Going into St. Patrick's Day weekend, the Jacksonville Sharks didn't have the luck of the Irish as they lost to their division rivals, the Orlando Predators, 41-20, in their preseason scrimmage on Friday night.
The problems were evident right from the first possession. On defense, the Sharks gave Orlando WR Prechae Rodriguez too much open space, and Orlando raced out to a 13-0 lead in the first ten minutes of the game. Jacksonville was using a conservative offense, and their first points came thanks to DB LaRoche "Action" Jackson's 58-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 13-7. It was his second big return of the night, but the first one went for naught as the Sharks turned the ball over on downs.
Orlando took their two touchdown lead right back just three plays later, and they showed their aggressiveness by opting not to kick extra points and instead go for two-point conversions. They missed both of their first quarter attempts.
Jacksonville QB Bernard Morris showed his signature mobility early on, ending the first quarter and starting the second with big runs. He followed that with a touchdown pass to Charles Gilbert, their only offensive points of the first half, to bring the Sharks to within five points.
The rest of the half was marred by penalties by both teams, and the Predators continued to be aggressive on offense, going for it on fourth down twice before turning the ball back over to Jacksonville. This led to one of the highlights of the night, as WR Jeron Harvey carried three defenders to gain extra yards on a second-down play that led to 1st and goal. However, not only was FB Rendrick Taylor stood up on 1st down, but Morris was intercepted on 2nd down and Jacksonville came up empty-handed.
The Sharks finally caught a break as Orlando's receivers had trouble hanging on to the ball, and ran out of time before getting a play off to end the half. Jacksonville went into the locker room only trailing 19-14.
The second half, however, was all Predators. QB R.J. Archer, brought in via the dispersal draft, never really looked comfortable in the pocket. His second pass of the night was intercepted, but a defensive penalty rescued him. Rendrick Taylor had his first big run of the night, six yards on first down, but that was immediately cancelled out by a sack on Archer.
Jacksonville had some life after WR J.J. Hayes converted a 4th and 13 at the Predators 11-yard line, but another sack backed the Sharks up into another long 3rd down. Instead of a 30-yard field goal attempt, the Sharks decided to go for it on 4th down, but Archer was intercepted in the end zone.
The Sharks started to improve on defense, causing a turnover and giving their offense a short field. However, both Hayes and Taylor were stopped short, giving the ball back to Orlando.
While the Predators were making their share of mistakes late, the Sharks didn't do themselves any favors. Jacksonville forced a fumble, but Orlando was able to recover; a defensive pass interference penalty followed, and a Predators touchdown pass made it 27-14 with 13:44 left in the game.
While Jacksonville was helped out the rest of the night by the Predators continuing to kick off out of bounds, their offense could not capitalize. R.J. Archer showed some mobility of his own by scrambling, but he could not convert a fourth down to keep the Sharks alive. Orlando started to open up their offense, using the shotgun formation and some trick plays in the fourth quarter to some success, eventually scoring another touchdown. The score led to the biggest moment of controversy, as the Predators appeared to be stopped on the two-point conversion, but the referees said the receiver crossed the goal line, and the score was 35-14 with just over six minutes left.
After the score, third-string rookie QB Lee Chapple came in to finish the game for the Sharks. He saw his first action quickly as Jacksonville recovered a Predators fumble, and showed some early effectiveness, but no points. Orlando pulled a double pass trick play out of their bag, and it almost led to another touchdown. In the end it was insignificant, as Orlando would score and draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the ensuing celebration.
Chapple showed that all three quarterback can run as he scored on a 10-yard touchdown on the last play of the game.
While the overall post-game mood was sour, Jacksonville knows where they stand going into next week's season opener in Tampa Bay. As LaRoche Jackson put it, "We found out what we need to work on. We have to work everywhere at all positions, we had a lot of rookies in." He expressed his disappointment in the team's performance, and praised the fans for their support during the game.
The Sharks, who opened training camp with a 35-man roster, now have the task of trimming down their roster from the 28 players they practiced with to 24 before the season opener. Then, Jacksonville will travel to Tampa Bay to face the Storm to kick off the 2013 season. The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 23rd. For more information about the game, or for other team updates, visit jaxsharks.com. For more information and the latest news on the rest of the league, go to arenafootball.com.