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Sharks Hope to Snap Losing Streak, Regain Winning Form Before Playoffs

The Jacksonville Sharks (13-4) will be looking to snap an unprecedented three-game losing streak and gain some desperately-needed momentum heading into next week’s playoffs when they take the field at Veterans Memorial Arena tonight at 8 p.m. in their regular season finale against the Spokane Shock.

Spokane (9-8), the defending Arena Football League champion, comes into Friday’s contest at Sea Best Field as one of the hottest teams in the league.

The Shock, who clinched the final wild-card spot in the AFL’s National Conference in dramatic fashion on Saturday when backup quarterback Kyle Rowley threw a desperation touchdown pass on the final play of the game to give the Shock a heart-stopping 63-61 victory over the resurgent San Jose SaberCats, have won five of their last six games.

Their last setback was a 22-point loss at Arizona on July 2.

The Shock, who started the 2011 season by losing four of their first five games, will be playing without the services of veteran quarterback Erik Meyer, who injured his shoulder during the first quarter of Saturday’s game against the SaberCats. Rowley, who threw eight touchdown passes on 24-31 passing while coming off the bench against San Jose, is expected to start.

It’s a challenge Rowley welcomes. “My goal is to win championships and to be the best quarterback in the league,” he said earlier this week. “And by the time I retire I want to go out the best quarterback to ever play the game. The fact that I’m out there means I’m on track to help get Spokane their second ArenaBowl championship.”

Hoping to make a deep run in the playoffs, Spokane adjusted its roster earlier this week, announcing that wide receiver Greg Orton, who had signed with the United Football League’s Omaha Nighthawks last month, has been activated and will be eligible to play against the Sharks. Orton, in his second season with Spokane, has had an exemplary season, making 104 receptions for 1,361 yards while scoring 31 touchdowns in fourteen games.

The Shock have also added defensive linemen Michael Spicer, a 6’3,” 285-pound veteran of the UFL’s Hartford Colonials and New York Sentinels, and James McClinton, a former All-American at Kansas, to their roster. The imposing 305-pound McClinton recorded 118 career tackles for the Jayhawks. Both are excepted to see action against the Sharks.

Earlier in the week, Spokane announced that wide receiver Raul Vijil and quarterback Steven Sheffield had been activated from the team’s injured reserve list. Vijil, 29, had recorded 66 receptions for 715 yards and 20 touchdowns in nine games this season.

The error-prone Sharks, who’ve uncharacteristically committed a dozen turnovers in their current three-game losing streak — including five in last week’s 49-48 overtime loss at Kansas City — defeated Spokane in last year’s regular season finale, defeating the Shock 64-49 before a sellout crowd of more than 13,000 at Jacksonville’s Veterans Memorial Arena. Earlier in the season, the Shock rallied from behind to defeat the Sharks 67-57 in Spokane.

On Tuesday, the Sharks announced that wide receiver Jamarko Simmons, who had been signed by the UFL’s Virginia Destroyers in early July, was returning to the team in the wake of that league’s decision to delay the start of its 2011 season.

The 6’3” Simmons, who smashed the all-time career reception record as a four-year letterman at Western Michigan University — breaking all of the records set by current Green Bay Packer wide receiver Greg Jennings — had scored a dozen touchdowns for the Sharks in eight games, including six rushing touchdowns on nine carries.

Jacksonville desperately needs to return to its winning ways, recapturing the form it displayed during its 13-game winning streak earlier this season, before next week’s playoffs begin.

Of the league’s eight-playoff bound teams, the Sharks are the only squad nursing an extended losing streak heading into postseason play.

Unlike the slumping Sharks, Arizona (15-2) has won nine in a row; Chicago (13-4) has emerged victorious in 8 of its last 9; Dallas (11-6) has won five of its last six, as has Spokane; the Georgia Force (10-7) have prevailed in three of their last four outings; and Cleveland (10-7) has won 3 of 4.

Even Orlando (10-7), which struggled mightily at mid-season, has recently returned to its winning ways by defeating two of its last three opponents, including an impressive come-from-behind victory against the expansion Pittsburgh Power three weeks ago — a game they were trailing by twenty points — and an 85-49 trouncing of the Tulsa Talons on the road last Saturday.

Regardless of what happens in tonight‘s game, the Sharks will host either the Georgia Force or the Orlando Predators in the first round of the AFL’s American Conference playoffs next Friday at Veterans Memorial Arena. Spokane, which is making its sixth consecutive playoff appearance, will travel to Phoenix to take on the league-leading Arizona Rattler’s in the National Conference.

Tonight’s game will be televised live on the NFL Network.

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