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Sharks Stumble in Desert, Fall to Rattlers 63-38

Sunday April 6, 2014

 Jacksonville unable to overcome early deficit, mistakes

PHOENIX – The Jacksonville Sharks fell behind by three scores early in the second quarter and were ultimately unable to make up the difference on Saturday night, suffering a 63-38 loss at the hands of the Arizona Rattlers at US Airways Center.

The pivotal stretch of Saturday’s game came midway through the first half, as Arizona (3-0) scored three consecutive touchdowns to take a 28-7 lead. The game was tied at seven in the first when Nick Davila connected with Rod Windsor for a 33-yard touchdown pass. The ensuing kickoff bounced off the iron and was recovered by the Rattlers, setting up a short touchdown run by Arizona fullback Alex Singleton. Jacksonville (1-2) then took the ball down the field, but Rattler defensive back Vic Hall intercepted R.J. Archer in the end zone. A few plays later, Davila connected with Maurice Purify for a long touchdown pass, giving Arizona that three score lead.

Put in a tough spot, Jacksonville continued to battle as the game progressed. On Arizona’s next drive, Micheaux Robinson cut in front of an Arizona receiver, picking off Davila’s pass in the end zone. Robinson’s 30th career interception gave the Sharks new life, as Terrance Smith then went the distance on an impressive 45-yard catch-and-run for his first touchdown catch of the season.

The Sharks’ defense then stood strong again, forcing a turnover on downs on the Rattlers’ next possession. At that time, Jacksonville trailed by two scores but had the ball in the final minute of the first half, knowing that it would also receive the second half kickoff. But the Rattlers’ defense held as the second quarter came to a close, as Archer’s pass to London Crawford was knocked away as the final seconds ticked off the clock. The stop allowed Arizona to carry a 28-13 lead into the locker room.

The second half progressed in much the same way as the first. Though Jacksonville’s offensive production increased over the game’s final thirty minutes, Arizona responded to each Jacksonville touchdown with one of its own. The two teams traded touchdowns throughout the second half, as the Sharks were unable to get closer than a two-score deficit.

One key to the result was Arizona’s play on special teams. Kicker Craig Ratanamorn knocked multiple kickoffs off the iron, and the Rattlers’ coverage unit was able to pounce on two, setting up short fields each time. On the other side, disciplined play by the Rattlers’ hands team prevented the Sharks from recovering any of Jacksonville’s onside kick attempts.

Despite the loss, it was a night of firsts for several Shark players. Pressed into pulling double duty at defensive back and wide receiver, Smith notched his first touchdown catch since 2012, totaling three receptions for 73 yards to go along with three tackles and solid coverage on the defensive side of the ball. Wide receiver Tristan Purifoy made his first career appearance, catching six passes for 49 yards in his AFL debut. In addition, both Jared McGriff-Culver and Roderick Tomlin came up with their first career touchdown receptions.

It was a tough night in the pocket for Archer, who dealt with steady pressure from Arizona’s front four, completing 22 of 46 pass attempts for 323 yards and six touchdowns against one interception. Two of those six touchdowns went to Mardy Gilyard, who has now found the end zone six times in his first three AFL games. Crawford led the way with a team-high of 84 yards and a touchdown on his six receptions, as he now has four catches of 40 or more yards through the first three games of the season. Jeremy Kellem led the Arizona defense with 8.5 total tackles (eight solo).

On defense, Robinson led Jacksonville with five tackles to go along with his interception, while Belton snagged a tackle for loss when he stepped up to chop down Singleton in the backfield.

For the Rattlers, Davila put together an efficient performance, going 13-of-20 for 211 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. Windsor and Purify were Davila’s top targets, as each player hauled in three touchdown catches. Offensive lineman Michael Huey also scored a touchdown on a tight-end screen, while Kerry Reed caught a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from backup quarterback Jason Murrietta.

With the loss, the Sharks now find themselves a game and a half behind both the Orlando Predators and the Tampa Bay Storm in the South Division. Jacksonville will have a chance to regain some ground next Friday night, as the Sharks host the Storm in a divisional matchup. Kickoff from Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is set for 8:00 p.m.

About the Jacksonville Sharks

The Jacksonville Sharks are members of the Arena Football League (AFL). The ArenaBowl XXIV and four-time South Division Champions are presented by Sea Best Seafood and play all home games on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Season Tickets for the 2014 season are now available, two tickets as low as $169. To reserve your season tickets or for more information, please call (904) 621-0700. Follow the Sharks on facebook at facebook.com/jaxsharks and on Twitter @jaxsharks, as well as the Attack Dance Team at facebook.com/sharkattackdance and Chum at facebook.com/chumsharks.