Bernard Morris fired a season-high eight touchdown passes and the Jacksonville Sharks raced to a 27-0 lead, eventually defeating the Pittsburgh Power by a 64-39 score at Consol Energy Center on Friday night. With the win, the Sharks have clinched their third South Division championship in as many seasons.
Finishing the regular season as the No. 2 seed in the American Conference, Jacksonville (10-8) will host the Georgia Force. That first-round playoff game will kick off at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 28 at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
On Friday night, the Sharks received the opening kickoff and set the tone from the start, embarking on a four-play, 40-yard touchdown drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Bernard Morris to Jamarko Simmons for the game’s first score. From there, the Jacksonville defense set the tone by forcing Pittsburgh (5-13) into a turnover on downs on each of the Power’s first three possessions. In that first quarter, Scooter Berry dropped Power quarterback Andrico Hines for a sack that broke the previous franchise record of 11, set by Derrick Summers last season.
The Sharks turned each short field into a touchdown, taking a 27-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. The efficient Jacksonville offense racked up three scores on their first seven offensive plays. In the midst of the Sharks’ run, Pittsburgh turned to Bryan Randall at quarterback. Randall was sacked by Berry on his second snap of the game, as Berry’s second sack of the contest gave the defensive lineman 12.5 this season, tying him for the fourth-highest single-season total in AFL history.
Though Pittsburgh’s offense started to come together in the second quarter, the Sharks matched each Pittsburgh score to prevent their opponent from closing the gap. With Jacksonville up 41-13 in the final minute of the first half, Terrance Smith recovered an onside kick to give the Sharks another possession. Morris and the Jacksonville offense took advantage, as Morris found Jeron Harvey from five yards out to give the Sharks a 48-13 halftime lead.
That touchdown pass was the second of four connections between Morris and Harvey, as the receiver matched a season high with those four touchdown catches. Overall, Morris finished 20-for-25 for 194 yards and eight touchdowns against one interception. Morris total of eight touchdowns set a new season high and put him one score shy of tying the franchise record of nine, which has been set three times.
Harvey led the Shark receiving corps with 13 catches for 99 yards and four touchdowns. In the process, Harvey established a new franchise record with 215 career receptions, breaking Jomo Wilson’s previous mark of 212. Jamarko Simmons added 66 yards and three touchdowns on his six catches, while Josh Philpart found the end zone once as well, marking his third consecutive game with a touchdown catch.
On the ground, Rendrick Taylor made his presence felt when he ripped off a 19-yard run on the Sharks’ second play from scrimmage. Taylor finished the game with seven carries for 59 yards, setting a new career high for yardage and finishing with the second-highest single-game total in franchise history.
Defensively, Terrance Smith stepped in front of a second-quarter Randall pass for his second interception in as many games. In addition to Berry’s pair of sacks, Mac linebacker Aaron Robbins added a sack of his own to bring his season total to 8.5. Charlie Hunt led the Jacksonville defense with 4.5 tackles (three solo), while LaRoche Jackson added four solo tackles of his own.
The Sharks will not find out the identity of their first-round playoff opponent until Saturday night, when the New Orleans VooDoo and Georgia Force square off at New Orleans Arena. The winner of that game will be the No. 3 seed and take on the Sharks next Saturday, while the loser will either be the No. 4 seed or miss the playoffs entirely, depending on this weekend’s other results. Sharks playoff tickets are currently on sale, and may be purchased by calling the Sharks ticket office at (904) 621-0700.