JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Jacksonville Sharks gained an early advantage on Saturday night with a takeaway on the game's first play, but turned the ball over three times later in the game. Those mistakes proved costly as the Sharks fell to the Pittsburgh Power by a 64-48 count.
It was a perfect start for the Jacksonville (5-9) defense, as Micheaux Robinson forced Pittsburgh (12-3) wideout Prechae Rodriguez to fumble on the game's first play. Xavier Brewer picked up the loose ball to give the Sharks possession, and fullback Jared McGriff-Culver took it around the right corner for a 19-yard touchdown on Jacksonville's first offensive snap.
But Pittsburgh quickly changed the tide. After Tommy Grady hit Shaun Kauleinamoku for a seven-yard score on the Power's second drive – the first of Grady's nine touchdown passes – the Pittsburgh defense took down Archer in the end zone for a safety on Jacksonville's next offensive play. After the safety, Grady and Kauleinamoku connected again, this time for a 12-yard score that gave the Power a 16-7 lead.
Ahead by two scores, the Power held serve into the second quarter. Jacksonville responded with a touchdown from Archer to Maurice Williams in the final minute of the first quarter, but then Grady connected with Hank Edwards from six yards out. Now down by a score of 23-14, the Sharks moved the ball into the red zone but turned it over when McGriff-Culver lost the handle on a red-zone carry. Pittsburgh recovered the fumble and scored two plays later, as Grady hit Rodriguez for a 49-yard touchdown.
The teams continued to exchange scores into the fourth quarter, as Archer hit Terrance Smith, Jomo Wilson and Smith again with touchdown passes on the Sharks' first three drives of the second half. But each time, Grady and the Power answered with scores.
The Sharks' best chance to get back into the game came early in the fourth quarter. After Smith's second touchdown catch of the night pulled the Sharks to within nine points, 51-42, Jacksonville kicker Fabrizio Scaccia executed a slow-roller onside kick that bounced off a Power defender's foot. Scaccia was able to gather his own onside kick to give the Sharks an extra possession. But Pittsburgh immediately slammed the door, as defensive back Al Phillips intercepted Archer on the very next play, and Grady hit Edwards from 19 yards out on the first snap of the ensuing drive.
Jacksonville did pick up the last score of the game, as Archer and Smith connected for a third time with 56 seconds left in the contest. But Pittsburgh recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the remainder of the clock.
With the loss, Jacksonville falls to 3-4 at home this season and now faces an extremely tough road in the playoff chase. The Sharks remain two-and-a-half games behind the Tampa Bay Storm – which lost to the Cleveland Gladiators on Friday – and must win out and receive help in order to make the postseason.
In defeat, Archer completed 25 of his 40 pass attempts for 322 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. Starting the game on defense, Smith still led the way for the Sharks' receiving corps with eight catches for 116 yards and three scores, while Wilson (eight catches, 91 yards) and Williams (five catches, 51 yards) each found the end zone as well. Isaac Morales pulled in a touchdown pass as the eligible tight end, while McGriff-Culver totaled 23 yards and a touchdown on his three carries. On defense, Brewer led the Sharks with 6.5 tackles and two pass breakups to go along with his fumble recovery.
The Sharks will now prepare to hit the road next week for a matchup with the San Antonio Talons on Sunday, July 6. Kickoff from the Alamodome is set for 4:00 p.m.
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