The Jacksonville Sharks head north this weekend for their third consecutive divisional matchup, as the Sharks are set to take on the Georgia Force on Saturday night. Kickoff for Saturday’s game is set for 7:00 p.m.
The Sharks (6-5) enter this weekend in sole possession of first place in the South Division thanks to three consecutive double-digit wins. Last time out, the Sharks avenged an early-season loss with a 71-61 victory over the Tampa Bay Storm. The team has the chance to do just that, as the Force took this season’s first meeting, 69-41, in Jacksonville’s home opener.
Since then, much has changed for both teams. Jacksonville quarterback Bernard Morris was added to the team’s roster the week of that first meeting against the Force and served as the backup in that game. Morris is now set for his fifth consecutive start and boasts a 3-1 record in that starting role – not counting the dramatic comeback he led after serving as an injury replacement against the New Orleans VooDoo in Week 9.
Against the Storm last weekend, Morris tossed six touchdown passes against just one interception and sealed the game with a 13-yard touchdown run – his second rushing touchdown of the game. After a four-pick performance in his first start against Philadelphia, Morris has now totaled 16 touchdowns against just one interception during the Sharks’ three-game winning streak.
The third-year quarterback could have another weapon to work with this weekend, as wide receiver Jeron Harvey was activated from injured reserve on Wednesday. Hurt in the late stages of the Sharks’ Week 6 win in Cleveland, Harvey was leading the team in receptions at the time of his injury.
An already deep receiving corps got another injection of young talent this week, as Jacksonville University product Josh Philpart joined the team on Monday. The 22-year-old is JU’s all-time leader in every major receiving category.
On defense, the Sharks’ secondary will have to overcome the loss of Bryan Evans, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday and will miss at least the next four games. Still, the unit appears to be rounding into shape, as LaRoche Jackson grabbed his first interception of the season last weekend and nearly had another when he leapt over the boards but could not hang on, falling into the Tampa Bay bench in the process.
The Sharks’ front four continues to produce as well, as the team now ranks fifth in the league with 21 sacks this season. Both Aaron Robbins (6.5) and Scooter Berry (6.0) hold spots in the league’s top 10 in the category, while Berry leads the team with three fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.
With a win, Jacksonville would move a game and a half ahead of Georgia and a full game ahead of idle Tampa Bay. It would also mark the team’s fourth consecutive divisional win, with additional South Division contests remaining against New Orleans in Week 17 and Orlando in Week 19.
Over the last several weeks, the Georgia Force (6-6) have not been able to replicate the offensive success the team had in its win over the Sharks back on March 24. The team has not crossed the 60-point threshold since April 14 and has scored fewer than 30 points on three separate occasions. The Force currently rank 15th in the AFL in scoring offense, as the team is currently averaging 44.9 points per game.
Georgia quarterback R.J. Archer briefly left the team in mid-season to work with the Detroit Lions but is now set for his second start since returning to the Force. Archer struggled somewhat in his return to the AFL, throwing three interceptions in the team’s loss to the VooDoo. Expect Archer to look for Larry Shipp early and often, as the receiver leads the Force with 93 catches for 1,101 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2012.
Defensively, Georgia ranks second-to-last in the league with just 11 sacks this season. However, this lack of consistent pressure on the quarterback has not hindered the Force’s secondary in the slightest, as Georgia’s defensive backfield ranks second in the league with 23 interceptions this season. With that said, much of that production has come Tracy Belton, who leads the entire league with 10 interceptions but was placed on injured reserve back on May 15.
The Sharks return home in for a game against the Philadelphia Soul at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 16. Next Saturday’s game will be a rematch after the Sharks suffered a 56-38 defeat in Philadelphia back in Week 10. It will be “Halloween In June,” as fans are encouraged to dress in costume for a night of spooky promotions.