JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Sharks used a pair of interception return touchdowns to build a five-score first-half lead on Saturday night and team never looked back. Strong execution in all phases of the game carried the Sharks to a 67-34 victory over the Tampa Bay Storm at Amalie Arena.
Jacksonville (5-5) broke the game open midway through the first half. Holding a 13-7 lead thanks to a pair of Tommy Grady touchdown tosses, the Sharks’ defense came up with three consecutive stops, including a pair of interception return touchdowns.
Late in the first quarter, Tampa Bay (1-9) quarterback Jason Boltus threw a pass in the direction of wide receiver Julius Gregory. Jacksonville defensive back LaRoche Jackson put a big hit on Gregory, causing the ball to pop up in the air and into the arms of defensive lineman Jordan Miller. Playing in his the first game of his Arena Football League career, Miller secured the interception, slipped a tackle and raced 28 yards for a touchdown that put the Sharks ahead by two scores.
On Tampa Bay’s next drive, a team effort kept the Storm out of the end zone. On fourth and goal from inside the five, Boltus pulled the ball down and tried to scramble. But Jacksonville’s defense closed quickly, as David Hyland and Greg Reid converged on Boltus, taking the Storm signal-caller down shy of the goal line and forcing a turnover on downs. That stop turned into a score, as Grady hit Joe Hills from 15 yards out for the second of their four touchdown connections, putting the Sharks ahead 27-7.
On the first play of the ensuing Storm possession, Reid leaped into the air to snare a Boltus pass, hauling in his league-leading eighth interception of the season. Coming down with the ball in the open field, Reid then dashed 21 yards for a score, giving the Sharks a 34-7 advantage.
Though Tampa Bay got on the board on its next drive, the Sharks further extended their lead by scoring the final two touchdowns of the first half. After Grady hit Reggie Gray for a 22-yard touchdown strike, Andrew Robustelli recovered an onside kick to give the Sharks an extra possession. A few plays later, Grady found Hills from 14 yards out, putting Jacksonville on top by a 47-14 count at halftime.
In the second half, the two teams traded scores into the fourth quarter. For Jacksonville, Dexter Jackson scored a one-yard rushing touchdown before Grady and Hills connected yet again. At that point, the Sharks led by a 61-21 count and Grady exited the game in favor of backup Sean Brackett.
Though the Storm scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and forced two stops with Brackett in the game, Tampa Bay never came closer than 61-34. The Sharks put the finishing touches on the victory on the final play of the game, as Reid picked up a fumble and raced the length of the field for a touchdown as time expired.
That score allowed Jacksonville to set a new franchise record, as the Sharks notched three defensive touchdowns in a single game for the first time in team history. History was also made on the other side, as Storm receiver T.T. Toliver passed Damian Harrell to become the AFL’s all-time leader in receiving yards.
In the victory, Grady completed 16 of his 23 pass attempts for 188 yards and six touchdowns without an interception. Hills led the Sharks with seven receptions for 68 yards and four touchdowns, while Gray and Tiger Jones each hauled in one touchdown catch. With fullback Derrick Ross on inactive reserve, Dexter Jackson chipped in as part of a rotation at the position, carrying the ball three times for two yards and a touchdown to go along with a sack at his typical Mac linebacker spot.
On defense, Reid racked up 5.5 tackles and two pass breakups to go along with his pair of defensive touchdowns. Hyland led all players with 8.0 total tackles (six solo), while LaRoche Jackson recorded 7.5 stops and a pass breakup.
For Tampa Bay, Boltus went 22-of-41, throwing for 284 yards and four touchdowns against two interceptions. Toliver led the Storm with eight receptions for 124 yards and three scores, while John Brown scored a rushing touchdown. Defensively, James Harrell notched five solo tackles and a pass breakup.
Now back at the .500 mark, the Sharks will return home to take on the Orlando Predators on Saturday, June 18. Kickoff on Sea Best Field is set for 7:00 p.m.