For the third straight year, the ArenaBowl XXIV Champion Jacksonville Sharks will be competing in the Arena Football League postseason. As the 2012 regular season comes to a close, the Sharks will head north to face the Pittsburgh Power with a chance to clinch the team’s third South Division title in as many seasons. The Sharks and Power will clash on NFL Network at 8:00 p.m. Friday in the regular season finale of the AFL’s “Net10 Arena Football Friday” series.
Jacksonville (9-8) secured a playoff spot with a 48-30 victory over the division rival Orlando Predators in Week 19. The result gave the Sharks a second consecutive season series sweep of the Predators and ensured that Jacksonville will enter the playoffs no lower than the No. 3 seed in the American Conference.
“We’ve accomplished our first goal which is to make the playoffs,” Sharks head coach Les Moss said following the team’s Saturday victory. “Next week we’ll have a chance to accomplish our second goal which is to win our division and get a home playoff game. Obviously we’re in the tournament and now we want to win it.”
The Sharks have now won three of their last four games to propel themselves to the top of the South. Key in this recent surge has been the phenomenal play of the Jacksonville defense. In the team’s last three victories, the Sharks have allowed 42, 32 and 30 points, moving the team to the top of the league in scoring defense with an overall average of 49.7 points allowed per game.
One change for the team’s defense in recent weeks has been the move of playmaker Terrance Smith from wide receiver to defensive back. The team’s leader in every major receiving category in 2012, Smith moved to defensive back midway through the Sharks’ Week 18 game against Milwaukee when starter Micheaux Robinson left with a leg injury. With Robinson now on injured reserve, Smith started on defense last Saturday and grabbed his first interception of the season in that game.
When asked about the defense’s recent performance, the second-year veteran from South Carolina State was quick to credit the unit as a whole.
“Our D-line has been stepping up, Aaron Robbins is playing the best ball he’s played. I’m impressed every week with what he does on the field” Smith said. “I just give our defense a lot of props. [Defensive Coordinator Jake] Grande is doing great, our organization is really coming together right now.”
The starter at Mac linebacker in every game this season, Robbins recorded a sack last week and now has 7.5 this season. Robbins has partnered with defensive lineman Scooter Berry to form one of the league’s most fearsome pass-rushing duos. Entering the final week of the regular season, Berry officially sits at 10.5 sacks and needs just one to break Derrick Summers’ franchise record of 11.
Though the Sharks do not rank near the top of the league in takeaways, an opportunity to make a game-changing play may present itself this week. Pittsburgh quarterbacks have been victimized to the tune of 26 interceptions, and the Power ranks last in the league with a minus-17 turnover margin in 2012.
Moving to the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Bernard Morris has continued to play efficient football. Though he has not thrown for more than 200 yards in either of the last two games, Morris has totaled nine touchdowns without an interception in those two contests. Overall, Shark quarterbacks have played eight games this season in which the team has not thrown a single interception. Unsurprisingly, Jacksonville is 7-1 in those eight games.
In the team’s two recent wins, Morris has found an emerging target in rookie receiver Josh Philpart. Philpart made his first career start against Orlando and has now scored five touchdowns over the last two weeks. Teaming with the steady Jeron Harvey and Jamarko Simmons, Philpart has helped propel the Sharks to back-to-back double-digit wins.