Predators must stay hot to win South
For the last four weeks the Orlando Predators have been on a collision course with their Southern division rival Jacksonville Sharks. In the last meeting on April 30, the Sharks prevailed with a 76-55 win powered by a dominant second half that saw them score 25 unanswered points while the Preds looked completely overmatched on both sides of the football.
Since that loss, the Predators have been on a tear with wins over the Tampa Bay Storm, Cleveland Gladiators, Milwaukee Iron, and most recently a 77-61 victory over the Iowa Barnstormers. Orlando (8-3) faces a huge game on its home field this week as division leading Jacksonville (10-1) comes calling for a second time.
After starting the season 0-1 with a 55-52 loss to the Arizona Rattlers, the Sharks have bounced back with a 10-game win streak where they are crushing opponents by 21.1 points-per-game.
At 40 years old, Sharks quarterback Aaron Garcia has thrown 66 touchdown passes to only nine interceptions on the season. In that game against Orlando, Garcia threw his 1,000th career touchdown pass to wide receiver Jeron Harvey who leads the team with 28 TD receptions.
Garcia is perhaps the happiest guy in the world to visit the spanking new Amway Center for the first time. In the old Amway Arena, Garcia never won a single contest against the Predators as a starting quarterback with the Iowa Barnstormers, New York Dragons and last season with the Sharks. The AFL legend took a 70-48 loss and a hand injury away from his final trip to the old Jungle in 2010.
With his team having outstanding success this season, there is no way the Sharks should not come together and win one for Garcia on Saturday night. If they get the win, he should be carried off the field like actor Sean Astin at the end of the "Rudy" movie.
Orlando Predators' defenses have taken turns throughout the years beating on Garcia-led teams when he visits the city beautiful. In his first overall win against the Preds in 2006, Garcia left the game with a broken leg at Nassau Coliseum as a member of the Dragons. Back-up QB Juston Wood took over for Garcia and led the team to that victory which is one of just three wins he has over Orlando in his illustrious career.
A lot of the credit for putting this whole thing together for the Sharks has to go to head coach Les Moss who spent most of his career as an assistant with the Predators. Moss is widely regarded as the man with an eye like no other for finding AFL talent.
In his first season leading the Sharks, Moss put together a southern division champion and is well on his way to his second division crown this season. There is not a doubt in my mind that Moss--who is the son of legendary Preds head coach Perry Moss-- should be voted into the AFL Hall of Fame right next to his old man.
As for the home team on Saturday, the Predators have to find a way to protect QB Nick Hill and give him time to find deadly weapons T.T. Toliver, Bobby Sippio, and Robert Quiroga downfield for big plays. Hill struggled in the last meeting as he faced constant pressure from a motivated Sharks defense that gave up 73 points to the Preds in the 2010 playoffs.
Speaking of a defense that should be motivated, the Preds defense has been downright nasty these last few weeks. Poor Iowa QB Brad Banks had no time to throw the football last week as the Preds defensive line turned in a dominating performance that included a sack for safety on Banks' first drop back.
Defensive back Rayshaun Kizer is tied for the league lead with 12 interceptions and the team has recorded 28 on the season. In the last meeting they grabbed two from Garcia, but the offense sputtered without Toliver as an option.
This time, the Predators have a healthy Toliver and a swag-happy defense that seem to be ready to end this long win-streak of the Sharks. I look for a heavy-hitting battle between these two teams and unlike last time I expect this contest to stay close throughout with the score in the mid-40's.
Tune in Saturday night to see if the Predators can keep pace with the Sharks or if Jacksonville will beat Orlando to take a strangle-hold on their second southern division championship.