The Jacksonville Sharks (4-5) spent more than 45 minutes going toe to toe with the Philadephia Soul (8-2) on Saturday night, but the offense lost pace with the defense in the final frame, and it doomed the hometown Sharks to a 56-42 loss.
Big Play Reggie Gray, signed just a couple of days before the game, didn’t take long to make an impact, as he scored on his first catch as a Shark, giving Jacksonville an early 7-0 lead. The defense countered by keeping the Soul out of rhythm, but they couldn’t hold on a 4th-and-9, and three plays later Philly tied the game at 7.
Jacksonville’s defense and special teams were both showing weaknesses early on, and David Hyland still had issues with kick returns. However, it didn’t stop the offense from marching down the field and setting up a potential magic moment with Tiger Jones.
But, it was not meant to be, as what would have been Tiger’s 1,000th catch was ruled an interception over the end zone boards, despite the call coming out of the defender’s hands as he landed.
Both teams eventually found a groove in the first half, as the two matched each other score for score, with the Sharks paying back the turnover thanks to the Pit Bull, Micheaux Robinson, recovering a Ryan McDaniel fumble to set up a 29-yard pass to Joe Hills with less than a minute left in the second quarter. That particular drive wasn’t without it’s own history, as on the very play before the touchdown, Tommy Grady found Jones. Not only did Tiger become the fifth player in Arena Football League history to catch 1,000 passes, but Grady surpassed the 40,000 passing yard mark in his career.
After a failed Sharks onside kick, the Soul burned a little time off the clock en route to tying the game at 28, but Jacksonville had plenty of time to get one more score of their own before the half. The Sharks got a boost thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the celebration, and worked their way into the GEICO Blue Zone, but two missed pass interference calls in the end zone meant no untimed down, and the teams would go into the locker room still locked at 28 apiece.
As the second half started, the Jacksonville offense stopped. Both teams still accrued penalties at an alarming rate, but the Soul defense applied enough pressure to make Grady uncomfortable and start the third quarter with a stop on downs. It was up to the Sharks defense, missing both Greg Reid and LaRoche Jackson (coach’s decision) to keep pace.
Darius Reynolds, who was a thorn in Jacksonville’s side throughout the first half, dug deeper, getting open on a 34-yard bomb to give the Soul a 35-28 lead. But then, Big Play lived up to his name, immediately tying the game on a 55-yard kickoff return to continue the surprising battle of the titans. Both teams would score again going into the fourth quarter, and after 45 minutes, it looked like a game destined for overtime.
Dan Raudabaugh, last year’s Offensive Player of the Year, wasted no time taking advantage of the Sharks’ defensive shortcomings, as he needed only four passes to get into the end zone and retake the lead. Jacksonville, needing to score, lost all of the momentum they built going into the drive, and the old issues of chemistry started creeping up again. First the defense focused on Tiger, but then they clamped down on Joe “Superman” Hills, not letting him get open enough to catch a tying pass.
The Sharks were stopped on fourth down again, and Philadelphia immediately pounced. DL Mark Weiyoda did get to Raudabaugh for a sack, but Raudabaugh turned around and found Ryan McDaniel for 17 yards on the very next play for a touchdown and the first two-score lead of the game.
Jacksonville had one last chance to get back into the game, but penalties and incomplete passes were their own demise. Philadelphia helped them out thanks to two illegal defense penalties and a third for pass interference, but another fourth down pass went astray, and the Soul ran out the clock from there.
Tommy Grady had a decent night overall, completing 27 of 44 passes for 308 yards, four touchdowns, and the one interception. Raudabaugh did fare much better, however, completing 21 of 25 passes for 289 yards, six scores, and no picks.
Hills and McDaniel had monster nights for their teams. Hills catching a game-high 13 balls for 163 yards and two scores, while McDaniel had a game-high 167 yards on just 10 catches and three touchdowns of his own. Reggie Gray featured well in the Sharks’ offense, catching eight passes for 66 yards and two touchdown.
Both teams had featured a bit of a running game, as Derrick Ross added to his career-record touchdown total, scoring once on six carries for 10 yards. Jeramie Richardson also did well for the Soul, running seven times for 20 yards and two scores.
In his first game back, the Pit Bull narrowly beat out Joe Goosby for recording the most tackles (8.5 to Goosby’s 8.0), and added the fumble recovery and the team’s lone pass breakup to his stat sheet. Former Shark Tracy Belton finished with seven total tackles, and was one of two players (James Romain being the other) with two pass breakups on the night.
The Sharks don’t have too much time to absorb this loss, as they travel down to Tampa Bay to face the Storm next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m., and will be the second of three straight weeks where the Sharks will be on CBS Sports Network.