Dark horse Preds head to Jacksonville
If you are looking for a good old fashioned southern division battle, look no further than tonight’s match-up between the Orlando Predators and Jacksonville Sharks that will be played live on NFL.com. For these two bitter division rivals, the stakes will not get any higher than this.
Last year on the turf at Sea Best Field, the fourth seeded Preds stunned the top-seeded Sharks 73-69 with a last-second touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Hill to wide receiver Bobby Sippio. Sharks QB Aaron Garcia’s pass into the end zone fell harmlessly to the ground as the buzzer sounded and sent the Predators into the conference championship.
This has been a brand new season and the Sharks got off to a blistering 13-1 start and secured the division very early. Meanwhile, the Predators started 4-1 and then stumbled the rest of the way to an 11-7 record not even clinching a playoff spot until Week 19 of the season.
The meetings between these two have been absolute blood baths in 2011. Orlando suffered countless injuries in a 25-point loss in Jacksonville back in April. The Preds had to overcome a 14-point deficit at home before falling to the Sharks when Hill’s two-point pass to Sippio failed and Jacksonville took home a one-point victory.
Sharks head coach Les Moss was in attendance at Orlando’s final home game last week, a laugher that saw the Preds dominate the New Orleans VooDoo. In fact, most the Sharks staff including owner Jeff Bouchy were in the building to check out the inevitable competition.
Moss is a veteran assistant coach of the Predators under his father the great Perry Moss and of course Jay Gruden. However, as Moss was introduced along with fellow Predators alumni that included greats like Barry Wagner, Herkie Walls, and Jerry Odom (to name a few, I could go on) he was the only one who heard the boo-birds even though he is still very beloved in O-town.
Former Preds QB Ben Bennett reminisced that night about facing Gruden’s Storm teams of the 90’s and how his Predators squad would still kick their [ahem] butts today. Even though we all know Gruden’s team usually got the better end of the early days of the “War on I-4”.
That rivalry Bennett speaks of is mostly a snoozer these days as the Storm have really fizzled out in recent years besides a run to the ArenaBowl last season. I can only say that if you look at the state of that rivalry compared to the one Orlando is building with Jacksonville; hey, a measly 3,000 people showed up in Tampa for the championship game last year. Half of which I would say were Predator fans.
On Friday at the Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville I do not expect anything less than 12,000 boisterous fans to show up looking to get some revenge for last year’s disappointing loss to Orlando in the playoffs.
My good friend Adam Markowitz brought this up to me many weeks ago that he thought the Predators would head to Jacksonville and take down the Sharks in the playoffs. I had no reason to believe him then because as he said that the Preds were currently trailing Pittsburgh by a wide-margin.
Since that time, Nick Hill has returned to the helm sending Collin Drafts back to the bench. Hill led the Preds on nine consecutive touchdown drives against the Tulsa Talons upon his return and Orlando scored a franchise high 85 points in that contest. The Predators success in the last few weeks has made me a believer in their chances against the Sharks.
As I reported way before all those other news outlets in Orlando, Preds defensive specialist Kenny “The Glove” McEntyre is retiring at the end of this season. I really can not picture a better way for his career to end than his team reaching the ArenaBowl giving him a shot at ring number three.
McEntyre registered another interception last week and picked off another that did not count in the game’s waning moments that would have been a perfect way to end his career in the Jungle.
McEntyre’s running-mate Damon Mason was also playing his last game in the Jungle last Saturday night. This season saw McEntyre’s new sidekick Rayshaun Kizer set a new league record with his 16interceptions.
Orlando is bringing a defense with the highest amount of turnovers forced in the league up to Jacksonville on Friday. It will be up to Garcia to be on his highest guard not to throw picks to these guys as he did in the first two meetings.
With the pressure Orlando has gotten on quarterbacks these last few weeks I really do not see how Garcia will be at his best. I hate to sound like a homer, but all things considered I look for the Predators to overcome some pretty overwhelming odds and send the Sharks home for the off-season again.
We will find out at 8:00 pm Eastern if the Predators do have what it takes to prey on the Sharks streaming live on NFL.com.
Jason Lucas is a part-time freelance writer based in the Orlando, Florida area. A former director of media relations with the Orlando Predators, Jason is making his return to Arenafan.com after a short stint as a public relations assistant with the UFL‘s Florida Tuskers in 2010. Lucas has followed the AFL since 1992 and began covering the Predators for Arenafan during the 2004 season. He held that position until being picked up by the Preds front office after the 2007 season. Jason‘s knowledge of arena football and love of the game is what drives him to continue covering the sport.