Jekyll and Hyde Sharks have third quarter meltdown, drop ArenaBowl XXVIII
STOCKTON - All season long, the Jacksonville Sharks were either really, really good or really, really bad. On this night, they were both. They had the worst individual quarter in ArenaBowl history out of the locker room, taking a 33-27 halftime lead and turning it into a 68-47 defeat.
Things were going well for Sharks in the opening half of the game. They went 5-for-5 on their drives, and about the only thing you could complain about were two missed extra points by Julian Rauch. Joe Hills looked like he was on his way to having the best game a wide receiver has had in ArenaBowl history with six catches, 106 yards and four touchdowns. Tommy Grady was hardly touched by the awesome San Jose defensive front and went 11-of-15 for 175 yards and five scores. Plus, Les Moss won the battle of the coaches at the end of the half and scored last to take a five-point lead into the locker room.
And then the Sharks were dragged down into the abyss, victims of the mini-Cats' Lair like no team has ever seen before.
First it was a San Jose touchdown, one which ended a run of 152:25 in which the Sharks didn't trail in the playoffs. Then it was a holding penalty. Then it was another holding penalty. Then it was a false start. Then it was 3rd and 23. Then Michael Lindsey dropped a pass. Then it was a pick six. Then it was a fumble. Then it was a bar ball. Then it was a stop. Then it was a score again. And when it was all said and done, it was the most disastrous 17 minutes in ArenaBowl history.
A 33-27 game was all of a sudden a 61-33 game, a 34-0 run which took a game which could have been won and turned it into an embarrassment.
The 34-0 run was the second best scoring run in AFL history, ranking second to just the 45-0 streak to start ArenaBowl XXVIII by these same SaberCats over Arizona. Interestingly enough, these SaberCats from 2015 will go down in history as the best team in AFL history at 20-1, surpassing the previous best winning percentage in league history belonging to those 2002 SaberCats.
It was a complete microcosm of the season in epic proportions for the Sharks. When things were going good, they were as good as any team in the league. And on this night, they were arguably better than the best team in AFL history for 30 minutes. But when things went bad, they had runs which were just mind-boggling.
But never was it quite this disastrous for the Sharks. They allowed seven runs this season of at least 19 consecutive points. One of those runs, 35-0 against the Tampa Bay Storm, of all teams, might have been bigger in terms of total points, but none will sting like this one.
This team might have had all the talent in the world on it in terms of personal accolades, but when the slightest thing went wrong, there were far too many times when it all fell apart. Those eight games with 19+ point runs against represented eight of the nine losses the Sharks had this year.
In the second half, Grady went 11-of-19. Hills, who was often double-teamed, had just three catches, two of which were on the first two offensive snaps of the half. The offensive line which kept Grady clean in the first half fell apart and got him killed in the second half.
Injuries didn't help either. Jones limped around most of the game with a stress fracture. London Crawford didn't play the whole second half with a mid-body injury. And of course, Joe Sykes not being here in Stockton didn't help the Sharks out either, considering the fact that they didn't have a great pass rush for the mass majority of the game.
But the story on the 2015 Sharks will be closed with what could have been. Once again, the individual accolades were there. Hills had 133 yards and four scores. Grady threw for 310 yards and seven TDs. Reid had a pick and seven tackles.
And yet it wasn't anywhere near enough.
This loss for the Sharks will be a bitter pill for Jeff Bouchy and the rest of the management and franchise to swallow, but that shouldn't take anything away from what was a remarkable run for 20 and a half games.
The Jacksonville Sharks will be back in 2016, and they will be back looking for more blood. They won't be carrying the Foster Trophy, but you can bet that they will be hungry to get their second title in league history and will be one of the favorites to do so.