The ArenaBowl XXIV Champion Jacksonville Sharks take to Sea Best Field for the final time in the 2012 regular season on Saturday, July 14. The Sharks close out their regular-season home slate against the in-state rival Orlando Predators, with kickoff at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena set for 7:00 p.m.
The Sharks (8-8) took a large step toward the postseason with last Friday’s 50-32 win over the Milwaukee Mustangs, and now can clinch a playoff spot with a win on Saturday. Week 19 losses by both the Cleveland Gladiators and Tampa Bay Storm would also lock Jacksonville into a postseason berth.
Heading into this weekend’s action, the Sharks are on the short end of a three-way tie for the South Division lead, as both the Georgia Force and New Orleans VooDoo share matching 8-8 records. However, the Sharks still have a shot at capturing their third straight division title. Because the team has lost the head-to-head tiebreaker against both Georgia and New Orleans, the Sharks must win each of their final two games and hope that both the Force and VooDoo each lose at least one game over the next two weeks.
This week, the Sharks welcome an Orlando squad that has struggled to a 3-13 record in 2012. With that said, the Predator team heading to town this weekend is an improved squad that thumped Cleveland by a 55-34 count last weekend. Going back further, each of the Predators’ last two losses has come by just a single score, including a 56-53 defeat at Georgia on July 1.
For the Sharks, one key to a Saturday victory would be a repeat performance from quarterback Bernard Morris. The third-year player from Marshall fired six touchdown passes and threw just four incompletions in last Friday’s win against the Mustangs. It was the fourth game this season in which Morris has thrown six or more touchdown passes, and it should come as no surprise that the Sharks are 4-0 in those contests.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of last Friday’s game was the emergence of wide receiver Josh Philpart. A consistent performer in practice since joining the team, Philpart got his largest amount of playing time to date against the Mustangs, breaking out in the second half with three touchdown catches to help clinch the Jacksonville victory. Jeron Harvey matched Philpart with three touchdown catches of his own in what was Harvey’s second straight multi-touchdown performance.
Harvey, Philpart and the Shark receiving corps should get another boost this week, as Bobby Sewall is set to make his return after missing last week’s game while on league suspension. Sewall was a factor in Jacksonville’s Week 12 victory in Orlando, catching a pair of first-half touchdowns in that 55-37 win.
On the other side of the ball, defensive lineman Scooter Berry picked up his tenth sack of the season against the Mustangs and now stands just one play away from putting his name in the record books. With one more sack, Berry would match Derrick Summers’ team record of 11, set just last season. In doing so, Berry would also tie Summers for the third-highest sack total by a rookie in Arena Football League history. Berry and Mac linebacker Aaron Robbins combined for three sacks in the Sharks’ first meeting with the Predators.
In the secondary, the Sharks will be without defensive back Micheaux Robinson, who was placed on injured reserve Thursday after leaving last week’s game midway through the second quarter. To take Robinson’s place on the active roster, Jacksonville native and University of Georgia product Bryan Evans has been activated from injured reserve and could make his first appearance since Week 13.
Know Your Foe
The Orlando Predators will miss the playoffs for the first time since the team’s inaugural 1991 season. However, as noted above, the Predators have played improved football of late, picking up two of their three wins in the last four weeks.
Predator quarterback Chris Leak, who began this season with the Sharks, tossed eight touchdown passes in Orlando’s victory over the Cleveland Gladiators last Friday night and is the AFL’s reigning Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Week. Leak has started each of the Predators’ last eight games, amassing 49 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions in those contests.
One of Leak’s favorite targets has been T.T. Toliver, an AFL veteran who leads the Predators with 88 catches for 1,120 yards and 23 touchdowns this season. Fellow receiver Glen Fox has come on of late for Orlando, racking up 62 catches in just six