Down by three scores entering the final quarter, the Jacksonville Sharks (8-5) rallied with 28 fourth-quarter points on Saturday night, but ultimately the team could not complete the comeback in a 62-55 loss to the Utah Blaze (5-7) at EnergySolutions Arena.
Despite outscoring the Blaze, 28-14, in the final frame, the Jacksonville offense never had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. The Sharks were unable to convert on two onside kick attempts, including one with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game.
Jacksonville trailed by a 42-20 count heading into the third quarter, when the Shark defense kept its team in the game with a pair of turnovers. With the Blaze in the red zone midway through the third, Terrance Smith reached up and pulled down a one-handed interception, his second pick of the night. Kyle Rowley converted the turnover into a Shark touchdown, finding rookie London Crawford in the end zone from 21 yards out for what was Crawford’s first career touchdown catch, cutting the deficit to 42-27.
Though Utah answered with a touchdown of its own at the end of the third, the Sharks scored on the first play of the fourth quarter as Josh Philpart took an end around and sprinted to the right side for a six-yard score. On Utah’s next drive, the Blaze again moved into the red zone before Jack linebacker Jamaal Fudge anticipated Jason Boltus throw and grabbed his second interception in as many games. The ensuing Jacksonville drive ended with another touchdown run by Philpart, bringing the Sharks within seven points, 48-41.
But the Blaze responded with a touchdown drive, as Boltus found Braylon Bell from nine yards out to once again give Utah a two-score lead. Rowley then marched the Sharks down the field again, completing a pass to Jeron Harvey at the one-yard-line before Matt Marcorelle punched it in from short yardage to again pull the Sharks within a score, 55-48. But Marco Capozzoli’s onside kick attempt sailed just out of the reach of Terrance Smith, as Utah took over with good field position.
The Blaze offense then worked the clock down inside a minute, eventually scoring on a touchdown pass from Boltus to Mario Urrutia with 57 seconds remaining. Though the Sharks were able to put together an answering scoring drive, Rowley’s touchdown pass to Markee White came with just 7.5 seconds left. At that point, the Sharks trailed 62-55 and needed an onside recovery to have any chance of capping the comeback, but another onside attempt bounced out of Smith’s reach as the Blaze took over and ran out the clock.
Going back to the first quarter, the Sharks found themselves in an early hole for a second straight game. Josh Ferguson’s long return on the opening kickoff led to a one-yard touchdown run by Boltus on the game’s first play. The Jacksonville offense could not muster a scoring drive on their first turn with the ball, as a fumbled snap on fourth down led to a turnover on downs. A few plays later, Boltus found Anthony Jackson for a nine-yard touchdown pass, giving the Blaze a quick 14-0 lead.
But after that first possession, Shark quarterback Kyle Rowley quickly found chemistry with the team’s top receiver, Jeron Harvey. On Jacksonville’s second drive, Rowley drifted to his right in the pocket and found Harvey in the middle of the field, as the Shark wideout turned and sprinted to the end zone for a 31-yard score that put the Sharks on the board.
After another Boltus touchdown pass, Jacksonville answered with yet another connection from Rowley to Harvey, this time an 18-yard bullet that found the Shark receiver open in the end zone, cutting the Sharks’ deficit to 21-14. Utah responded with another score on the last drive of the first quarter, but Rowley then stepped up and delivered a 37-yard bomb to Harvey, hitting him in stride for Harvey’s third touchdown of the first half. That score allowed the Sharks to chip away at Utah’s lead, cutting it to 28-20.
But the Jacksonville offense stalled for the remainder of the second quarter, as Utah added a pair of touchdowns to head into the locker room with a 42-20 edge.
Making his first appearance in a Jacksonville uniform after joining the team this past Monday, Rowley completed 24 of his 40 passes for 306 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. Harvey led all Shark receivers with 12 catches for a season-high 172 yards and three scores. Harvey has now caught at least one touchdown pass in nine straight games and has racked up 100 receiving yards in each of his last five contests.
White added 74 yards and a touchdown on his six catches, while Crawford totaled four grabs for 51 yards and a score in his first-ever AFL game. Philpart caught two passes for nine yards in addition to his two rushing touchdowns.
On defense, Smith racked up a team-high eight tackles (six solo) to go along with his two interceptions. It was Smith’s third two-pick game of the season, as he is now just two interceptions shy of tying Micheaux Robinson’s franchise record of 11, set during the 2011 season. Smith also racked up 162 kickoff return yards on nine runbacks. For his part, Robinson led the Sharks with three pass breakups and totaled six tackles (five solo). Tracy Belton added a tackle for loss and five total tackles (four solo).
For Utah, Boltus finished the game 20-of-35 for 240 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions while also recording 31 rushing yards on six attempts. Bell led the Blaze with 120 yards and three scores on his six receptions, while Urrutia caught eight passes for 62 yards and two scores. Ferguson and David Hyland led Utah with seven solo tackles apiece, while Hyland and Tony Tatum recorded interceptions and both Luke Black and Lavon McCoy notched a sack for the Blaze.
Despite the loss, Jacksonville retained sole possession of first place in both the South Division and the American Conference as the Tampa Bay Storm fell to the New Orleans VooDoo on Saturday. The Sharks and Storm will meet on Sea Best Field in the final week of the regular season.
With this two-week West Division road trip complete, Jacksonville will return home to host the Cleveland Gladiators on Saturday, June 22. Kickoff from Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is set for 7:00 p.m.