Jacksonville (7-8) knew they were coming into the game with the division on the line. They had the answers early, but failed the test in the end with a 65-55 loss to the VooDoo (8-7) in New Orleans on Saturday night.
The Sharks started out on defense, and they started well on defense. The front line generated pressure on VooDoo QB Kurt Rocco to force three straight incompletions and an early fourth-down situation. They couldn’t cash in, though, giving up a 45-yard TD pass to WR Quorey Payne to open up the scoring in New Orleans’ favor. Jacksonville returned with quick offense of their own, starting with a 34-yard kick return by Terrance Smith to set the Sharks up in good field position. Two big completions to Smith and Jeron Harvey quickly set up a one-yard rushing TD by Rendrick Taylor. Marco Capozzoli, who made all eight extra points last week, missed his first attempt of the night, leaving the score at 7-6.
The first key moment of the game happened on the next VooDoo drive as Bobby Sewall, in his first game back from injury, was ejected from the game following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following the kickoff. Although shorthanded, the Sharks fought on and DB Micheaux Robinson recovered a fumble after an errant pitch at the New Orleans’ six-yard line. After two short runs by QB Bernard Morris, Jacksonville found themselves on top 12-7, after Capozzoli missed his second straight extra point.
The big plays continued as New Orleans needed only four plays to answer, two of them combining for 40 yards. The drive started with an 11-yard catch by Payne, and ended with a 29-yard scoring pass from Rocco to WR Josh Bush. Jacksonville tried to reclaim the lead before the end of the quarter, but the drive stalled following two Morris runs. and ended with an interception. The defense, specifically Micheaux Robinson, bailed the Sharks out with a 15-yard interception return for a touchdown on 3rd-and-10, and the Sharks were back on top 19-14 after Capozzoli’s first made extra point of the game.
The defensive presence disappeared for the next few plays, as Kurt Rocco completed three straight passes good for 17, 10, and 13 yards to quickly get the VooDoo in scoring position. The Sharks used their bend-but-don’t-break style to force another fourth down, in part thanks to a third-down sack by DE Scooter Berry, but gave up another fourth-down score, this time to Courtney Smith, to put themselves behind again, 20-19 after a Chris Cismesia miss.
Jacksonville caught an early break on the next drive, as an illegal defense penalty nullified a Deandrus Frye sack of Bernard Morris in the end zone, and took a crucial safety off the board. It appeared the Sharks would take advantage after a 17-yard completion to WR Jeron Harvey put them in New Orleans territory, but an intentional grounding call on 3rd-and-5 forced a Marco Capozzoli 33-yard field goal attempt, which he missed. Kurt Rocco would make quick work, needing only two completions, including a 34-yarder to Josh Bush, to go down the field and extend the lead to 27-19 just before the one-minute warning.
An errant Cismesia kick out of bounds set Jacksonville up with good field position again, and the Sharks responded with a quick 17-yard strike from Morris to Jeron Harvey to put them back within a single point. However, their own kicking game failed them as their onside kick was returned by Jamaal Fudge seven yards for a touchdown. With 48 seconds left, Jacksonville had plenty of time to make it up, and they would. New Orleans did their part early with consecutive penalties (which were a theme for the first half); but after a 17-yard pass to Jamarko Simmons, VooDoo DL Michael Janac sacked Bernard Morris for a four-yard loss. It proved irrelevant, as Morris found Terrance Smith in the end zone for the last touchdown of the half, and the Sharks went into the locker room down 34-33.
New Orleans started the second half by throwing their weight around, and Jacksonville couldn’t muster any immediate offense, starting with a four-and-out drive. The VooDoo staggered out of the gate themselves, but a pass interference penalty called on Micheaux Robinson on 3rd-and-10 extended the drive. It would cost Jacksonville on the next play as QB Kurt Rocco found WR L.J. Castile to extend the Sharks’ deficit to eight points with 10:03 left in the third quarter.
