For only the second time this season, the Jacksonville Sharks (6-9) won a game at home on Saturday, beating the LA KISS (7-8) 46-32 at Sea Best Field.
With interim head coach Bob Landsee looking to notch his first win, the Sharks went to work immediately. The defensive line put pressure on Nathan Stanley throughout the opening drive, forcing Stanley to scramble. Just three plays in, Stanley turned the corner to convert a first down, but suffered an injury as he dove into the side boards. He left the field under his own power, but did not return.
Backup Pete Thomas also felt the heat, but still fired off three straight completions to Donovan Morgan before finding Fred Williams for the opening score. Jacksonville needed only two passes, one to Tiger Jones and the other to Andrew Robustelli, to come back and tie the game.
The KISS then slowed the pace of the game down tremendously. Their next drive lasted 10 plays, took nearly seven minutes off the clock, and featured an injury (OL Shannon Tevaga, who did return) and an unsuccessful challenge of an incomplete pass. Los Angeles had what would be a familiar down and distance of 3rd-and-10 twice, and only converted once via penalty. Jacksonville’s defense stiffened to force a turnover on downs.
With the ball back, quarterback Tommy Grady didn’t hesitate, completing three of four passes (the incompletion being a throwaway) to set up a Derrick Ross two-yard run to take a 13-7 lead after Lindsey Wolfe missed his first extra point of the night.
The Sharks defense continued their threat, as Thomas couldn’t get time to set up a good pass on the next drive. Following a Colin Madison holding penalty (which wouldn’t be his first infraction), the KISS found themselves at 1st-and-20, which they could not recover from.
Thanks in part to some heavy lifting by Derrick Ross on a 17-yard run, Grady kept firing and found Joe Hills in the end zone to continue Hills’ touchdown streak and increase the lead to two scores. Thomas did engineer a quick, four-play scoring drive to cut the lead back to seven after a missed extra point, but it would be the closest LA would get the rest of the night.
Content to mostly run out the clock and aim for a double score, the Sharks started their next drive inside the one-minute warning with consecutive Derrick Ross runs, but on 3rd-and-goal, offensive coordinator Raymond Philyaw questionably called a pass play. It worked, as Grady found Hills in the end zone again to increase the lead yet again.
Down 26-13, things went from bad to worse for the KISS. After Greg Reid broke up a pass, the aforementioned Colin Madison had words with some of the Sharks players. The words got physical, and Madison was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Madison was subsequently ejected from the game, and called for two more penalties as he left the field. Despite a catch and run by Fred Williams, LA went into the locker room empty handed.
The best the KISS could do was trade scores for the remainder of the game, and until the fourth quarter, the only cylinder that wasn’t firing was Wolfe. His extra points were as follows: good, hit the right upright, good, wide right, good, good, wide left. Coach Landsee said prior to the game Wolfe would need to be perfect to save his job, that did not happen.
In the same timeframe, Grady completed 19 of his first 21 attempts, with the two misses being throwaways. However, cracks started to show in the final frame. Up 40-26 with the ball 2nd-and-goal from the KISS’ one yard line, there was confusion on the handoff between Grady, Ross, and Dexter Jackson, who was in at full back in the heavy package.
As Jackson was pushing Ross across the goal line, there was a fumble, and the ball hit the back wall of the end zone for a touchback and the first blemish of the night for Jacksonville. The defense made sure the turnover came to nothing, in part thanks to a Neefy Moffett and Cornelius Lewis third-down sack on Pete Thomas forcing a 4th-and-13 that the KISS couldn’t convert.
Finally, up 46-32 with the ball 1st-and-goal with just 23 seconds remaining, Philyaw called two more pass plays instead of handoffs. Neither were successful, and the second landed in the hands of a familiar face: longtime Shark turned foe, Terrance Smith. Smith took his interception near midfield, but LA ran out of options and time to make any changes to the final score.
Grady finished with one of his best nights of the season, completing 25 of 29 attempts for 180 yards, four touchdowns, and the interception. In relief, Thomas did complete 33 of his 53 attempts for 325 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Morgan and Justin Wilson were the two star receivers of the game. The two finished one and two in catches and yards (13 for 117 and 11 for 105, respectively) and combined for three touchdowns (Morgan had one, Wilson two).
While London Crawford led the Sharks in catches with nine, Hills led the team with 69 yards and three scores (Crawford finished with 45 and a lone touchdown).
On defense, Greg Reid finished with a game-high 13.5 tackles (the only player to reach double digits), and five different players registered at least a half tackle for loss (including Cornelius Lewis, Neefy Moffett, and Jordan Miller, who all had at least a half sack).
While Jacksonville earned a much-needed win, the regular season isn’t over just yet. Next week the Sharks will take on the Tampa Bay Storm at Sea Best Field in the regular-season finale. The game is scheduled for Saturday, July 30, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. ET.