JACKSONVILLE - The ArenaBowl XXIV Champion Jacksonville Sharks kept the game close into the fourth quarter but ultimately never regained the lead in the second half, falling 65-55 at New Orleans Arena on Saturday night. With the loss, Jacksonville drops into second place in the American Conference's South Division.
New Orleans led 34-33 at halftime, giving the Sharks the opportunity to score on their first possession and reclaim the lead. However, Jacksonville's offense stalled, as the team turned the ball over on downs, setting up a short field that the VooDoo converted into a touchdown that extended their lead. From then on, New Orleans continually answered every one of Jacksonville's scores with one of their own in order to remain in front.
In the final minute, VooDoo quarterback Kurt Rocco plunged in from inside the one yard line to extend a 58-55 New Orleans lead into a ten-point edge. On the ensuing possession, Bernard Morris was intercepted by Jeremey Kellem in the end zone with seven seconds left. Kellem's second pick of the game sealed the contest in favor of New Orleans.
The first half of the game was a back-and-forth affair, as the two teams traded leads on several occasions. Early in the second quarter, Micheaux Robinson stepped in front of a Rocco pass and returned it for a touchdown that gave the Sharks a 19-14 lead. Just before halftime, New Orleans' Jamaal Fudge handled an attempted onside kick and ran it back for a short touchdown of his own. The Sharks answered that with a score of their own to give the game its 34-33 halftime score.
Morris finished 24-of-28 for 250 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. The dual-threat quarterback was also the game's leading rusher, as he carried the ball eight times for 23 yards and two touchdowns. Fullback Rendrick Taylor added a rushing touchdown of his own. At receiver, Jeron Harvey led the way with 9 receptions for 120 yards and two touchdowns, while Jamarko Simmons also had nine catches for 77 yards and a score. Terrance Smith chipped in with 53 yards and a touchdown on six catches and led all players with 121 kickoff return yards.
For the VooDoo, Rocco completed 18 of his 33 passes for 262 yards, seven touchdowns and Robinson's interception. Quorey Payne led all players with three receiving touchdown, while Josh Bush racked up 104 yards and two touchdowns on just five catches. New Orleans receivers L.J. Castile and Courtney Smith each found the end zone once as well.
With Saturday's result, New Orleans takes over the division lead and the No. 2 seed in the American Conference. Jacksonville drops into a temporary tie with the Georgia Force for second place in the division, pending the result of the Force's game against the Orlando Predators on Sunday afternoon. Should the Force lose, the Sharks would hold the No. 3 seed in the conference, while a Georgia victory would drop the Sharks into the No. 4 position.
The Sharks return home next Friday night to host the East Division's Milwaukee Mustangs. Next Friday's game will be aired nationally on NFL Network as part of the "Net10 Arena Football Friday" series and is set to kick off at 8:00 p.m.