Jacksonville Sharks Face Georgia Force for ArenaBowl Berth
The top-seeded Jacksonville Sharks find themselves only one game away from appearing in their first Arena Bowl championship game when they host the Georgia Force in the Arena Football League’s American Conference title game tonight at 8:00 PM at Veterans Memorial Arena.
The Sharks (15-4) defeated their Atlanta rival twice during the regular season, winning 71-57 at Sea Best Field in their home opener on March 18 and escaping with a dramatic 62-55 come-from-behind victory at Georgia’s Gwinnett Center in late May.
Veteran quarterback Aaron Garcia’s pinpoint accuracy — completing 19 of 25 passes for 177 yards and six touchdowns — propelled the Sharks to victory in their first encounter while a huge goal-line stand by Jacksonville’s defense on Georgia’s final drive of the game preserved a hard-fought win in their second meeting.
Incredibly, the Force out-gained the Sharks by an overwhelming 401 yards to 191 yards in their first meeting while Jacksonville — then in the midst of a twelve-game winning streak — twice had to rally from fourth quarter deficits in their second match-up before prevailing.
Jacksonville, which won nine of out ten home games this season, is clearly favored in tonight’s contest, but it almost certainly won’t be without a tussle.
Georgia, which pounded the Cleveland Gladiators 50-41 on the road last weekend in the first round of the playoffs to earn a spot in tonight’s conference championship game, has won five of its last six games — including three straight away from home.
Moreover, Maurice Purify and Larry Shipp — Georgia’s dynamic receiving duo — absolutely devastated the Sharks’ secondary during their two regular season meetings, with the 25-year-old Purify, who played college football at Nebraska, catching 24 passes for 272 yards and eight touchdowns, and Shipp hauling in 19 passes for 224 yards and five touchdowns.
Purify and Shipp have a combined 3,437 receiving yards on the season.
Engaged in their sixth playoff run in eight seasons, the Force (12-7) are coached by Dean Cokinos, a Boston native who’s certainly no stranger to playoff pressure. In his first year as their head coach, Cokinos guided the af2’s fourth-seeded Tennessee Valley Vipers to an improbable postseason run in 2008, resulting in a last-second 56-55 overtime victory against the heavily-favored Spokane Shock in ArenaCup IX.
His current squad, says Cokinos, is remarkably similar to his 2008 Vipers team which knocked off one favored opponent after another in its unlikely pursuit of the Arena Cup Championship.
“We moved guys around early in the year,” he said earlier this week. “About midseason, we really identified our team, and we’ve taken off since then.”
The winner of tonight’s game will play the Arizona Rattlers (18-2) at the US Airways Center in Phoenix in ArenaBowl XXIV on Friday, August 12th.
The Rattlers, who defeated the Sharks 55-52 in the season-opener for both teams, won a 54-48 cliffhanger last night against the Chicago Rush to claim the National Conference Championship.
Tonight’s American Conference championship game will be broadcast live nationally on the NFL Network at 8:00 PM Eastern time.
For complete coverage of the road to the ArenaBowl, visit our partner at ArenaToday.com!