Soul look for their fourth conference championship on Sunday
In 2014, no one expected the Cleveland Gladiators to go 17-1 and play the Orlando Predators in the American Conference Championship. This year, every one expected it to be the Philadelphia Soul versus the Jacksonville Sharks for a shot to play in the ArenaBowl. It’s the battle many predicted even before a football had bounced off a net. The Sharks and Soul will meet for a third time in the American Conference finale this Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Soul and Sharks are no strangers, having played three games this year and twice in American Conference Championships in the past. The Soul won a game and lost two this year to the Sharks. Both losses came on the road, and the only win was in Week 4 at home.
Beating Orlando was sweet for the fans who traveled the two and a half hours down I-95 and I-4 from Jacksonville. Beating Philadelphia though, is a lot more personal to the players on the field.
To make things even more personal, the Sharks have four players who spent 2014 in Philadelphia. Fullback Derrick Ross, wide receiver Tiger Jones, ironman lineman Jason Holman, and offensive guard Wayne Tribue all found their way to Florida this off season. Sharks quarterback Tommy Grady, kicker Julian Rauch, and wide receiver Prechae Rodriguez all spent 2014 with the Pittsburgh Power, along with five members of the current Soul roster.
There’s no better way to describe just how talented both of these teams are other than saying that of the 36 All-Arena selections this season, 14 were from either Jacksonville or Philadelphia, coming in at near half of all the selections. The Soul had eight players selected, and Jacksonville had six.
This game has a huge question mark looming, and that’s Joe Sykes. Sykes was placed on injured reserve earlier this week, and if out could cause a major problem for the Jacksonville defense. Sykes set a single season record this year in sacks with 18.5. Sykes has been a quarterback killer, and should be an easy pick for defensive player of the year this year.
If Sykes does find his way back onto the field for the game, he’ll be faced up against first team All-Arena tight end Adam Smith, and respected offensive guard Neal Tivis. The game, like most in football will be won up front. If Smith and Tivis contain whoever lines up in front of them, and keep Dan Raudabaugh standing up like they have most of this season, the Soul could be on their way to their fourth ArenaBowl in franchise history.
The Soul and Sharks both have great secondaries, wide receivers, and quarterbacks, so the matchups in the passing game should be very interesting. Both teams had a corner selected to first team All-Arena, with James Romain and Greg Reid both getting their first awards in the AFL. Tiger Jones and Marco Thomas have both done amazing things for both teams at wide receiver, both showing they can still get it done at the highest level in the AFL. First team All-Arena quarterback Dan Raudabaugh and veteran Tommy Grady are two of the smartest passers in the AFL, and have both had fantastic seasons.
Not much more needs to be said about this game, other than it has potential to be one of the best in both franchises histories. It’s time to see who the best team in the American Conference is.