a one-yard sneak by RJ Archer to extend the lead to eight.

Despite the continued pressure and a fumbled snap, Portland got one last strike before halftime. The back and forth continued through the third quarter, but Archer threw an interception returned for a touchdown to give the Thunder a 48-35 lead with 1:24 left in the third quarter. WR Jomo Wilson scored on a 45-yard catch and run to end the frame, but the Sharks couldn’t recover the onside kick to start the fourth.

The final 15 minutes got extra physical, and Sharks FB Jared McGriff-Culver was a victim, getting injured on a running play. He did not return. Jeron Harvey made a highlight catch knocking off two defenders on a catch and run, but the play was nearly wasted when Archer threw another interception. The Portland defender fumbled, and Jacksonville got the ball back after a recovery and an unsuccessful challenge.

Portland got one last score after a penalty nullified their kickoff return for a touchdown, but they still managed one more score to set up the thrilling last 90 seconds.

RJ Archer had an ebb-and-flow night under center. He completed 17 of 33 passes for 322 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions. He praised his wide receivers, but also gave credit to Portland’s defense. “Anybody can beat anybody. We scored on most of our possessions, but you can’t throw a pick six.”

He also had comments about Portland’s attitude, especially as things escalated in the second half. “They acted cocky sometimes, but you can’t get sucked in. There were some reminders of [the game against] San Jose [last year.]” He also made comments to the inconsistent decisions from the referees in how they called the game. “They’re quick to drop a flag.”

Jomo Wilson, who along with Jeron Harvey and London Crawford, scored two touchdowns on the night, celebrating his first home game as a Shark since 2011. “It feels great to be back, especially for all the fans. It’s like I never left.” He gave credit to RJ Archer, especially in the midst of the quarterback situation between him and Aaron Garcia. “He’s young, and he’s getting better. He’s a very dedicated student of the game. They’re both great competitors.”

For the team effort, he cited the team needing a greater sense of unity, and working on the fundamentals and capitalizing on small moments.

DB Micheaux Robinson had a much quieter night, only recording a couple pass breakups. “I’m not satisfied, I should’ve played better. It’s hard to find good out of a loss.” He also gave credit to Portland and former Shark QB Kyle Rowley. “He’s a fighter to the end. He may feel like he has inside secrets, but there was no disadvantage.” While he said the team had the same approach, he highlighted their inability to get off the field on 4th down.

Jacksonville will be right back at it next week, as they face the two-time defending ArenaBowl champion Arizona Rattlers. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 3, at Sea Best Field at Veterans Memorial Arena. The game will be broadcast over the air on WBOB AM 600, and televised on CBS Sports Network as part of their Net10 Wireless Arena Football Saturday package.

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