Jacksonville Sports Day

AFL: Jacksonville Sharks on Road in Arizona

JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Sharks return from their second bye of the season this week, as the team will travel to the west coast to square off against the Arizona Rattlers on Saturday, July 9. This week’s contest will air live to a national audience on CBS Sports Network, and kickoff from Talking Stick Resort Arena is set for 9:30 p.m. ET

Saturday’s game will be the second and final contest between Jacksonville (5-7) and Arizona (10-3) in the regular season. Jacksonville fell just short against the Rattlers in Week 4, as the teams battled into overtime.

The Sharks were unable to seal the deal, as the offense could not answer the Rattlers’ touchdown on their first drive of the extra session. Jacksonville hopes to snap its long drought against Arizona, as the Sharks have not beaten the Rattlers since capturing the ArenaBowl XXIV title in 2011.

A victory this week is essential if the Sharks to come back in the race for the No. 4 overall seed entering the postseason. Currently, the Gladiators hold that No. 4 spot by a game and a half over the Sharks and the Los Angeles KISS. However, Cleveland’s upcoming bye week gives both the Sharks and KISS the opportunity to edge more towards their spot.

Before the bye, the Sharks fell to the Gladiators at home, 48-47. Jacksonville let another fourth-quarter lead slip away, as the Sharks held a 13-point edge before, the Gladiators closed with a 21-7 run in the final 15 minutes. The Sharks’ offense had a chance to take the lead in the final seconds, but Cleveland recovered a fumbled snap with 10 seconds left in the game to seal Jacksonville’s fate.

In the loss, turnovers proved costly yet again, as in addition to the fumble in the final seconds, Tommy Grady threw an interception and lost another fumble that was returned for a Gladiator touchdown. Though Grady played efficient football aside from the turnovers, completing 26 of his 38 pass attempts and throwing six touchdowns, he will look to eliminate the giveaways this week.

Grady and the Sharks’ offense must bounce back after failing to score 50 points in three of the last four games. Despite the offense’s overall inconsistency, Joe Hills continues to be a nightmare for opposing secondaries. Hills leads league leading in yards (1,593), receptions (127) and touchdowns (43), and needs just two scores to break Jomo Wilson’s single-season franchise record of 44, set in 2011. Along with Hills, Reggie Gray continues find his feet in the Jacksonville offense, while London Crawford returned to the lineup before the bye.

On the other side of the ball, the Sharks must hold off a strong Arizona offense that leads the league with an average of 66.8 points per game. The Rattlers average at least a touchdown per game more than any other AFL squad and have crossed the 70-point mark in five separate games. WIth that said, the Sharks’ defense has found a rhythm of late, as Jacksonville has held each of its last three opponents under 50.

As always, the Rattler offense is paced by Nick Davila, has racked up a league-leading total of 88 touchdown passes to this point in the campaign. After recording four sacks in Week 12 against Orlando, the Sharks’ pass rush was shut out against the Gladiators. Jacksonville’s front four must pressure Davila early and often to get the southpaw signal-caller out of his rhythm.

A serious threat under center, Davila has an arsenal of weapons to work with. Rod Windsor ranks second in the league in every major receiving category, while Maurice Purify brings a physical presence that is difficult to contain. Additionally, Rattler fullback Mykel Benson leads the AFL with 18 rushing touchdowns this season.

On the other side, the Arizona pass rush is one to focus on. The Rattler defense has terrorized opponents, leading the league in tackles for loss (30), sacks (22) and forced fumbles (11) and has been a terror to opposing offenses. Demetrio Tyson has tallied five sacks in the season to lead his team and rank third in the league.

The Sharks must put it all together for 60 minutes this week to gain ground in the standings and begin this final stretch of the regular season on a strong note. Saturday’s kickoff is set for 9:30 p.m.

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