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Slow, lethargic Sharks drop game in Tampa Bay

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The Jacksonville Sharks (3-7) didn’t do themselves any favors when it comes to the playoffs after losing to the Tampa Bay Storm (4-6) on the road, 56-35, on Saturday night.

The first ten minutes of the game set the tone. QB Randy Hippeard came back from injury for the Storm, and immediately found WR Joe Hills in the end zone for a 7-0 lead.

Jacksonville QB R.J. Archer struggled during his first drive, but found he could rely on London Crawford, who continued to show his ability as a #1 wide receiver. Overall communication with the other receivers was mixed, leading to Jacksonville going 0/2 on third down and ½ on 4th down, leading to no points.

The Sharks couldn’t get too much pressure on Randy Hippeard, and he found Joe Hills again on 4th-and-2 for a 14-0 lead.

The Storm defensive line made R.J. Archer uncomfortable in the pocket, both hitting him and forcing him to slide and scramble for most of the night. Archer still made plays, finding WR Jomo Wilson deep and London Crawford in the end zone to get Jacksonville on the board.

Joe Hills continued his dominance, catching a long ball over Micheaux Robinson to set up a red zone opportunity. Jacksonville stiffened for three downs, but old foe T.T. Toliver reached over the goal line to score on 4th down. Head coach Les Moss unsuccessfully challenged the call.

Down 21-7 early in the second quarter, things started to go from bad to worse for Jacksonville. R.J. Archer was nearly intercepted, but London Crawford bailed him out with a 16-yard run into the red zone, setting up an Archer TD pass to Jeron Harvey.

Tampa Bay answered quickly and unusually, with TE Alfred McCullough making his first catch of the season, then rumbling down the sideline for his first touchdown of the season. Jeron Harvey needed only three catches to put the Sharks back within seven, but that’s as close as it would get for Jacksonville.

The Storm had their own version of the “Miracle Minute” to close out the first half. With 32 seconds left, Randy Hippeard started a crucial drive. Jacksonville pressured him, and DE Jerry Turner sacked him on second down. Nevertheless, he found T.T. Toliver again. Toliver crashed into the boards on a 26-yard TD catch with one second left in the half. That one second was just enough time for a kickoff, and Jomo Wilson couldn’t find the ball after it bounced off the iron. Tampa Bay pounced on it in the end zone, and went into the locker room with a 42-21 halftime lead.

Whatever energy Jacksonville had left coming out of halftime, it disappeared on the first play of the third quarter. London Crawford suffered a horse collar tackle by Rod Issac, and left the game due to a knee injury.

Jacksonville had to piecemeal their offense the rest of the game thanks to that and a Terrance Smith ankle injury. This meant backup QB Alex Carder saw time at wide receiver, and Cornelius Lewis caught his first ball at TE, getting into the end zone to bring the Sharks back within 14.

That’s as close as Jacksonville would get the rest of the night. KR Michael Lindsey nearly scored on the kickoff return, and Joe Hills scored on the next play. Tampa Bay LB Dexter Jackson, in the game at fullback, scored on a sweep following an R.J. Archer interception off the net, his first pick in four games.

Despite trailing 56-28 to start the fourth quarter, Jacksonville didn’t wave the white flag just yet. Alex Carder nearly scored on the first play, but the Sharks got stood up at the goal line. DB Micheaux Robinson intercepted Randy Hippeard to give Jacksonville life, and Jeron Harvey scored on fourth and goal for the final tally of the night.

The game didn’t end without interest, as Alex Carder went from catching passes to throwing them, completing his first pass to LB Charlie Hunt, who also played wide receiver before the night was done.

R.J. Archer had a less than stellar night, completing 27 of 48 passes for 271 yards, five touchdowns, and the lone interception. Jeron Harvey was the man of the night at receiver, with game highs in catches (12), yards (114), and touchdowns (3).

On the other sideline, Randy Hippeard completed 21 of 29 passes for 255 yards, six scores, and his lone interception. While Joe Hills led the way with three scores, T.T. Toliver led the team with 81 yards from seven catches.

Micheaux Robinson led the defense with 8.5 total tackles, but Storm DB Jean Francor was king of the night with 10.5. Tampa Bay’s secondary also defended 10 total passes, with James Harrell leading the way with four.

Jacksonville will have a lot to think about over the next two weeks, as they go into their second and final bye week of the season. Their next game will be June 7 at home against the Spokane Shock.

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.

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