07/10/2013 4:46 PM
JACKSONVILLE – The 2013 South Division Champion Jacksonville Sharks (10-5) have returned from their bye week and are preparing to welcome the Spokane Shock (11-4) to Sea Best Field on Saturday, July 13. Kickoff for this inter-conference matchup is set for 7:00 p.m. at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
The Sharks enjoyed a productive bye week, as not only was the team able to get some much-needed rest, but Jacksonville also clinched its fourth consecutive South Division title without even playing a game. The Tampa Bay Storm’s loss to this same Spokane team guaranteed that the Sharks will host at least one playoff game this season.
Jacksonville remains in competition with the Philadelphia Soul for the No. 1 seed in the American Conference. The teams enter Week 17 with matching 10-5 records, though the Sharks do hold the tiebreaker edge based on their win in Philadelphia back in Week 6. Should Jacksonville and Philadelphia finish the season with identical records, the Sharks would retain the No. 1 seed.
This week, the Sharks are shooting for a vast turnaround from the previous meeting between these two teams. Out in Spokane in Week 12, early turnovers caused the Sharks to fall behind by a 28-7 count at the end of the first quarter. The Sharks lost starting quarterback Bernard Morris to injury in the third quarter of that game, ultimately dropping a 76-41 result against the Shock.
Much has changed for the Sharks since that first meeting with Spokane. Quarterback Kyle Rowley was not even on Jacksonville’s roster when these two teams met, and Morris has since been activated from injured reserve. The two signal-callers give Jacksonville veteran leadership at an essential position.
Rowley and Morris have another downfield target to look for, as receiver London Crawford has emerged as a receiving threat in recent weeks. Activated from injured reserve just after the Sharks’ first meeting with Spokane, Crawford worked his way into the lineup, coming off the bench to score a touchdown in each of his first two games. In the Sharks’ final game before the bye, Crawford broke out in a big way, racking up 12 catches for 107 yards and three touchdowns against the Orlando Predators. The Shark receiving corps will also get a boost from the return of playmaker Jeff Hughley, who is back on the active roster after missing the team’s last game due to a personal matter.
While the Shark offense will need to keep pace with a potent Spokane attack, the Jacksonville defense will be called upon to keep the Shock in check. The Sharks won each of their final two games before the bye, and the Jacksonville secondary came up with huge plays at critical times in each game. Micheaux Robinson’s interception return for a touchdown proved to be the deciding score in Week 14 against Cleveland, and Terrance Smith helped seal the victory over the Predators with two fourth-quarter interceptions, including one on the final play of the game.
The Sharks saw an impact play go the other way when they played the Shock back in Week 12, as Spokane defensive back Terrance Sanders ended the first quarter with a pix-six that helped break that game open. Needless to say, Shark defensive coordinator Jake Grande is looking for his team to swing momentum with a critical play this week.
In the trenches, this week’s game features a matchup of strengths versus strengths. The Jacksonville defense has led the league in sacks for virtually the entire season, and the Sharks have already matched a franchise record with 36 this year. The Sharks remain in striking distance of the league record of 42, set by San Jose just last year.
With that said, the mobility of Shock quarterback Erik Meyer and solid pass protection up front have resulted in Spokane allowing just 10 sacks to this point in the campaign. Jacksonville did not sack Meyer in the team’s first meeting, and there is no doubt that Aaron Robbins, Jerry Turner and the rest of the Shark front four will be ready to make up for that this week.
On the flip side, the Shark pass-protection unit was bolstered last time out by the return of starting center Brant Clouser. Since joining the Sharks partway through the 2012 season, the steady Clouser had started 24 consecutive games, playoffs included, before suffering an injury late in Jacksonville’s Week 9 loss to San Jose. Clouser returned to the lineup in Week 15 against the Predators, and helped keep Rowley and fellow quarterback R.J. Archer upright all game long. The Sharks’ offensive line will need to counteract a Spokane pass rush that is led by Beau Bell
At the end of the day, both the Sharks and Shock have plenty to play for despite having already clinched a postseason berth. Jacksonville must keep pace with a surging Soul team to hold on to the No. 1 seed, while Spokane still has a remote shot at a West Division title and is even with the division rival SaberCats in the race for the No. 3 seed in the National Conference. Barring a complete collapse by the Arizona Rattlers, whichever team locks up that three-spot would avoid Arizona in the first round of the playoffs.
Ultimately, the Sharks’ loss in Spokane was just over a month ago. That game remains fresh in the mind of Jacksonville’s players and coaches, as the Sharks would like nothing more than to even the season series and give Spokane something to think about when the playoffs roll around.
About the Jacksonville Sharks
The Jacksonville Sharks are members of the Arena Football League (AFL). The ArenaBowl XXIV and four-time South Division Champions are presented by Sea Best Seafood and play all home games on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Season Tickets for the 2014 season are now on sale, two tickets as low as $185. To reserve your season tickets, or for more information, please call (904) 621-0700. Follow the Sharks on facebook at facebook.com/jaxsharks and on Twitter @jaxsharks, as well as the Attack Dance Team at facebook.com/sharkattackdance and Chum at facebook.com/chumsharks.
About the AFL
Since its inception in 1987, the Arena Football League has showcased its fast-paced and exciting game to millions of fans in a myriad of markets across the country. CBS Sports Network will broadcast an AFL National Game of the Week on Saturday nights for the entire regular season and postseason through the semifinal round. The ArenaBowl XXVI Championship Game will air on the CBS Television Network on August 17, 2013.