Arena Football League Jacksonville Sharks

Ranking the ArenaBowls, #17: ArenaBowl XXVIII

The Jacksonville Sharks were not supposed to be in ArenaBowl XXVII. After starting 0-4, then 1-5, then losing to Portland to drop to 7-7, the Sharks had to squeak to win 36-33 at home against three-win New Orleans to secure a playoff spot. The San Jose SaberCats, however, were exactly where they needed to be. After starting the season 11-0 and locking up the division, then being upset by Los Angeles, only to win their last six games to finish with the best record in league history and clinch home field.

Both teams had comfortable conference semifinal wins, with Jacksonville upsetting Orlando and San Jose crushing Portland. The next week, both teams needed last-second plays to reach the ArenaBowl. The SaberCats won on a controversial call with eight seconds left, and the Sharks won thanks to a late stop inside the final 30 seconds.

The first bit of drama was where the game would be played. San Jose, thanks to their 17-1 record, had home field. However, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was on a 10-day run at the SAP Center, thus moving both the National Conference Championship game and the ArenaBowl. Like the conference title game, Stockton, CA was decided as the official site in the final days before kickoff.

As with the Soul, Jacksonville hung tough to start the game. Tommy Grady matched Erik Meyer pass for pass, and held the upper hand in the stat books (four touchdowns to Meyer’s three in total) thanks to finding number one target Joe Hills in the end zone four times in the first half. In what was shaping to be the greatest upset in league history, the Sharks led the 19-1 SaberCats 33-27 at the half.

However, unlike the Week 4 matchup where San Jose had to wait until the fourth quarter to pull away, the defense and special teams clamped down to start the second half. Throughout the third and early fourth quarters, the SaberCats went on a 34-0 run thanks in part to a David Hyland pick-six and a kickoff recovery off the net. Grady lost his touch from the first half, holding on to the ball too long and missing open receivers downfield, grinding the offense to a halt. By the time Jacksonville started scoring in the fourth quarter, the game was long gone.

San Jose became the first team to win 20 games in a season, and head coach Darren Arbet won his fourth title in his hometown. The game proved bittersweet for both teams, as it turned out to be the SaberCats’ their final season of existence. The team ceased operations less than three months later. For Jacksonville, head coach Les Moss wouldn’t get back to the big game for one more shot, as Jacksonville fired him the following year after a 5-9 start. The Sharks then left the league altogether following the 2016 season.

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