07/29/2011 10:29 PM -
Jacksonville, Fla-The first playoff matchup of the 2011 AFL post-season took place at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena and featured the top seed in the American Conference, the Jacksonville Sharks (14-4) hosting the number four seed in the conference, the Orlando Predators. The game is a rematch of the epic clash from the 2010 playoffs, which left the top seeded Sharks facing an early exit from the playoffs in their inaugural season. The Sharks look to erase the loss from their memory by avenging, the lost from last season.
The game began with an offensive explosion by the Jacksonville Sharks, when Jeff Hughley returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown for the second consecutive week. The Predators and the Sharks exchanged multiple scores throughout the first quarter, but a missed PAT by Orlando Kicker Mark Lewis left the Sharks on top 14-13.
The Sharks opened the quarter with possession and they were able to score on 5 yard screen pass to Jeron Harvey, his first touchdown since returning to the field from his injury. The Sharks gained the first defensive stop of the game in the second quarter, with Micheaux Robinson getting his first interception of the post-season. The interception gave the Sharks the ball on the Orlando 21 yard line. Three plays later, the Sharks were able to punch the ball into the end-zone on a 1 yard Kirby Griffin run. Jacksonville and Orlando exchanged scores one more time before the end of the half, making the score 28-20 at the end of the first half.
Orlando opened the third quarter with a drive down the field that ended in a touchdown pass from Orlando Quarterback Nick Hill to TT Toliver, to put the predators within one point of the Sharks. Jeff Huhgley gave the arena another burst of excitement when he scored his second kickoff return touchdown of the night. Justin Parrish and LaRoche Jackson bailed the Sharks defense out on the next series when Orlando drove the ball to the Jacksonville 1 yard line and Jackson forced a fumble from Fullback Jamarr Ward which was recovered by Parrish for the second Predators turnover of the night. The Sharks capitalized with a drive of their own that ended in a 3 yard Jamarko Simmons rushing touchdown.
The Predators began the fourth quarter with the ball on their own 10 yard line. But the Jacksonville defense remained solid, getting a turnover on downs after the first four plays. The Sharks turned around and scored in two plays with an 11 yard pass from Aaron Garcia to Jeron Harvey, to put the Sharks out in front 49-27. Orlando put their first points on the board in over ten minutes, after scoring on a pass from Nick Hill to the Tight End Julius Wilson. The Orlando defense made their first presence in the game, when Kenny McEntyre intercepted an Aaron Garcia Pass intended for Harvey. Orlando scored on a TT Toliver touchdown reception, to narrow the score to 49-42. An onside kick recovery by Jacksonville set gave the Sharks field position on the Orlando 11 yard line. Jeron Harvey caught his third touchdown pass of the night on the first play of the drive to put the Sharks ahead 56-42. Orlando scored on the first play of the next drive with a 41 yard touchdown pass to TT Toliver. The Sharks were able to hold the momentum with a 17 yard touchdown pass from Garcia to Jomo Wilson to keep the two score lead. LaRoche Jackson got his second turnover of the night with 30 seconds left when he intercepted Nick Hill. The Sharks were able to run the clock out for the rest of the game, and take home their first playoff victory in franchise history.
The victory was the first playoff win in Sharks franchise history, and also the third win over the Orlando Predators in the 2011 season. It was also the final game for the legendary Defensive Back Kenny McEntyre who ended his career with 96 regular season interceptions and 13 post-season interceptions. The Sharks won the game with an effort from every piece of the team, and proved that they were definitely ready to put the shadows of the past far behind them. The Sharks will host the winner of the Georgia Force at the Cleveland Gladiators game, Monday August 8th back on Sea Best Field, where they will look to continue their run in the playoffs.
Offensive Player of the Game: Aaron Garcia