08/08/2011 11:29 PM -
For the first time in Sharks franchise history, the Jacksonville Sharks hosted a home game on Monday night, live on NFL Network. Mondays game was the first time the Sharks competed for the American Conference Championship, and it was against the three seed in the playoffs, the Georgia Force. The winner of the game already had their future fate decided for them, as the win for Arizona on Saturday would put the winner on a plane to Phoenix with little turnaround time.
The game was an offensive battle right out of the gate, as both teams exchanged scores twice in a row, but a failed two point conversion attempt by Jacksonville put the Force up 14-13 at the end of the first quarter.
The two teams kept firing back at one another with touchdown passes throughout the entire second quarter. In total, a combined 7 touchdowns were scored, including a 35 yard catch by Jeff Hughley and a 30 yard reception by Maurice Purify of Georgia. The score at end of the first half fire-fight was 40-34, Jacksonville with the lead.
The third quarter began in Jacksonvilles favor, as the defense was able to stop the Force for the first time in the night, forcing a turnover on downs. The Sharks responded with a two play scoring drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Aaron Garcia to Jeron Harvey. Jacksonville and Georgia exchanged scores with each other one more time at the end of the third quarter, to make the score 54-41.
Jacksonville struggled with penalties through the fourth quarter, giving up two easy scores to Georgia. But Aaron Garcia shined through the entire game, throwing his eighth touchdown pass of the night to Jeff Hughley with 4 minutes left in the game. With just above a minute left in the game, Marco Capozzoli kicked a 36 yard field goal to put the Sharks ahead by 9 points going in to the Forces final drive. On the ensuing drive, Bill Alford made the deciding play of the game, intercepting Georgia QB Darnell Kennedy for the first time of the evening, to put the game in hands for the Sharks. The Sharks were able to run out the clock and walk away as the American Conference Champions with a win over Georgia, 64-55.
The victory hit many top marks for the Sharks franchise and its players, including Aaron Garcia. The win will send Garcia to the ArenaBowl for the first time in his illustrious career. Garcia proved that there were no jitters tonight, completing 22 of 28 for 313 yards and 8 touchdowns. Jeff Hughey led all players with 225 all-purpose yards and 3 touchdown receptions. The Sharks will now face a short turnaround, with a trip to Arizona to take on the Rattlers for the grand prize in ArenaBowl XXIV. The game will be a rematch of the epic season opener in Phoenix, when the Rattlers managed to capture a last minute win over the Sharks, which would send Jacksonville on a 13-game winning streak. Jacksonville will look to wipe out any doubt, and prove that they are the ultimate team in the league, by traveling out West to take on the leagues number one seed in the biggest game of the entire AFL season.
Offensive Player of the Game: Aaron Garica