Jacksonville Sharks Pound Predators, Win 68-67 Thriller
Defensive back Terrance Smith deflected a two-point conversion attempt with seven seconds remaining to give the visiting Jacksonville Sharks a 68-67 victory over the Orlando Predators last night before 12,356 fans at the Amway Center in Orlando.
The win extended Jacksonville’s eleven-game winning streak and put the Sharks three games ahead of their biggest rival in the Arena Football League’s South Division with six games remaining in the regular season.
The game matched all of the pre-game hype in the increasingly intensified rivalry as the Predators, trailing by two touchdowns, staged a dramatic fourth-quarter rally, sparked by a 22-yard strike from quarterback Nick Hill to Josh Bush deep in the corner to cut Jacksonville’s margin to 61-54 with 7:07 left to play.
Orlando (8-4) tied the game at 61-61 with 52 seconds remaining on a one-yard touchdown run by fullback James Lynch.
The Sharks, recovering an onsides kick, responded with a one-yard scamper by Jamarko Simmons on fourth down to take a 68-61 lead with 23 seconds remaining.
Not to be denied, the Predators drove down the field and put themselves in a position to win the game when Hill hit wide receiver T.T. Toliver for a 33-yard touchdown pass in the waning moments of the game.
Trailing 68-67, Orlando opted to go for the win, but failed on both opportunities to convert a two-point conversion.
A holding penalty against the Sharks gave the Predators a second chance to take the lead, but Hill's pass intended for veteran wide receiver Bobby Sippio — who once played for the Kansas City Chiefs and who caught four touchdown passes in the game — was deflected by the outstretched hands of Smith, preserving Jacksonville’s winning streak and giving the Sharks sudden supremacy in the growing rivalry.
Hill, connecting on 25 of 42 passes, threw for 361 yards and nine touchdowns in the game.
Forty-year-old Aaron Garcia, the all-time leading passer in Arena Football League history, tossed for four touchdowns while completing 24 of 38 passes for 329 yards for the Sharks. Orlando, which picked off five passes against Iowa last week, found it nearly impossible to disrupt Garcia’s highly-effective passing game.
The loss — the second of the season to the Sharks — severely diminishes Orlando’s chances of winning the division and hosting a first round game in the playoffs, which are scheduled to begin July 29-30.
“It really puts us in a difficult situation as far as winning the division,” Predators coach Pat O'Hara lamented after the game.
Barring a complete collapse by the Sharks, it appears that Orlando (8-4) will now have to fight for one of the conference’s two wild card spots.
The road-weary Sharks, who haven’t played a home game since May 13, return to the friendly confines of Veterans Memorial Arena on Saturday at 7 p.m. when they host the stingy Milwaukee Mustangs (4-8), a 54-34 winner over Kansas City last night.