ORLANDO - The Jacksonville Sharks (7-3) forced four turnovers and sealed the game in the fourth quarter on Saturday night, snapping a three-game losing streak with a 44-41 victory over the Orlando Predators (2-7) at Amway Center.
The Sharks held a 30-14 lead early in the third quarter, but came up empty on the offense's next two possessions, losing the ball with an interception and a turnover on downs. After Orlando converted each stop into a score, the Sharks led by just a 30-28 count early in the fourth. But quarterback Bernard Morris shook off the rust, stepping up to deliver a 21-yard strike to Jeron Harvey to extend the lead to 37-28.
Orlando then answered with a touchdown from Aaron Garcia to Prechae Rodriguez, cutting the Sharks' lead to just two. Shark defender Jamaal Fudge then stepped up with an onside kick recovery, and Morris converted the short field into a score with a nine-yard touchdown scramble, giving Jacksonville a 44-35 lead.
Though Orlando responded with another Garcia touchdown pass, making the score 44-41, the Shark offense answered the call on the game's final possession. The Sharks took over with 1:37 on the clock and never relinquished possession, as Morris ran out the clock with three straight runs in the final minute, sealing the victory.
For the Sharks, the win was the team's first since a Week 6 victory over the Philadelphia Soul, and guaranteed the Sharks at least a share of the South Division lead at 7-3. The Sharks improved to 6-1 against the Predators in the regular season (7-2 overall) and, counting the postseason, have won each of the last six matchups in this series.
Going back to the start of the game, the Jacksonville offense found itself in a 7-0 hole before taking the field, as Predator kick returner Dominic Jones took the opening kickoff back for an Orlando touchdown. Facing an early deficit, Morris and the Shark offense opened with an efficient five-play, 48-yard scoring drive that ended with a 15-yard toss from Morris to Markee White, knotting the game at seven.
The Predators answered with a three-play scoring drive that started with a long completion from Garcia to T.T. Toliver and ended with a 10-yard catch-and-run by Rodriguez. The Shark offense returned to the field and picked up a pair of first downs, but the Predators then picked up the game's first turnover on a fumbled snap. But this time, the Shark defense bailed out their offensive brethren, standing strong faced with a goal-to-go situation. On third and goal, defensive lineman Matt Marcorelle broke through the line, hit Garcia from behind and forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate Jerry Turner. The turnover allowed the Sharks to stay within one score, as the first quarter ended with Orlando up 14-7.
Opening the second quarter with the ball, the Sharks tied the game in short order. On second and goal from the three, Morris faked a handoff to fullback Rendrick Taylor, then pitched it to Jeff Hughley as Hughley came across the formation at full speed. Thanks to a great block from White, Hughley beat the Predator defense to the corner, making the score 14-14.
On its next drive, Orlando moved into the red zone in short order only to have two touchdown passes wiped off the board by offensive penalties. The Predators faced third and long from near midfield, when Jerry Turner beat his blocker and took down Garcia to force a long field goal attempt. Mark Lewis' miss sailed wide left, and Hughley brought the ball back across midfield. A few plays later, Morris hit Hughley in the corner of the end zone to give Jacksonville its first lead, 21-14.
The ensuing kickoff led to another break for the Sharks. As he was going to the ground after a good return, Jones lateraled the ball forward straight to Fudge, who made the recovery to set the Sharks up with good field position. Though the drive ended with a missed field goal, the Sharks forced yet another fumble on Orlando's next play, as Tracy Belton stripped the ball from Toliver. Fudge fell on the loose ball with two seconds left in the half, and Marco Capozzoli drilled a 39-yard field goal as time expired to give his team a 24-14 halftime lead. The Sharks scored a touchdown on their first possession of the second half to gain a 30-14 advantage.
Back in the starting lineup, Morris finished the game 23 of 39 for 226 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. The Shark signal caller made an impact on the ground, carrying the ball 10 times for a game-high 39 yards and two scores.
At receiver, Harvey led his team with nine catches for 101 yards and a score. White and Hughley each caught a touchdown as well, while Josh Philpart totaled three catches for 31 yards in his most significant action since re-joining the team in Week 9. Taylor also caught one pass for 10 yards.
On defense, Fudge was the game's top playmaker, forcing a fumble and recovering two others. Belton, Turner and Marcorelle each forced a fumble as well, while Turner and Terrance Smith logged fumble recoveries. Turner also re-gained the league's individual sack lead with his eighth takedown of the year, while Marcorelle also recorded a sack for Jacksonville.
For Orlando, Garcia went 20-of-27 for 251 yards and five touchdowns. Toliver led all players with 124 receiving yards, adding a score on his eight catches, while Rodriguez caught eight passes for 97 yards and three scores. Defensively, Jones recorded a game-high 7.5 total tackles (six solo), notched three pass breakups and pulled in the game's only interception. Marcus Everett and Levy Brown also recorded multiple pass breakups in the Orlando secondary.
The Sharks return to action next Saturday night, hosting the Pittsburgh Power for "Shark-A-Ritaville" on Saturday, June 1. Kickoff from Sea Best Field is set for 7:00 p.m.