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Slow Start Sinks Sharks in Season Opener, 51-50

Sunday March 29, 2015

 Second-half rally comes up short following late New Orleans touchdown

NEW ORLEANS – Trailing by 20 points at the end of the first quarter, the Jacksonville Sharks charged from behind to take a fourth-quarter lead, but that late rally ultimately fell short in a 51-50 defeat at the hands of the New Orleans VooDoo at Smoothie King Center on Saturday night.

The game knotted at 44 early in the fourth quarter, the New Orleans (1-0) offense moved the ball into Jacksonville territory. With his team in desperate need of a defensive stop, Shark defensive back Terrance Smith made a spectacular diving interception, returning the ball all the way to the New Orleans 14. Taking advantage of a short field, the Jacksonville offense cashed in, as fullback Derrick Ross took a pitch and powered for a five-yard score to give the Sharks their first lead of the game, 50-44, but a missed extra point left the door open for New Orleans to respond.

With just under seven minutes to work with, the VooDoo marched down the field, entering a goal-to-go situation. The Shark defense stood tall at first, as Joe Sykes chased down ballcarrier Chris Duvalt on first down, and the interior of the Jacksonville defensive line stuffed Kennedy on back-to-back quarterback sneaks. But on fourth and goal, VooDoo head coach Dean Cokinos dialed up some misdirection, as Carlese Franklin took an end around and beat the Shark defense to the corner, crossing the goal line with just under three minutes to play. Garrett Lindholm’s ensuing extra point allowed New Orleans to retake the lead, 51-50, with 2:22 to play.

With plenty of time to work with, the Sharks managed the clock, running it down to the one-minute timeout following a completion from Tommy Grady to Tiger Jones. But a sack and a holding penalty backed Jacksonville into third-and-15, and Grady’s next two passes fell incomplete as New Orleans took over on downs with 12 seconds remaining. As the Sharks had just one timeout remaining, the VooDoo offense was able to burn down the remaining time and close the game.

Earlier, the Sharks had worked their way back after finding themselves in a 20-0 hole at the end of the first quarter. Grady’s lone interception of the game proved costly, as Cortez Stubbs secured a deflection and raced the length of the field for New Orleans’ third touchdown of the game. After that, the Sharks recovered, as Grady connected with Joe Hills for touchdowns on three straight drives, cutting the deficit to 34-21. The two teams then traded field goals in the final minute of the first half, as Jacksonville trailed by a 37-24 count at the half.

In the third quarter, the Sharks received the opening kickoff and marched down the field, as Ross capped the ensuing drive with a one-yard touchdown run, his first score as a Shark. On New Orleans’ next drive, Smith recovered a fumble to give the Sharks the football back, and Grady then connected with Hills to knot the game at 37. The teams then traded scores as the clock moved into the fourth quarter, setting the stage for the contest’s finish.

In the loss, Grady completed 28 of his 43 passes for 296 yards and five touchdowns against one interception. Hills was on the receiving end of all five of Grady’s touchdown tosses, totaling 11 receptions for 90 yards. Jones led Jacksonville with 124 receiving yards on his 10 grabs, while Jeron Harvey added seven catches for 72 yards. Ross was a factor on the ground, racking up 40 yards and two touchdowns on his seven carries.

Smith notched a fumble recovery and an interception to go along with 160 kickoff return yards, while Alvin Ray Jackson led the team with 6.5 total tackles and James McClinton recorded the Sharks’ lone sack.

For New Orleans, Kennedy went 19-of-25 for 222 yards and four touchdowns against one interception. Kennedy was also the VooDoo’s leading rusher, while Duvalt led the way with seven receptions for 99 yards and two scores. Stubbs led all players with 7.5 total tackles to go along with his interception.

The Sharks will now return home to begin preparing for next week’s home opener against the Orlando Predators on Friday, April 3. Kickoff on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is set for 8:00.


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 2015 season are now available, two tickets as low as $99. 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.