08/14/2016 9:31 PM -
ALLENTOWN, PA – The Jacksonville Sharks used a second-half surge to erase a 15-point second-half deficit against the Philadelphia Soul in Sunday’s American Conference Championship. But a six-yard touchdown pass from Dan Raudabaugh to Darius Reynolds with four seconds left proved decisive, as the Sharks fell by a 55-50 count at PPL Center.
Coming out of the one-minute timeout, Jacksonville (7-10) trailed by a 49-43 count and faced a third-and-eight from Philadelphia’s 12-yard line. On the ensuing snap, Tommy Grady found Joe Hills toward the right-hand side of the end zone, as Hills’ fifth touchdown catch of the night put the Sharks back on top, 50-49, with 55 seconds left.
While the Sharks had regained the lead, the score also gave the Soul plenty of time to work with. Jacksonville elected to kick deep, and after a modest return, Philadelphia quickly moved into Shark territory with a pair of quick completions. After a defensive holding penalty put the ball at the six with nine seconds left, Raudabaugh fired a strike toward the back-left corner of the end zone. Reynolds showed impressive concentration to tip the ball to himself, hauling in the game-winning score with just four ticks left on the clock.
A heads-up play by Reggie Gray to quickly run to the wall on the ensuing kickoff return gave the Sharks one final opportunity from their own two-yard line. Grady connected with Hills on a short completion, beginning a sequence of laterals that did not gain much ground as time expired to seal the game.
In what was a see-saw contest that saw plenty of sudden changes, the Sharks gained an early edge when David Hyland picked off Raudabaugh at midfield on the very first play from scrimmage, returning the interception for a touchdown that quickly put the Sharks up by a 7-0 count. But Philadelphia regained the edge when after an offensive touchdown, kicker Tommy Frevert recovered his own bar ball to give the Soul an extra possession. A seven-yard pass from Raudabaugh to Shaun Kauleinamoku put Philadelphia ahead, 14-7.
The Sharks’ defense forced a total of three turnovers in the first half, as Alvin Ray Jackson corralled a tipped pass for an interception and Neefy Moffett forced a fumble that Micheaux Robinson recovered. But Philadelphia’s defense responded in turn, as Dwayne Hollis intercepted Grady and Lonnie Outlaw recovered an onside kick late in the first half. A two-yard pass from Raudabaugh to tight end Adam Smith gave the Soul a 35-27 edge at halftime.
Trailing by eight coming out of the break, the Sharks soon found themselves in a bigger hole as Hills fumbled while fighting for extra yardage on the opening drive of the third quarter. One play later, Raudabaugh went deep to Reynolds for a 39-yard score to put the Soul up by 15.
But the Sharks did not go quietly. Late in the third quarter, Grady found Hills for a five-yard score that pulled Jacksonville within eight, 42-34. On the Soul’s next drive, Dexter Jackson beat his man and hammered Raudabaugh in the end zone, recording a safety that gave the Sharks an opportunity to take the lead as the game moved to the fourth quarter.
Early in the fourth, Jacksonville delivered, as Grady connected with Hills from nine yards out to put the Sharks back on top, 43-42. But Philadelphia quickly responded, as Raudabaugh hit Chris Duvalt for a touchdown before Tracy Belton recovered an onside kick. Leading 49-43 with around five minutes left, the Soul moved into Shark territory looking to put the game on ice. But on a fourth-and-two snap, Robinson swatted away a would-be first-down pass to give the Sharks new life. Jacksonville moved down the field and scored a go-ahead touchdown with 55 seconds left before Philadelphia responded with the deciding score.
In what was the fourth Conference Championship matchup between the teams in the last five years, Philadelphia earned its third ArenaBowl berth at the Sharks’ expense. Jacksonville’s win in the 2015 conference title game is its lone postseason victory against the Soul, as Philadelphia is the only team to have beaten the Sharks more than once in the playoffs.
In the loss, Grady completed 21 of his 31 passes for 245 yards and six touchdowns against one interception. Hills turned in another strong postseason performance, leading the Sharks with 13 catches for 142 yards and five scores, while Reggie Gray caught five passes for 64 yards and notched the Sharks’ other touchdown catch. Derrick Ross totaled nine yards on three carries.
On defense, Robinson and LaRoche Jackson each recorded 8.5 total tackles, while Hyland made 3.5 stops to go along with his pick-six. Dexter Jackson notched two solo tackles, a sack and a safety, while Alvin Ray Jackson recorded two tackles and an interception.
For Philadelphia, Raudabaugh completed 26 of his 38 passes for 317 yards and six touchdowns against two interceptions. Kauleinamoku racked up 10 catches for 128 yards and two scores, while Reynolds nearly matched that effort with nine receptions for 124 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Jeramie Richardson totaled 24 yards and two touchdowns on four carries. Defensively, James Romain led the Soul with six solo tackles while Jake Metz recorded a sack.
The Sharks will now enter the offseason and begin preparing for the 2017 campaign. The Soul will travel to take on the Arizona Rattlers in ArenaBowl XXIX on Friday, August 26, which will kick off live on ESPN at 7:00 p.m. ET.
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. Sharks Nation Memberships for the 2017 season are now available. Shark Nation Memberships start as low as $99. To become a Shark Nation member 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