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Sharks Looking to Avenge Last Year’s First-Round Heartbreaker

The road to ArenaBowl XXIV begins tonight at Jacksonville’s Veteran’s Memorial Arena when the top-seeded Sharks (14-4) host division rival Orlando, a team Jacksonville defeated twice during the regular season.

In only two seasons, the Predators and Sharks have quickly become one of the league’s most intense rivalries.

While the Predators (11-7) look to avenge their two regular season losses to Jacksonville, the Sharks — the highest seed in the American Conference for the second straight year — are looking for a little payback for last year’s stunning 73-69 first-round loss to Orlando, a heartbreaking setback coming with only 8.7 seconds remaining in the game when Orlando’s Bobby Sippio scored his sixth touchdown of the game, abruptly ending Jacksonville’s first season in the Arena Football League.

The 6’3 Sippio, an eight-year veteran of the AFL who joined the Predators at midseason, caught four touchdown passes and ran for two more in Orlando’s upset victory before a disappointed River City throng of 10,157.

Incredibly, Orlando’s winning touchdown came only 12 seconds after Jacksonville quarterback Aaron Garcia’s dramatic 13-yard strike to Jeron Harvey had given the Sharks a 69-66 lead. Garcia threw seven touchdown passes in the loss.

The Predators, who won three of their last four regular-season games to clinch the fourth-seed in the American Conference playoffs, are making their nineteenth consecutive postseason appearance.

All eyes at Sea Best Field tonight, however, will be on Jacksonville’s Aaron Garcia, the 40-year-old throwing ace and magician who’s arguably coming off the finest season in his illustrious 17-year AFL career.

Garcia, who has never won an ArenaBowl championship, has accumulated 4,933 yards in the air this season, shattering his previous high of 4,515 passing yards with the New Dragons in 2001.

The ageless Garcia, who amassed an eye-popping 402 completions during the regular season while throwing 116 touchdown passes, has now passed for more than 50,000 career yards, including 8,651 yards in two seasons with the Sharks. He has also tossed 1,078 career touchdown passes — another AFL record.

The winner of tonight’s game plays the winner of Sunday’s match-up between the No. 2 seed Cleveland Gladiators and the third-seeded Georgia Force next week at the site of the highest remaining seed.

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