Sharks advance to American Conference Championship
Jacksonville overcomes 21-point deficit to knock off Tampa Bay
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Sharks scored two touchdowns in the final eight seconds of Saturday's first-round playoff game against the Tampa Bay Storm, capping an epic comeback to seal a 69-62 win at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
The two teams were tied at 55 entering the final minute of the game. Tampa Bay seized the lead with 52 seconds left, as Shane Boyd fired a short touchdown pass to Joe Hills. After Jeff Hughley returned the ensuing kickoff down to the 15, the Sharks managed the clock with a pair of completions to Jeron Harvey. Sharks head coach Les Moss allowed several seconds to expire before calling timeout with 11 seconds left. On the next play, Morris dropped back and tossed an out route to Markee White, who snagged a touchdown catch to pull Jacksonville within a point.
As the Sharks lined up for the point-after attempt, holder Jeff Hughley took the snap, popped up and pushed his way into the end zone for a two-point conversion that gave the Sharks their first lead of the game, 63-62. Jacksonville's kick coverage team then dropped the Storm returner in the end zone to set Tampa Bay up at its own three yard line. On the very next play, Mac linebacker Matt Marcorelle charged up the middle, delivered a shot on Boyd and knocked the ball loose. Defensive end Derrick Summers pounced on the loose ball in the end zone to give the Sharks a 69-62 advantage.
With four seconds left, the Storm needed a kickoff return touchdown to extend the game. But the Shark coverage squad took down Jason Chery as time expired to seal the game. With the win, Jacksonville advances to the American Conference Championship game against the Philadelphia Soul, who were victorious over the Orlando Predators on Saturday night.
The Sharks' late surge was just a small slice of what was an amazing second-half comeback. The Sharks came out of the locker room trailing 27-13. Though Jacksonville received the opening kickoff of the third quarter, the ball slipped out of Morris' hands and was recovered by R.J. Roberts for a Storm touchdown. The extra point gave Tampa Bay a 34-13 advantage.
The comeback started slow, as the two teams traded touchdowns. Morris hit Markee White for an eight-yard score, but then Boyd went deep to Michael Lindsey for a 45-yard touchdown on a one-play drive. The exchange of touchdowns made the score 41-20 with 8:57 left in the third.
On the Sharks' next drive, Hughley took an end around, cut back to the middle and pushed his way into the end zone for a three-yard touchdown run. Jacksonville then benefitted from a huge swing in momentum, as Marco Capozzoli recovered his own onside kick attempt. A few plays later, Jeron Harvey took a toss, beat the Storm defenders to the corner and dashed to the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown run that pulled the Sharks within one score, 41-33.
Tampa Bay struck back with another one-play drive, this time a 43-yard touchdown pass to Joe Hills. That score allowed the Storm to take a 48-33 lead into the final fifteen minutes.
The Sharks' ridiculous 36-point fourth quarter began with a 26-yard strike from Morris to Hughley. The Jacksonville defense then stepped up with a turnover on downs, giving Morris and the Sharks a short field. Two plays later, Morris hit Harvey for an 11-yard score to tie the game at 48.
After the Storm answered with a one-yard touchdown run by Boyd, the Sharks got the ball back with just over four minutes remaining. The Sharks picked up a first down, but a pair of penalties resulted in Jacksonville facing a third-and-20 from its own 15-yard line. At that point, Morris showed why he is perhaps the most athletic quarterback in the AFL.
Morris dropped back to pass, felt the rush and scrambled to his left. After escaping the pocket, he stiff-armed a Storm defender to the turf and took off, dashing to the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown run that again tied the game at 55. The clock ticked down to the one-minute warning, setting up the dramatic final minute.
Leading the Sharks to a first-round playoff victory for a second-consecutive year, Morris completed 28 of his 37 passes for 266 yards, six touchdowns and one interceptions. Thanks to a pair of long scrambles, he racked up 72 yards and a touchdown on five carries.
To go along with his rushing touchdown, Harvey led Jacksonville with 13 catches for 113 yards and three scores. Hughley racked up 106 yards and a touchdown on eight catches, and White totaled seven receptions for 47 yards and two touchdowns. Hughley also racked up 173 kick return yards for a game-high total of 279 all-purpose yards.
On defense, Terrance Smith led Jacksonville with 4.5 total tackles (three solo) and three pass breakups. Tracy Belton made a diving interception in the second quarter, adding a pair of pass breakups as well. Micheaux Robinson racked up three pass breakups of his own.
For Tampa Bay, Boyd went 17-of-33 for 282 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception, adding five rushing yards and a score on four carries. Hills led Tampa Bay with three receiving touchdowns, while Lindsey added two and both Tyrece Gaines and Terrence Royal scored one. Rashad Barksdale led all players with 10.5 total tackles (nine solo), while Rodney Beamon and Demarcus Tyler each recorded a sack.
The Sharks will get back to work this week as the team prepares to face the Philadelphia Soul in the American Conference Championship Game on Saturday, Aug. 10. Kickoff at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is set for 7 p.m.