04/24/2014 7:33 AM
JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Sharks (2-3) host the Portland Thunder (0-5) on Saturday, April 26 in Week 7 action. Kickoff from Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is set for 7:00 p.m.
This will be the first-ever meeting between the Sharks and the expansion Thunder, one of two new franchises to join the Arena Football League for the 2014 season. This also is the only time that these two teams will match up during the regular season.
The Sharks enter this week’s game aiming to bounce back from a 54-41 loss to the Philadelphia Soul this past Saturday. The defeat dropped Jacksonville to a game and a half behind the Orlando Predators for the South Division lead. Though the Sharks and Predators do match up two more times this season, Jacksonville cannot afford to lose any more ground as the season nears the one-third mark.
To get back in the win column, the Sharks must reverse a trend that has hurt the team in each of the squad’s three road losses – slow starts. Despite Micheaux Robinson’s interception on the game’s opening possession, the Sharks fell behind the Soul by a 14-0 count midway through the first quarter. In each of the Sharks’ losses, Jacksonville has faced a two-touchdown deficit at some point in the first quarter.
It is worth noting that the Sharks have started much faster in each of the team’s two home wins. Jacksonville has scored 60 or more points in each of its two home games, winning each contest by at least 19 points. The contrast between home and road performance is stark, as Jacksonville is averaging just 42 points per game on the road, compared to 61.5 per game at home.
One factor that should help the Sharks’ offense get rolling is continuity in the receiving corps. In last Saturday’s game, Jeron Harvey was back in the lineup after missing each of the previous two games, while Jomo Wilson had just arrived in Jacksonville after last Monday’s trade from the San Antonio Talons. With another week of practice under their belts, these two players should join London Crawford in forming a dynamic combination to attack the Thunder’s secondary.
On the other side of the ball, the Jacksonville defense has continued to build on its playmaking reputation. The Sharks forced four turnovers last week, including two interceptions by Jack linebacker Charlie Hunt, who returned one of those picks for a touchdown. In his first two games back with the team, Hunt has racked up three interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Hunt isn’t the only Shark forcing the issue on defense, as three of the team’s defensive backs have recorded multiple interceptions through the first five games of the season. Terrance Smith is tied with Hunt for the team lead with three picks, while Robinson and Xavier Brewer have pulled down two apiece. Overall, the Sharks enter this week’s game with a plus-five turnover margin, a trend that the team looks to continue against what has been a mistake-prone Thunder offense.
Under first-year head coach Matthew Sauk, the Thunder have struggled to find consistency on offense in the early stages of their inaugural season. Portland has yet to score 40 points in a game this season, and had three different quarterbacks take significant snaps in the team’s first four games.
But the Thunder may now have their answer under center, and the name is a familiar one to Shark fans. Kyle Rowley began the season as the Sharks’ backup before being traded to the Orlando Predators prior to Week 5. Rowley was then moved from Orlando to Portland, and went the distance for the Thunder in last week’s game, going 21-of-45 with two touchdowns against one interception.
Though he is in the midst of adjusting to a new receiving corps, Rowley is already familiar with the Thunder’s offensive system, as Matt Sauk was the offensive coordinator for the Spokane Shock team that Rowley led to the ArenaBowl XXIII title in 2011.
Despite the offense’s struggles, the Portland defense has built an early reputation as a solid unit with playmaking tendencies of its own. The Thunder have forced 12 turnovers through five games, nearly matching the output of Jacksonville’s veteran defense. Players to watch when the Thunder’s defense is on the field include Donte Paige-Moss, who leads the way with 5.5 sacks, and Bryce Peila, who has recorded either an interception or a fumble recovery in each his team’s first five games.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 7:00 p.m. Tickets for this game and all Sharks home games may be purchased by calling the Sharks Ticket Office at 904-621-0700 during regular business hours.
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 available, two tickets as low as $153. 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 a fast-paced and exciting game to millions of fans in a myriad of markets across the country. The ESPN family of networks and CBS Sports Network will nationally broadcast AFL games each week for the entire season. The AFL schedule then culminates with the ArenaBowl Championship game live on ESPN.