JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The ArenaBowl XXIV Champion Jacksonville Sharks built a twenty-point halftime lead then withstood a late rally, defeating the Tampa Bay Storm by a 71-61 score in front of 11,080 on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on Saturday night.
The win is the Sharks' third straight, and combined with the Georgia Force's Saturday loss to the New Orleans VooDoo, moves Jacksonville (6-5) into sole possession of first place in the South Division. The 71 points scored sets a new season high, while the Sharks also recorded their highest-scoring half by putting up 47 points before halftime.
With his team leading by a 64-61 count in the final minute, Shark quarterback Bernard Morris broke through the line for an 11-yard plunge on third and long. Marco Capozzoli converted the extra point to move the Sharks ahead by 10. On their final possession, the Storm (6-6) moved the ball into Jacksonville territory but could not score before time expired.
Jacksonville's defense set the tone early, making consecutive defensive stops in which they did not allow Tampa Bay to gain a single yard. On the flip side, the Jacksonville offense converted on each of its first three possessions, as Morris connected on long touchdowns to Bobby Sewall and Terrance Smith then collected a one-yard touchdown run to give the Sharks a 20-0 edge.
The Storm got a spark late in the first quarter after the team inserted newly-activated quarterback Nick Hill in place of starter Stephen Wasil, who did not complete a pass in seven attempts. On the flip side, Hill was a perfect seven-for-seven with two touchdowns in the first half.
Despite Hill's immediate impact, the Sharks continued to build momentum in the second quarter, as Morris hit Jamarko Simmons for an 18-yard touchdown late in the second quarter, giving Jacksonville a 47-27 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, The Storm scored twice to pull within seven before Morris hit Sewall for a 43-yard touchdown pass, the third connection between the two in the game. Tampa Bay later used a successful onside kick to again close the gap to a single score in the fourth before Morris' game-clinching touchdown run.
The Jacksonville quarterback improved to 3-1 as a starter this season, connecting on 17 of 28 passes for 259 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for 23 yards and two scores on six carries.
Sewall racked up 130 yards and those three touchdowns on seven catches to lead the Jacksonville receiving corps. Smith chipped in with four catches for 66 yards and two scores, while Simmons caught five passes for 55 yards and a touchdown of his own.
The Sharks also recorded four rushing touchdowns for the first time this season, as both Simmons and Rendrick Taylor scored on the ground in addition to Morris' two touchdown runs. In addition, Capozzoli connected on a 30-yard field goal to remain a perfect eight-for-eight on field goal attempts this season.
On the other side, Hill completed 25 of 32 passes for 321 yards and four touchdowns with one interception in his first game in a Tampa Bay uniform. Hill also added a pair of rushing touchdowns, while Chandler Williams led the Storm with 11 receptions for 161 yards and three scores. Williams also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the second quarter.
The Sharks will continue this key stretch of divisional play next weekend in Georgia, as they battle the force on Saturday, June 9 at 7:00 p.m. at The Arena at Gwinnett Center.
First Coast News