Jacksonville Sports Day

AFL: Late Fumble Costs Sharks in 48-47 Loss to Cleveland

Trailing by one point with 14 seconds left in the game on Saturday night, the Jacksonville Sharks had a first-and-goal opportunity from inside the five-yard line. But the Cleveland Gladiators recovered a fumbled snap to keep the Sharks out of the end zone and seal the game, as the Sharks fell by a 48-47 count in front of 10,645 on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.

Following a touchdown pass from Cleveland (7-6) quarterback Arvell Nelson to receiver Devin Wilson that put the Gladiators ahead, 48-47, Jacksonville (5-7) got the ball with good field position thanks to a 22-yard kickoff return by Reggie Gray. The Sharks worked the ball down the field and managed the clock well, as a defensive holding penalty gave the offense an automatic first down at the three-yard line with just 14 seconds left.

But as the play clock wound down, Tommy Grady fumbled the snap and Gladiator Jack linebacker Joe Phinisee fell on the loose ball. Gaining possession with only 10 seconds remaining, Nelson gained yardage on two straight rushing attempts to burn the remainder of the clock.

Earlier in the fourth quarter, Cleveland erased a two-score Jacksonville lead courtesy of an onside kick recovery. Jacksonville held a 47-34 advantage midway through the frame when Nelson hit Wilson from 25 yards out. On the ensuing kickoff, Isiah Dunning navigated through traffic to recover Adrian Trevino’s high-hop onside kick. With the extra possession, Nelson marched his team’s offense down the field again, finding Wilson for a five-yard score that ultimately proved to be the game-winning touchdown.

Before the Gladiators’ late surge, the Sharks erased a two-score deficit of their own thanks to efficient offense and timely defense. With his team down 27-13 late in the second quarter, Grady found Joe Hills from three yards out to pull the Sharks within seven points with 12 seconds left in the first half. The Gladiators used their time well and moved down the field, but Trevino’s field goal attempt missed wide right. On the play, Cleveland was called for kick catch interference, giving the Sharks’ offense an untimed down from its own 21.

And Jacksonville took advantage. Joe Hills caught a short pass along the right-hand wall, cut all the way across the field, got outstanding blocks from his receivers to set the edge and powered through multiple defenders for a 29-yard score. The remarkable play allowed the Sharks to pull within one point at the break, 27-26.

After opening the third quarter with a touchdown, the Sharks got another stop on defense, as Keon Lyn’s fourth-down pass breakup forced a turnover on downs. That stop turned into a score, as Grady hit Hills for a five-yard touchdown to put Jacksonville in front by 13 points before Cleveland turned the tide in the fourth quarter.

In the first half, each team scored on its first two possessions before Jacksonville’s David Hyland kept the Gladiators out of the end zone by intercepting a deflected pass. But on the first play of the ensuing drive, Cleveland’s Abe Koroma sacked Grady from behind, forcing a fumble that Phinisee recovered and returned for a two-yard touchdown.

In the loss, Grady completed 26 of his 38 passes for 274 yards and six touchdowns against one interception. Hills paced the Sharks’ offense with 14 receptions for 157 yards and five scores and has now tied Jomo Wilson’s single-season franchise record off 44 touchdown catches.

Gray added seven receptions for 64 yards and a score, while London Crawford caught four passes for 46 yards and rushed for a touchdown. Derrick Ross gained 23 yards on his three rushing attempts. On defense, Hyland led the Sharks with six total tackles (five solo) to go along with his interception.

For the Gladiators, Nelson went 23-of-38 for 301 yards and five touchdowns against one interception, also rushing for 28 yards and a score on eight attempts. Collin Taylor hauled in eight receptions for 134 yards and two scores, while Wilson finished with three touchdowns. Marvin Ross led Cleveland with 8.5 total tackles (eight solo) and an interception, while Phinisee recorded two solo tackles to go along with his pair of fumble recoveries.

The Sharks will now enter their second bye week of the season. The team returns to action on Saturday, July 9 as Jacksonville travels to face the Arizona Rattlers. Kickoff from Talking Stick Resort Arena is set for 9:30 p.m. ET.

Media Awards

Under Armour Offensive Player of the Game: Jacksonville WR Joe Hills

Riddell Defensive Player of the Game: Cleveland JLB Joe Phinsee

J. Lewis Small Playmaker of the Game: Jacksonville WR Joe Hills

Cutters Catch of the Game: Cleveland WR Collin Taylor’s 33-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter

AFL Highlight of the Game – Jacksonville WR Joe Hills’ 29-yard catch-and-run touchdown on an untimed down at the end of the first half

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