Jacksonville used a more efficient style on their next drive, with Bernard Morris completing six straight passes to three different receivers; stretching the field and creating space for them in the process. Jamarko Simmons would be the one on the end of the scoring play with an 11-yard catch to cut the deficit to 41-40 with 5:55 left in the quarter. New Orleans would respond with more big plays, specifically consecutive 19-yard passes, the second going to Quorey Payne to return the difference to eight. Jacksonville looked like they had the answer with more efficient, short-play offense, but they turned the ball over on downs as Bernard Morris overthrew Terrance Smith at the back of the end zone on fourth down.
New Orleans had early chances to put the game out of reach, but a botched trick play followed by an L. J. Castile dropped pass quickly set up third down. The Sharks nearly cemented a strong defensive drive with a sack, but had to settle for an incompletion and a field goal attempt, which Chris Cismesia made from 30 yards out to make the score 51-40 with exactly ten minutes left in the game.
Terrance Smith breathed life into Jacksonville with a 48-yard kick return, aided by a missed penalty call, to immediately put the Sharks into the red zone. Bernard Morris would score with a three-yard run, and Jacksonville found themselves right back in the game at 51-47. The following VooDoo possession would be the Quorey Payne show. First with a 34-yard return, then with two catches for 13 yards to end the drive with a touchdown. In fairness, there was a six-yard run by FB Joe Alajajian and an illegal defense penalty mixed in. The Sharks responded back with a vengeance; needing only two plays, a 10-yard pass to Jamarko Simmons, and a 35-yard pass to Jeron Harvey, to answer the drive. Morris ran in the two-point conversion after a successful fake, and the Sharks found themselves with a chance to win down 58-55 with 1:47 left in the game.
Jacksonville would use strategy to try to win, and it didn’t start out well after a failed onside kick. New Orleans also used strategy in an attempt to wind the clock, but Jacksonville took a timeout to give themselves an extra play before the one-minute warning. It initially worked, as the Sharks held tough, but the goal-line stand would be denied as Kurt Rocco scored on a quarterback sneak with 55 seconds left.
The Sharks almost cost themselves the game after that play, as Terrance Smith was unable to field the kickoff, which took a bounce off the lower iron. The VooDoo weren’t in position to pick up the ball, and the best they could do was knock it out of bounds. Jacksonville used the big break to the fullest advantage, with two straight long pass plays (11 and 19 yards) to Jeron Harvey, giving them a chance to win despite some time mismanagement early in the drive. Terrance Smith appeared to have an 18-yard touchdown catch to give the Sharks one last chance at a come-from-behind win, but it was nullified after he was called for offensive pass interference. Smith was the victim of another penalty, this time offside, to put Jacksonville back deep into their own territory with less than 20 seconds left. The game was eventually sealed when Bernard Morris threw an interception to Jeremy Kellem on the very next play.
It was the second interception of the game for Morris, who finished with four touchdowns and 250 yards while completing 24 of his 38 attempts. He also led the team in rushing with 23 yards and two more touchdowns on just four carries. Jeron Harvey was the team’s leading receiver, with a game-high 120 yards and two scores on just nine catches.
Micheaux Robinson was one of the defensive stars on the night, with an interception, a fumble recovery, and a team-high five tackles. Scooter Berry also shined with his sack to go along with his two tackles.
With the loss, Jacksonville now loses both first place in the division and the tiebreaker to New Orleans based on head-to-head point differential (the Sharks won by four in the earlier meeting this season). With the Georgia win against Orlando on Sunday, Jacksonville sits in a second-place in the South division, and as the third seed in the conference playoffs thanks to holding the tiebreaker over Cleveland.
Jacksonville will have the spotlight on them next Friday night, as they host the Milwaukee Mustangs at Sea Best Field at Veterans Memorial Arena. Kickoff is at 8 p.m., and the game will be televised live on NFL Network.
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