JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Down one score at the start of the third quarter on Saturday night, the Jacksonville Sharks (6-3) committed back-to-back turnovers and could not recover, falling to the San Jose SaberCats (6-2) by a 57-36 count in front of 8,641 on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
The Sharks came out of the locker room after halftime facing just a seven-point deficit, 29-22. But Jacksonville turned the ball over on each of its first two possessions of the second half, and the resulting scores but the Sharks in a hole from which the team could not recover. On the opening drive of the third, Jacksonville moved into San Jose territory before quarterback R.J. Archer was intercepted by SaberCat Jack linebacker Huey Whittaker. After a San Jose touchdown, the Sharks moved into the red zone on their next drive, but San Jose defensive lineman Jason Stewart popped the ball loose from the grasp of Jerry Turner. The SaberCats pounced on the loose ball and converted the turnover into another touchdown, taking a commanding 36-22 lead.
The Sharks did get on the board with a pair of touchdowns in the fourth, as Archer hit Markee White from three yards out and fired a 20-yard strike to Jeff Hughley. But each time, San Jose was able to answer with a score of its own, and the Sharks could not come within fewer than two scores at any point in the final quarter.
Earlier, San Jose scored the game's first points on their opening drive. After Fred Williams' kick return set the SaberCats up at the 21-yard line, quarterback Russ Michna found Huey Whittaker for a score to put San Jose ahead, 6-0. The Shark offense responded by marching down the field, as Archer hit Hughley over the middle for a 13-yard touchdown on fourth down.
With the game tied at six, San Jose took the game's first advantage with a score followed by a defensive stop. After Michna took it in himself from three yards out to give his team a 13-6 lead, the Sharks went four-and-out as Archer's pass for Hughley fell incomplete.
But the Shark defense stepped up on the game's next possession to keep the score close. After San Jose marched into the red zone, the Jacksonville defensive line stood strong on back-to-back running plays. Two consecutive holding penalties then moved San Jose back to the Shark 21, and the defense forced the SaberCats into a field goal attempt. Nich Pertuit's kick was true from 37 yards out, and San Jose took a 16-6 lead.
Archer and his offense bounced back on the next possession, as the Shark quarterback found Jeron Harvey from seven yards out for Harvey's team-leading 18th touchdown of the season. Marco Capozzoli's extra point cut the Jacksonville deficit to just three, 16-13. San Jose answered with another score as Whittaker took it in with a three-yard rushing touchdown. As Pertuit stepped into his extra point, Jerry Turner blocked the kick straight backwards and fellow defensive lineman Ayanga Okpokowuruk tracked down the loose ball, picked it up at a dead run and sprinted to the opposite end zone for two points. The play kept it a one-score game at 22-15.
The teams traded touchdowns on the final two possessions of the first half to set up the situation at the start of the third quarter. Harvey fought off contact from multiple defenders and pulled in an outstanding one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone, completing a 23-yard touchdown that was his second score of the game. That touchdown tied the score at 22, but San Jose answered with a two-yard pass from Michna to Whittaker as the clock expired.
Making his first start of the season, Archer completed 29 of his 46 passes for 264 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. Harvey and White led the Sharks with matching 11-catch performances, as Harvey totaled 108 yards and two scores while White added 78 yards and a touchdown. Hughley found the end zone twice as well, averaging a team-high 12.5 yards per catch on his six grabs for 75 yards.
On defense, Terrance Smith led the Sharks with five total tackles (four solo), two tackles for loss and two pass breakups. Aaron Robbins dropped Michna twice for his sixth and seventh sacks of the season, forcing a fumble as well. Turner and Jamaal Fudge each added a tackle for loss.
On the other side, Michna was efficient throughout, finishing 16-of-23 for 258 yards and five touchdowns. Williams led San Jose with eight catches for a game-high 155 yards and two scores. Whittaker found the end zone twice as well, and former Shark Jason Willis chipped in with two catches for 46 yards and a score. Michna carried the ball four times for 15 yards and two rushing touchdowns, while Whittaker scored on the ground himself. J.C. Neal led all players with 8.5 tackles (seven solo), while Francis Maka and Jabari Fletcher each recorded two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
With the loss, the Sharks fell into a first-place tie with the Tampa Bay Storm atop the South Division. Jacksonville returns to the field on Saturday, May 25, when the team will face the in-state rival Orlando Predators at Amway Center in Orlando. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m.
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