Sharks drop season opener

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ORLANDO - Trailing by eight points in the final minute, the Jacksonville Sharks marched down the field and scored a touchdown with eight seconds left. But the team's would-be game-tying two-point conversion attempt fell short, as the Sharks dropped a 49-47 decision to the Orlando Predators at CFE Arena on Sunday evening.

Jacksonville (0-1) trailed 49-41 with one minute left in the game, beginning its final drive deep in its own territory. The Sharks managed the clock and move down the field, as R.J. Archer eventually hit Jeron Harvey at the two-yard line with 11 seconds left. After a timeout, fullback Jared McGriff-Culver plunged in from short yardage for his first career touchdown, pulling the Sharks within two, 49-47. But on the ensuing two-point attempt, Archer was pressured by the Orlando (1-0) defensive front and his pass to Jeron Harvey fell incomplete. After getting the ball back, Orlando ran out the final seven seconds to seal the game.

The Sharks trailed throughout Sunday's contest, as Orlando received the opening kickoff and scored on its opening possession when Boltus hit Kendal Thompkins for a 10-yard score. Taking the field for the first time, the Shark offense stumbled out of the gate, as Archer's fourth-down pass to Mardy Gilyard fell incomplete.

A slow start was the story for Jacksonville, as the Sharks came up empty on two offensive possessions in the first half. Trailing 14-0, the Sharks first got on the board when Archer found London Crawford down the left side, as Crawford cut back to the middle for a 24-yard touchdown. After another Orlando score, Harvey corralled his first touchdown of the season, catching an Archer pass for a 13-yard score that cut the deficit to 21-13.

The teams traded scores again before halftime. After Orlando's touchdown, rookie wideout Mardy Gilyard scored a touchdown on the ground to pull the Sharks within eight, 28-20. Jacksonville's defense then forced a stop at the other end in the final minute of the first half, but the Sharks could not convert, as Fabrizio Scaccia's 36-yard field goal missed wide right to send the teams to the halftime break.

The back-and-forth game continued into the second half, as each team scored once in the third quarter. Harvey picked up his second touchdown of the game late in that period. Early in the fourth, the Sharks forced a much-needed turnover when Xavier Brewer leaped to snare Boltus' deep pass in the end zone. Brewer's first career interception gave the Sharks new life, as Archer immediately fired a 45-yard bomb to London Crawford to pull the Sharks within a point, 35-34.

That one-point deficit was short-lived, however, as Arness Ikner returned the ensuing kickoff for an Orlando touchdown. The Sharks again came back down the field with a score, as Archer found Harvey from four yards out, and the receiver's third score of the game pulled the Jacksonville back within a point. Orlando responded with another touchdown, as Boltus took it in on the ground with just over a minute left, setting up the game-ending situation.

For Jacksonville, Archer finished the game 27-of-39 for 276 yards and five touchdowns. Harvey led the way with 11 receptions for 93 yards and his three scores, while Crawford's six catches went for a game-high 128 yards and two touchdowns. Gilyard chipped in nine receptions for 54 yards to go along with his rushing touchdown. In his arena football debut, McGriff-Culver carried the ball effectively when called upon, totaling five carries for 22 yards.

On defense, Brewer and Shamar Graves led Jacksonville with five solo tackles apiece. Both Graves and Tracy Belton each notched a tackle for loss, while Micheaux Robinson led the team with two pass breakups.

On the other side, Boltus went 17-of-33 for 176 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He also paced the Predators on the ground, rushing for 46 yards and two scores on seven carries. Khalil Paden led Orlando with six receptions for 79 yards and a score.

After Sunday's loss, the Sharks enter their first bye week of the 2014 season. The team is back in action on Saturday, March 29, when the team hosts the San Antonio Talons on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.

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