ORLANDO – ORLANDO – The Jacksonville Sharks picked the perfect time for the first overtime win in franchise history. With his team needing a score in overtime, Derrick Ross took a handoff into the end zone and then scored again on the ensuing two-point conversion, clinching the Sharks’ 69-68 victory over the Orlando Predators at Amway Center on Saturday night.
The two teams entered the extra session with the score knotted at 61. After Jacksonville (8-9) won the overtime coin toss and elected to kick off, Orlando (12-5) quickly marched into the red zone. Quarterback Bernard Morris took the snap and raced around the left edge for his fourth rushing touchdown of the night, putting the Predators ahead, 68-61.
At that point, the Sharks’ offense new what it faced – one possession that would decide whether the team advanced to the American Conference Championship. After Reggie Gray set his team up with good field position courtesy of a kickoff return to near midfield, Tommy Grady got the Sharks into a goal-line situation with back-to-back completions to Joe Hills. The Jacksonville offense then put the game in the heads of its fullback, as the Sharks dialed up three consecutive handoffs to Ross. On third and goal, Ross powered in from short yardage to bring his team within a point.
Facing a do-or-die two-point conversion, Grady dropped back and looked for Hills in the back-right corner of the end zone. The pass fell incomplete, but Orlando was flagged for defensive pass interference on the play, giving the Sharks another shot at the try from the one-yard line. The team went back to Ross and the fullback delivered, taking a handoff and powering through Orlando’s defensive front to seal the victory.
Saturday’s game had no shortage of drama even before overtime. At the one-minute timeout in the fourth quarter, Jacksonville trailed 55-53 and faced a third-and-nine from the Predators’ 10-yard line. Grady dropped back to pass, bided his time and tossed a pinpoint pass to Hills, who hauled in his second touchdown of the night to put the Sharks back on top. Grady and Hills connected on the ensuing two-point attempt, giving the Sharks a 61-55 lead.
Orlando responded with exceptional clock management, working its way into the red zone. After forcing the Sharks to use their final two timeouts, the Predators ran the clock down to 1.6 seconds before calling timeout prior to a fourth-and-goal from the doorstep. Morris took the snap and pushed his way across the goal line as time expired, momentarily tying the game at 61. Predator kicker Mark Lewis took the field with a chance to end the game, but his extra point attempt missed wide right, giving the Sharks new life in overtime.
In the first half, it was the Predators that gained the early advantage following a crucial turnover. On the Sharks’ second offensive possession, Grady looked for Gray on fourth down, but Orlando’s Terence Moore stepped in front of the pass, returning an interception 42 yards for a touchdown that put the Predators ahead, 21-7. On the Sharks’ next drive, Jacksonville moved all the way down to the one-yard line, but Ross lost the handle fighting for extra yardage.
The Predators recovered Ross’ fumble, getting the ball back with an opportunity to take a three-touchdown lead. But on the first play of the ensuing drive, Keith Bowers batted Morris’ pass skyward, and Alvin Ray Jackson picked the ball out of the air and took two steps forward for a two-yard pick six.
Later in the first half, Jacksonville closed the gap thanks to another turnover and a phenomenal heave. With less than 10 seconds left in the first half, LaRoche Jackson stripped the ball from Orlando’s Larry
Brackins after the catch, forcing a fumble that bounced into the arms of Jacksonville’s Jordan Miller. With just seven seconds to work with, Grady hit Hills for a quick completion along the wall, giving the Sharks one more play from near midfield.
As time expired, Grady dropped back to pass and bombed the ball high off the rebound net. As multiple players on both sides scrambled for position, Tiger Jones calmly glided into the perfect spot to snare the ricochet for a touchdown. That score allowed the Sharks to pull within a point at halftime, 28-27.
The Sharks got the ball to open the third quarter and promptly scored, beginning a back-and-forth second half that saw each team score on every offensive possession, setting up the fantastic finish.
Jacksonville has now defeated Orlando on the road to open the postseason two years in a row, and the Sharks are now 3-1 all-time against the Predators in the playoffs. The Sharks have not lost a first-round playoff game since the team’s inaugural season in 2010.
In the win, Grady completed 32 of his 42 pass attempts for 334 yards and five touchdowns against one interception. Gray turned in his best performance as a Shark, leading the team with 15 receptions for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Hills totaled 11 catches for 127 yards and also found the end zone twice, while Jones caught six passes for 64 yards and a score. Ross found the end zone four times on the ground, gaining a total of 26 yards on his 12 carries.
On defense, LaRoche Jackson led the Sharks with 8.0 total tackles (six solo) to go along with a forced fumble and a pass breakup. David Hyland made 5.5 stops including a sack, while Alvin Ray Jackson totaled 4.5 tackles in addition to his interception.
For the Predators, Morris went 22-of-31 for 277 yards and five touchdowns, racking up 22 yards and four scores on the ground as well. Brackins led Orlando with eight catches for 122 yards and four touchdowns, while LaMark Brown hauled in his team’s other touchdown catch. Varmah Sonie led all players with 11.0 tackles (10 solo), while Moore notched 7.0 stops to go along with his pick-six
The Sharks advance to face either the Philadelphia Soul or the Tampa Bay Storm in the American Conference Championship game. Jacksonville would host Tampa Bay but would travel to face Philadelphia. The Soul and Storm square off at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday in a game that will air live on ESPN2