The 2012 South Division Champion Jacksonville Sharks head north for the middle leg of their season-opening three-game road trip this week, facing the Pittsburgh Power on Friday, March 29. Kickoff from CONSOL Energy Center is set for 7:00 p.m., and the game will air live on This TV Jacksonville and AM 600 WBOB as Jacksonville looks to open the season 2-0 for the first time in franchise history.
The Sharks (1-0) opened the 2013 season with a dramatic 64-55 divisional road win in last Saturday’s season opener against the Tampa Bay Storm. Jacksonville trailed going into the game’s final minute before quarterback Bernard Morris connected with receiver Jeff Hughley to put the Sharks in front by a point. Marco Capozzoli then hit a perfect onside kick that was recovered by Terrance Smith, leading to a 36-yard touchdown pass from Morris to Jeron Harvey on the very next play. After Morris’ two-point conversion run, the Sharks took control with a two-score lead and held serve on defense to seal the win.
Morris began the season opener with 10 straight completions, eventually going 24-for-31 for 269 yards and seven touchdowns. He spread the ball effectively between three primary receivers, hitting Harvey for three touchdown passes while Hughley and Markee White each found paydirt twice.
On Friday, Morris and the Shark offense will face a Pittsburgh (0-1) squad that yielded 64 points – the exact total that Jacksonville scored in Week 1 – to the Utah Blaze in the Power’s season opener. Despite the wide margin in Pittsburgh’s 64-33 loss, the Power defense held reigning League MVP Tommy Grady in check, as Grady completed just over 50% of his passes (17-for-33).
Newcomer Sergio Gilliam made an immediate impact in his first game in a Power uniform, recording Pittsburgh’s first interception of the season. Another new piece of the Power defense made an even bigger impact in Week 1, as Jack linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson wreaked havoc to the tune of six tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.
On the flip side, the Shark defense will get its first look at former LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who tossed five touchdowns against two picks in his AFL debut last week. With a pair of veteran targets in Mike Washington and P.J. Berry, Jefferson will attack a Shark secondary that allowed just two passing touchdowns against Tampa Bay.
Jacksonville’s defensive backfield features a potent blend of size, playmaking ability and AFL experience. Against the Storm, the Sharks lined up with the 6-foot-2 Smith and the 6-foot-1 Tracy Belton flanking middleman Micheaux Robinson, who led the team with three pass breakups in Week 1. Counting Jack linebacker Bill Alford, the Shark secondary features four players who entered this season with a combined 12 years of service in the League.
In the trenches, Jacksonville enjoyed sustained pressure by its defensive line throughout the Week 1 win, but at times the unit was not able to finish off plays. At one point, Storm quarterback Adrian McPherson shrugged off a pair of hits and escaped for a highlight-reel 35-yard touchdown run. While Jerry Turner did log the Sharks’ first sack of the season, the defensive line’s most notable play actually came on special teams, as Matt Marcorelle blocked a Tampa Bay extra point in the game’s final minute.
This week’s game represents an opportunity for the Shark pass rush to build momentum, as Pittsburgh’s offensive line yielded four sacks in the Power’s season opener.
While the outcome of this Week 2 tilt is still to be determined, one thing is certain – Friday’s game features a remarkable number of players who have seen both sides of this match-up. Morris (2011) and Shark defensive lineman Justin Parrish (2012) each spent a season with the Power, while Pittsburgh Kirby Griffin was a Shark mainstay at fullback from 2010-11 and offensive lineman Jason Thomas broke into the league with Jacksonville. In addition, former Shark receiver Shamar Graves was in training camp with the Power but is now on injured reserve.
Jacksonville will head to Pittsburgh on Thursday morning in advance of this week’s matchup. The game will air live on this TV Jacksonville, one of the digital channels operated by Shark television affiliate WJXT.