06/27/2015 9:59 PM
JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Sharks scored on all but one offensive possession, forced six turnovers and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns against the Cleveland Gladiators on Saturday night. The dominant team effort carried Jacksonville to a 74-41 victory on Sea Best Field.
Coming off of a bye week, Jacksonville (7-6) showed no signs of rust, as the Sharks quickly jumped out to a 14-0 lead. London Crawford hauled in his first touchdown reception of the season on the Sharks’ opening drive, and Greg Reid intercepted Cleveland (7-7) quarterback Shane Austin in the end zone on the Gladiators’ third offensive snap. On the very next play, Tommy Grady fired a strike to Tiger Jones, who made a great diving catch for a 37-yard touchdown that put the Sharks up by two scores.
Jacksonville then took a three-score lead in the second quarter, as Alvin Ray Jackson’s interception in the end zone led to a 24-yard touchdown pass from Grady to Jones. That score pushed the Sharks’ edge to 26-7, though Cleveland quickly responded with a score to pull within 12 points. The Gladiators then recovered an onside kick to gain an extra possession in the final minute of the first half, setting up a pivotal situation.
Following the onside recovery, Cleveland had a chance to pull within one score before halftime, which would have given the Gladiators a chance to take the lead on the opening drive of the third quarter. But once Cleveland entered the red zone, the Sharks knocked the ball out of the hands of Amarri Jackson and into the arms of Chris Smith, who secured the turnover to keep Cleveland off the board. Though the Sharks did not score again before the first half came to a close, Jacksonville was able to maintain its two-score lead headed into the break.
The teams exchanged scores to open the third quarter, as Austin’s six-yard touchdown pass to Collin Taylor, pulling Cleveland within a 32-27 margin. At that point, the floodgates opened in the Sharks’ favor, as Alvin Ray Jackson stepped in front of a slow-roll onside kick attempt, picking the ball off the turf and sprinting for a nine-yard return touchdown. On the Gladiators’ next drive, Terrance Smith made a diving interception in the end zone, leading to yet another touchdown strike from Grady to Jones. The back-to-back scores gave Jacksonville a 46-27 lead heading into the fourth.
But the Sharks’ were not done. On the ensuing kickoff return, Chris Smith recovered an Amarri Jackson fumble at midfield and returned it all the way to the Gladiator 10-yard line. The Sharks then dialed up a screen pass to tight end Moqut Ruffins, who shrugged off tackler after tackler on his way to the end zone for his third touchdown catch of the season.
At that point, the Sharks led by a 53-27 margin, and Cleveland never came closer than 19 points at any stage of the fourth quarter. Jacksonville tacked on even more in the final period, as LaRoche Jackson returned yet another slow-roll onside kick attempt for a touchdown, and Joe Sykes strip-sacked Chris Dieker to set up the second of Derrick Ross’ two fourth-quarter scores. Ross’ second touchdown gave the game its final margin, as Cleveland was not able to score before time expired on the next drive.
Grady completed his first eight passes of the night and hardly slowed down from there, finishing a remarkable 23-of-26 for 284 yards and seven touchdowns. Jones led the Sharks with 141 yards and four touchdowns on his seven receptions, while London Crawford totaled nine catches for 101 yards and a score and Joe Hills chipped in by catching five passes for 32 yards and a touchdown of his own. On the ground, Ross carried the ball seven times for 38 yards and two touchdowns.
On defense, Alvin Ray Jackson led all players with 8.5 tackles, recovered a fumble and secured his team-leading sixth interception of the season. Chris Smith totaled six tackles and two pass breakups, and snared a pick and both forced and recovered a fumble. Reid and Terrance Smith each recorded an interception and two pass breakups. Up front, Joe Sykes’ sack was his league-leading 15th sack of the season, as he is now just one sack shy of tying his own single-season AFL record.
For Cleveland, Austin completed 16 of his 25 pass attempts for 211 yards and three touchdowns against three interceptions. Dieker entered the game in the fourth quarter and went 8-for-12 for 61 yards and a score. Thyron Lewis led Cleveland with 120 receiving yards, while Taylor collected three of the Gladiators’ four receiving touchdowns. On defense, Dominic Jones recorded a team-high total of five tackles.
With the win, the Sharks remain a half-game behind the Orlando Predators in the South Division race, as Jacksonville holds the No. 3 seed in the American Conference. The AFL now enters its league-wide Week 15 bye, as the Sharks will return to action on Saturday, July 11, as the team travels to face the Portland Thunder. Kickoff from Moda Center in Portland is set for 10:00 p.m. ET.
Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game – Jacksonville QB Tommy Grady
Riddell Defensive Player of the Game – Jacksonville DB Chris Smith
J. Lewis Small Playmaker of the Game – Jacksonville JLB Alvin Ray Jackson
Cutters Catch of the Game – Jacksonville WR Tiger Jones’ 37-yard diving touchdown catch with 9:24 remaining in the first quarter
AFL Highlight of the Game – Jacksonville OL Moqut Ruffins’ relentless effort en route to a 10-yard catch-and-run touchdown with 14:14 left in the fourth quarter
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. Shark Nation Memberships for the 2016 season are now available, starting as low as $99. To reserve your membership or for more information, please call (904) 621-0700 and speak to a Membership Activation Specialist. 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 2015 season. The AFL schedule culminates with ArenaBowl XXVIII Saturday, August 29, 2015 on ESPN.