JACKSONVILLE - For the second consecutive game, the ArenaBowl XXIV Champion Jacksonville Sharks turned in a dominant defensive effort.
This time, the team punched its third straight postseason ticket with a 48-30 victory over the Orlando Predators in front of a season-high 12,403 on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on Saturday night.
One week after holding the Milwaukee Mustangs to just three field goals in the first half, the Jacksonville defense yielded just nine first-half points yet again against Orlando. Win the win, the Sharks have clinched a postseason berth for the third consecutive season and remain alive for a third-straight South Division title. Because both the Georgia Force and New Orleans VooDoo lost on Saturday, the Sharks must simply beat the Pittsburgh Power next Friday night in order to lock up the division crown.
The defensive effort began in earnest from the first snap. After Bernard Morris found rookie Josh Philpart for a 13-yard touchdown on the game's opening drive, the Jacksonville defense held the Predators to a field goal on Orlando's first possession. The Sharks followed that with yet another touchdown - this time from Morris to Jeron Harvey - and then held Orlando to another field goal attempt that went wide right.
Jacksonville eventually took a 20-9 lead into the locker room at halftime before opening the second half with another defensive stop. After the Predators received the opening kickoff of the third quarter, the Sharks forced a turnover on downs, highlighted by a sack from defensive lineman Jason Holman. Holman's takedown of Predator quarterback Chris Leak was one of three Jacksonville sacks on Saturday night.
From that point, a pair of turnovers helped the Sharks build an insurmountable advantage. Terrance Smith picked off Leak in the end zone in the third quarter, then after a Jacksonville touchdown, Daylan Walker fell on a loose ball in the end zone for a quick score. Walker's first career touchdown gave the Sharks a decisive 48-23 lead with 3:30 remaining in the game.
Though Orlando did score in the final seconds to give the game its final margin, the Predators never threatened in the fourth quarter.
Offensively, Morris finished the game completing 18 of his 27 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns and did not throw an interception for a second straight game. Harvey led the Shark receiving corps with seven catches for 67 yards and a score, while Philpart and Jamarko Simmons each found the end zone as well. Rendrick Taylor moved the chains on the ground with six rushes for 27 yards, while Simmons added 14 rushing yards of his own.
For Orlando, Leak went 17-of-25 passing for 192 yards, but threw just one touchdown against his one interception. Leak also led the Predators with 16 rushing yards on three carries. T.T. Toliver recorded a game-high eight receptions for 103 yards, while Jarvis Williams caught the Predators' only touchdown pass.
Defensively, LaRoche Jackson again led the Sharks with 7.5 total tackles, a tackle for loss and two pass breakups. Smith chipped in with five tackles in addition to his interception, while fellow defensive back Bill Alford contributed with four tackles of his own.
The Sharks will conclude the regular season on the road against the Pittsburgh Power on Friday, July 20.