SHARKS CALM STORM ON FRIDAY NIGHT 60-41
JACKSONVILLE – Taking advantage of an opportunistic defense that forced five turnovers, the Jacksonville Sharks improved to 2-0 at home on Friday night, beating the Tampa Bay Storm by a 60-41 count on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
Jacksonville (2-2) jumped out to an early 13-0 lead thanks to the first of those turnovers. After R.J. Archer opened the game with a one-yard touchdown run. Tampa Bay (3-2) quarterback Randy Hippeard lost control of the snap on the Storm’s ensuing drive. Jack linebacker Charlie Hunt pounced on the loose ball to set the Sharks up at the Storm 16. On the very next play, starting quarterback R.J. Archer took a hard hit and left the game for one play and Aaron Garcia stepped on to the field wearing a Jacksonville uniform for the first time since 2011. Garcia needed just one snap to make an impact, throwing Mardy Gilyard open for a diving 24-yard touchdown catch that gave the Sharks that two-score lead.
Archer bounced back after missing that one snap, playing the rest of the game under center. Following the Storm’s first score of the game – a touchdown from Hippeard to Justin Hilton, Archer fired a five-yard scoring strike to London Crawford, giving the Sharks a 20-7 lead.
But Tampa Bay did not go away quietly, scoring back-to-back touchdowns to seize a 21-20 edge halfway through the second quarter. Though the Sharks came up empty on their next drive, Terrance Smith swung momentum with his third interception of the season, sprinting under a long pass to force the turnover. Archer and the Sharks took that opportunity and delivered, as the quarterback found Crawford with six seconds left in the half, putting Jacksonville back in front by a 26-21 count.
Coming out of the locker room with that five-point lead, the Jacksonville defense came up with an enormous team effort. Justin Parrish came around from his defensive end spot and sacked Hippeard, forcing a fumble that was picked up by Xavier Brewer. As Brewer sprinted to the end zone, Tampa Bay receiver Justin Hilton charged from behind to strip the ball. But Aaron Robbins was there to capitalize, pouncing on the loose ball in the end zone for a Shark touchdown.
Brewer came up with another big play on Jacksonville’s next drive, pulling down his second interception of the season. Three plays later, Archer hit Gilyard from seven yards out to put the Sharks up by three scores. But Tampa Bay bounced right back, as Hippeard tossed a 31-yard touchdown to Joe Hills, followed by an interception return for a touchdown by Jean Fanor. After those back-to-back scores, the Storm cut Jacksonville’s lead to 39-34.
Archer then led the Sharks back down the field as the third quarter came to a close, finding Mardy Gilyard for a 23-yard touchdown to give Jacksonville another two-score edge. As the fourth quarter opened, the Sharks turned up the pass rush. Over the span of two possessions, the Sharks racked up three sacks of Hippeard. In between, Jared McGriff-Culver found paydirt with a three-yard touchdown run, his fourth of the season.
With about five minutes left in the game, the Sharks led by a 53-41 margin. Jacksonville finished the game strong, as Archer his Crawford for his third touchdown of the night. On the Storm’s next drive, Hunt came up with another turnover, hauling in an interception on a tipped Stephen Garcia pass. Though Archer was intercepted in the end zone in the final seconds, Tampa Bay could not generate another scoring drive as the Sharks sealed the 19-point victory.
With the win, Jacksonville improves to 1-1 in divisional play and maintains a perfect home record. The Sharks are also now just a half-game behind the Storm and Orlando Predators in the South Division.
Archer finished the game 23-of-36 for 202 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. Crawford led Jacksonville with 10 catches, while Gilyard racked up nine receptions for 108 yards. Each player posted matching three-touchdown performances in the victory, while Tristan Purifoy chipped in with four catches for 26 yards. On the ground, McGriff-Culver totaled 19 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. He has now found the end zone in each of his first four career contests.
On defense, Brewer led the way with six tackles and one pass breakup to go along with his fumble recovery and interception. Micheaux Robinson finished with a game-high four pass breakups and added 5.5 tackles. On the line, Justin Parrish put together an impressive performance, racking up 3.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. The Sharks totaled five sacks overall, as Jerry Turner (1.5), Darnell Carter (1.0), Rashaad Duncan (0.5) and Robbins (0.5) all chipped in.
For Tampa Bay, Hippeard went 21-of-37 for 239 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. Hilton led all players for 11 catches for 113 yards and two scores, while Hills and Amarri Jackson each caught a touchdown pass. On defense, Jean Fanor led the Storm with 8.5 tackles for loss, while De’Audra Dix had 6.5 tackles, one tackle for loss, an interception and two pass breakups.
Next week, the Sharks head up to Philadelphia for a conference showdown with the Soul on Saturday, April 19. Kickoff from Wells Fargo Center is set for 6:00 p.m.
Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game – Jacksonville WR Mardy Gilyard
Riddell Defensive Player of the Game – Jacksonville DB Xavier Brewer
J. Lewis Small Playmaker of the Game – Jacksonville WR Mardy Gilyard
Cutters Catch of the Game – Jacksonville WR Mardy Gilyard’s diving touchdown catch with 9:36 left in the first quarter
AFL Highlight of the Game – Jacksonville DB Xavier Brewer and MLB Aaron Robbins’ tag-team fumble return touchdown with 12:45 left in the third quarter