Jacksonville Sports Day

AFL: Jacksonville Sharks Knock Philly from Unbeaten Ranks

JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Sharks defense stood tall on Saturday night, forcing several key stops throughout the course of the game, including a turnover on downs in the final minute to seal a 55-47 victory over the Philadelphia Soul on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.

Jacksonville (3-5) led by a 45-40 count when quarterback Tommy Grady fired a 28-yard touchdown strike to an open Prechae Rodriguez, putting the Sharks up by two scores. But Philadelphia (7-1) answered in just three plays, as Dan Raudabaugh connected with Shaun Kauleinamoku for a 25-yard touchdown with 1:26 left in the game. Nursing a five-point lead, the Sharks got a big boost courtesy of Joe Hills, who high-pointed Philadelphia’s ensuing onside kick, making a recovery that gave Jacksonville the ball with 58 seconds left.

But on the ensuing drive, Tommy Grady took a big loss on a sack, bringing the ball back to midfield for a third and 23 situation. After an incompletion, Julian Rauch took the field and drilled a 40-yard field goal, his second of the game, giving Jacksonville an eight-point lead with 31 ticks left.

Because of that field goal, Philadelphia could only tie after the got the ball back for one final drive. Needing a stop to seal the win, the Sharks defense stood tall, as tight coverage led to incompletions on first and second down. After a pass from Raudabaugh to Marco Thomas made it fourth and one, the Sharks covered well on fourth down, leading to an incompletion and a turnover on downs. The Jacksonville offense ran down the final 11 seconds to seal the team’s second straight victory.

That final defensive stop was the Sharks’ fifth of the game – and it was the first one that allowed Jacksonville to take an early advantage. After the two teams traded touchdowns to open the game, Joe Sykes’ sack of Raudabaugh keyed a turnover on downs on Philadelphia’s second possession. The short field led to Rauch’s first field goal of the game, a 28-yarder that put the Sharks on top by a 10-7 count.

The two teams exchanged two scores apiece in the second quarter, as Grady hit Hills from three yards out and then tossed a screen pass to offensive lineman Moqut Ruffins for a 12-yard touchdown with one minute remaining in the half, while Raudabaugh connected with Tommy Taggart and Thomas for Soul scores. The final minute of the first half featured a total of five drives and zero points, as the Sharks were unable to capitalize on an Xavier Brewer fumble recovery and a LaRoche Jackson interception. Rauch’s field goal attempt on the final play of the half missed wide right, as the Sharks headed to the locker room with a 24-20 advantage.

After that sloppy final minute of the second quarter, both offenses got hot after halftime, as each team scored touchdowns on their first four drives of the second half. The Sharks got the opening kickoff of the third quarter and took advantage, as Grady hit Rodriguez on a quick pass for an 11-yard touchdown as Jacksonville built its first two-score lead of the game, 31-20.

From there, the Soul stayed close thanks to Raudabaugh’s efficient play under center, but the Sharks answered every time. Derrick Ross took it in from six yards out with six minutes left in the third, while Hills made a one-handed catch down the sideline for a 32-yard touchdown early in the fourth that gave Jacksonville a 45-33 advantage. Ryan McDaniel’s ensuing Soul touchdown catch set up the situation that unfolded over the final minute of the fourth.

For the Sharks, Grady went 18-of-35, throwing for a total of 187 yards and six touchdowns without an interception. Hills led the Sharks with nine receptions for 96 yards and two scores, while Rodriguez caught five passes for 63 yards en route to his two scores. On the ground, Ross carried the ball five times for 13 yards and a touchdown.

On defense, Sykes’ first-quarter sack extended his franchise-record streak to seven consecutive games with at least one quarterback takedown. Jackson led all players with nine total tackles, adding a forced fumble and an interception, while Greg Reid notched 8.5 tackles, three pass breakups and a fumble recovery. On special teams, Rauch’s 40-yarder was the longest regular-season field goal in franchise history.

For Philadelphia, Raudabaugh went 29-of-43 for 294 yards and seven touchdowns against one pick. Thomas and McDaniel each caught 11 passes, while Kauleinamoku added six catches for 84 yards and two scores. Kent Richardson led Philadelphia with 5.5 tackles and a pass breakup, while Curtis Young recorded the Soul’s lone sack.

Having now won three of its last four games, Jacksonville will look for another victory next Saturday night, as the Sharks travel to face the New Orleans VooDoo on May 23. Kickoff from Smoothie King Center in New Orleans is set for 8 p.m.

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