Jacksonville Wins ArenaBowl XXIV in Dramatic Fashion
Aaron Garcia, playing in his first Arena Bowl championship game, threw a 10-yard touchdown strike to Jeron Harvey on the final play of the game to lift the Jacksonville Sharks (17-4) past the host Arizona Rattlers in ArenaBowl XXIV.
In one of the most exciting Arena Bowl games in history, the 40-year-old Garcia, connecting on 28 of 42 passes, threw for 402 yards and eight touchdowns as Jacksonville avenged a season-opening loss to the Rattlers with a dramatic 73-70 victory before a crowd of 14,320 hostile fans at the US Airways Center in Phoenix.
One couldn’t have asked for a wilder finish to a championship game. Incredibly, the lead changed four times in the final minute of play as the league’s top two offenses each scored twice in the final frantic seconds.
The combined 143 points scored in last night’s championship game set a new Arena Bowl record, breaking the previous high of 131 in San Jose’s 69-62 victory over Arizona seven years ago in ArenaBowl XVIII.
Garcia’s last-second heroics were a fitting climax to a phenomenal season for the Sharks, a second-year franchise that dedicated itself to finally winning an Arena Bowl championship for the former Sacramento State quarterback, a scrappy veteran who has played 17 consecutive seasons in the AFL.
Garcia, who became the first Arena Football League quarterback to surpass the 50,000-yard career milestone when he threw for 117 yards in the regular season finale against the Spokane Shock on July 22, hinted after last night’s storybook ending that he might return for another season.
Savoring last night’s dramatic victory, the football-frenzied First Coast would certainly welcome his return.
“Aaron Garcia just stole a moment from Brett Favre’s wildest fantasy,” said one elated Sharks fan shortly after Garcia, dodging a sack yet remaining cool as a cucumber, found the 6’5” Harvey on the right-side of the end zone to win the game.
The ageless Garcia, who holds the all-time AFL record for touchdown passes and completions — including a career-high 402 completions and 116 touchdown tosses this season — said his ten-yard toss to Harvey as time expired was one that he’ll never forget.
“I’ve thrown all these touchdowns and that’s the only touchdown I am ever going to care about for a long time,” said a jubilant Garcia in a post-game interview while carrying one of his three children on his shoulders.
Arizona, which came into the game with an eleven-game winning streak — two shy of the record-breaking single season 13 consecutive games won earlier this year by the Sharks — and looking for its third Arena Bowl championship ring and its first since 1997, finished the season with an 18-3 record.
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