by Cole Pepper
After a 10-day West Coast road trip that left the team bruised and twice beaten, the Jacksonville Sharks still have several reasons to be thankful.
For starters, despite back-to-back loses at Spokane and Utah, the Sharks (8-5) still hold a one game lead in the division and have the inside track for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
They also will only have to go on the road one more time this regulars season.
Saturday, they host the 2-10 Cleveland Gladiators at Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena (7pm kickoff on WJXT Channel 4).
Here are five story lines to follow during the game:
Quarterback play: With Bernard Morris injured, the Sharks will give Kyle Rowley a second straight start. Rowley struggled early last week, but found a rhythm and led a comeback to within a touchdown before losing in Utah. He says he knows the offense and is comfortable with his receivers. Its worth noting that he has played in the past with Sharks receivers Markee White and Jeron Harvey, and has played for head coach Les Moss, so many of the concepts are familiar to him.
Pass Rush: The Sharks pass rush was a major force early in the season, but over the last month, the sack pace has tailed off. Jacksonville still leads the league with 31 sacks (11 from the league record), but over the past five games, the Sharks have only totaled six sacks, and in no game in that stretch did they record more than two sacks. Some of the drop off can be written off to opposing teams going with a short passing game, but the Sharks need to get pressure on Cleveland. In the week three win over the Gladiators, Jacksonville tallied four sacks.
Running Game: With regular fullback Rendrick Taylor injured and Morris on the shelf, the teams two top running threats won’t be on the field. While the indoor game is more about passing, the Sharks lead the league in rushing for a reason. Who will carry the load when Les Moss wants to go to the ground?
What’s My Motivation? Cleveland’s season is over. The question is, do they know it? Will they play like a team with nothing to lose or will they roll over? For some of the Gladiators, the rest of the season is about an audition for the future, or maybe for an NFL team
Record Watch for Harvey-Jackson High grad Jeron Harvey is the all-time leading receiver in Sharks history. He has at least one touchdown catch in nine straight games. He’s had a 16 catch game (against Arizona on May 4) and a 172 yard game (at Utah last week) as well as a five touchdown game (at Philadelphia), all team highs this year. With is 109 receptions, Harvey is second in the AFL in catches and 5th in touchdowns. He has a shot at Jomo Wilson’s team records set in 2011 with 131 catches, 1,737 yards and 44 touchdown catches.