In the first of two consecutive Saturday night matchups, the Monterrey Steel pulled off the biggest upset in the National Arena League’s short history, handing the Jacksonville Sharks their first loss of the season, 44-37.
Both the current and former Shark quarterbacks had terrible starts to the night, as Jason Boltus, who started the night, fumbled the first of three snaps on the night, and Bernard Morris threw an interception on the very next play. Both pivots bounced back, as Boltus finished the next drive with a touchdown pass to Devin Wilson, while Morris capped off his next drive with a long touchdown run.
The rest of the first quarter went Jacksonville’s way, as Moqut Ruffins took a screen pass and ran 25 yards for a touchdown, and Nick Belcher hit his 20th deuce of the season to extend the lead to 16-6. The Steel tried to answer with a quick drive, but Charlie Hunt snagged an interception to end the first quarter.
The second quarter started the exact same way as the first did, as Jason Boltus fumbled another snap, but the Sharks defensive line came in to collectively bat a Bernard Morris pass into the air and catch it for another interception. Boltus scored on a quarterback sneak to extend the lead to 23-6, but that’s when the tide started to turn.
Another former Shark, London Crawford, caught a 20-yard touchdown pass to get the Steel back on the board, but Morris couldn’t escape Charlie Hunt, who got the sack on the two-point conversion attempt. After another fumbled Boltus snap, Morris was sacked again for another big loss. However, Morris rebounded to find David Lewis in the end zone for another touchdown to tighten the screws on Jacksonville.
Jason Boltus, who had an off night, recovered to find Emughedi Umodu in the end zone for the first time of the night, but the lead remained 11 after a rare Belcher missed extra point. Brandon Rutherford made that miss a bit more interesting when he ended the first half with a 35-yard field goal for Monterrey.
The pace of the game slowed down tremendously in the second half, allowing the Steel to slowly come back. First, fullback Jamari Fletcher scored from the one-yard line to cut the deficit to a single point. Then, after three Boltus incompletions led to a stop, Rutherford gave the visitors the first lead of the night with a 34-yard field goal.
With the lead gone, Sharks head coach Siaha Burley made the change under center, and Darien Fleming got the call to see the game out. Fleming found little success on his first drive, and a 34-yard field goal from Nick Belcher went wide left.
While Jacksonville’s defense took Bernard Morris out of the game for a play, it didn’t stop the Steel from scoring again thanks to London Crawford, but a bad snap on the extra point left the door open. The Sharks, trailing in the second half for the first time ever, were now down by eight points and needed a score in the worst way. That score came thanks to Derrick Ross, and Emughedi Umodu caught the tying two-point conversion to give Jacksonville the life they needed.
Neither offense could generate much as the fourth quarter wore on, but Bernard Morris did have the final say, as he found London Crawford again for a late touchdown. The Sharks had time to respond in the final minute, but a Derrick Ross fumble and one final Morris run sealed Jacksonville’s fate.
Both teams now have a lot to learn and a lot of film to study for next week, as the Steel and Sharks will face off yet again in the semifinals. Jacksonville will look to Red Out Veterans Memorial Arena for their first home playoff game since 2013. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 24.