07/24/2013 7:00 AM
JACKSONVILLE – The 2013 South Division Champion Jacksonville Sharks conclude the regular season on Saturday, July 27, as the Tampa Bay Storm make their way to town. Kickoff on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is set for 7:00 p.m.
The Sharks have enjoyed success against this in-state opponent, winning six of the seven previous meetings with the Storm. Jacksonville emerged from a back-and-forth game with a 64-55 victory in Tampa all the way back in Week 1. In that game, the Sharks rallied with a pair of touchdowns sandwiched around a successful onside kick in the final minute. The Sharks have won each of the last two matchups in this series and are 3-0 all-time against the Storm on Sea Best Field.
Just 60 minutes of game action separate this division-winning Shark team from the postseason, as Jacksonville will host a first-round playoff game at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 3. Still in doubt are both the Sharks’ final seed as well as the team’s first playoff opponent. The Sharks currently hold the No. 2 spot in the American Conference, but could jump to the top spot with a Saturday win combined with a Philadelphia Soul loss to the San Antonio Talons. If both the Sharks and Soul win this week, the Sharks would remain at No. 2.
Jacksonville is guaranteed to take on a South Division opponent in the first round, and could very well match up against this same Storm team in one week’s time. A Shark loss on Saturday would lock Tampa Bay into the No. 3 spot, setting up a rematch on Sea Best Field, and the two teams could also meet if the Sharks rise to No. 1 and the Storm fall to No. 4. This Sharks could also end up squaring off against the Orlando Predators and New Orleans VooDoo, as those two teams take the field on Saturday in a winner-take-all contest for the final playoff spot.
With all of that said, Sharks players and coaches will not turn their focus to the postseason until completing the task at hand, getting a win that will build momentum heading into the playoffs. The Sharks have won their final regular-season game in each of the team’s three previous seasons as a franchise, and have leveraged those victories into a 4-2 playoff record since joining the league. But victory will not come easy this week, as the Sharks welcome a Storm team that is hungry for a victory.
Tampa Bay opened the season with the look of a contender, staying within striking distance of a Shark team that led the South Division from wire to wire. But after putting together a solid 7-4 record through the season’s first 11 games, the Storm enter this game having lost six consecutive games. The team was dealt a significant blow in the midst of that streak, as starting quarterback Adrian McPherson suffered a season-ending injury. Without McPherson in the lineup, Tampa Bay misses a player who accounted for 90 total touchdowns (59 passing, 31 rushing) in just 13 games.
Since McPherson’s injury, Tampa Bay head coach Dave Ewart has turned over the reins to rookie Randy Hippeard, who has started each of the Storm’s last four contests. Though Hippeard has posted a solid 24-to-4 touchdown-to-interception rate, he has not been able to put together a victory as a starter. One thing that has hurt Hippeard’s production is inconsistent pass protection, as the Storm has yielded 13 sacks in his four starts. Just seven days after giving up six sacks to the Pittsburgh Power, Tampa Bay will try to protect Hippeard from a historically great Shark pass rush.
With six sacks against the New Orleans VooDoo last week, the Sharks raced past the all-time record for team sacks in a single season, as Jacksonville has totaled 44 sacks, two better than the 2012 San Jose SaberCats. Fittingly, seventh-year veteran Jerry Turner picked up the record-breaking sack, adding to his team-leading total of 12.0. Matt Marcorelle notched his third two-sack game of the season, and is now seventh in the league with 8.5 sacks in 2013. Each of the Sharks’ starters along the front four is an All-Arena candidate, as Aaron Robbins ranks second among Mac linebackers with 9.0 sacks while Rashaad Duncan is second among nose guards with 6.5.
On the other side, the Jacksonville offense received a boost last time out with the return of starting quarterback Bernard Morris. Though he was activated before the team’s Week 17 game, Morris had not played since suffering an injury at Spokane in Week 12. Despite the time off, Morris did not show any rust, as he accounted for seven total touchdowns without committing a turnover. He also showcased his trademark mobility, picking up valuable yards on both scrambles and designed runs and scoring each of the Sharks’ two fourth-quarter touchdowns on the ground.
But Morris will need to take care this week, as the Storm secondary has been one of this young team’s biggest strengths. Tampa Bay defensive backs have piled up 24 interceptions this season, a major reason that the team ranks third in the league with a plus-15 turnover ratio. But if Morris is able to protect the football, the Sharks should have opportunities on third and fourth down. The Tampa Bay defense enters this week ranked 10th in opponent third-down percentage (48.4%) and 12th on fourth down (52.9%). On the flip side, the Shark defense ranks fifth and fourth in those respective categories.
Tickets to Saturday’s game are still available, and may be purchased by contacting the Sharks Ticket Office at (904) 621-0700, but visiting the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena box office, or by visiting ticketmaster.com.
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.