Busy Sports Day in Jacksonville

Baseball Grounds crowd
The Baseball Grounds will be one of three venues in the sports complex with events going on at the same time Saturday night.

by Cole Pepper
August 2, 2013

Going downtown for the game? That question will need to be clarified. Tomorrow, all three downtown sports complex facilities (EverBank Field, The Baseball Grounds and the Veterans Memorial Arena) will host events that will begin within 45 minutes of one another.

Let’s start first with the Jaguars, who hold their annual scrimmage inside EverBank Field. Gus Bradley told me this week that he would treat the scrimmage “similar to a practice, then at the end, it could be somewhat of a ‘move the ball’.”

That means that its not going to be an all out scrimmage, which has been the trend the past several years with Mike Mularkey and Jack Del Rio running things.

The scrimmage starts at 6:45pm.Busy Saturday

Fifteen minutes later, the Sharks will kickoff their first round playoff game against the Tampa Bay Storm at the Arena. Jacksonville beat the Storm twice this year, including last week, when the Storm just about decapitated Sharks quarterback Bernard Morris. The Sharks hold the top seed in the American Conference playoffs and need to win their next two games to earn a trip to the Arena Bowl in Orlando later this month.

Then, at 7:05, the Jacksonville Suns host the Tennessee Smokies at the Baseball Grounds.

Parking spaces will be at a premium even if the price is not. Parking will be $5 and all lots (except Z) will be open to first come first parked.

When Sports Make a Difference

Daniel kid at sharks game
That’s 8 year old Claude with the smile of a kid attending his first live football game. Daniel Family Services Counselor Tim Decker is along side.

by Cole Pepper

Before I begin, some disclosures. I sit on the Board of Trustees of Daniel, Florida’s oldest child service agency. I’ve been involved with that charity for about six years and care deeply for the work that Daniel does for children and families in our community.

Disclosure #2. As you probably know, I call the TV play-by-play for the Sharks games on Channel 4. The Sharks pay me for my efforts.

That being said, this is a cool story.

Claude is 8 years old. He had never attended an organized sporting event.

He has been in foster care for several years and hopes to find a “forever family.”  Claude has endured struggles and overcome overcome obstacles in his short life that none of use would wish upon our enemies.

He and his sister were neglected and abused by their mother. They were placed in foster care apart from one another, to allow them the ability to have more one on one attention to heal. Eventually the biological mother’s parental rights were terminated and Claude became eligible to be adopted. Shortly after moving in with his new/adoptive family he suffered more abuse and the adoption failed. 

Not a bad way to experience your first Sharks game, huh?
Not a bad way to experience your first Sharks game, huh?

But then he came to Daniel. The staff at Daniel helped Claude deal with the issues that were holding him back and helped him cope. He was placed in a new foster home. His grades improved and he became the Claude that he was before. Happy, energetic, outgoing.

Over the past several months, with the help of his Daniel staff and foster mom, Claude has turned it all around through hard work, determination, and perseverance.  He recently received a most-improved award and was honored at the recognition ceremony with Family Support Services (FSS).

“I’ve known Claude since he cam into our care and I’ve watched him progress along the way,” said Decker. “I have told Claude on many occasions that good behavior gets you good things, and bad behavior gets you bad things.This is short and simple, but I hope that the positive reinforcement he has received for his improvements will help to ingrain this way of thinking for Claude. ”

Last Saturday, when the Sharks hosted the Spokane Shock at the Arena, Claude got to live a dream of his: attending his first football game. He and Tim Decker, a Daniel Family Services Counselor, were guests of the Sharks. Claude even got to go on the field in the second quarter and meet the players. He received a #5 Jeff Hughley jersey which he wore the entire game.

Daniel kid with sharks jerseyClaude’s review was simple, but powerful: “It was good,” he said

Claude has now realized one dream, to see a football game live and in person. That’s quite a dream. Now, Claude hopes to realize one more dream and find a forever family soon.

 

Can the Sharks Bounce Back?

Jeron Harvey is on a record setting pace for the Sharks this season.
Jeron Harvey is on a record setting pace for the Sharks this season. (Getty)

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.

 

What We Learned: Sharks 70 Pittsburgh 48

Sharks quarterback Bernard Morris confers with head coach Les Moss. (photo: Jacksonville Sharks)
Sharks quarterback Bernard Morris confers with head coach Les Moss. (photo: Jacksonville Sharks)

by Cole Pepper

For nearly a half of football, it looked like the Jacksonville Sharks had things in reverse. Facing a Pittsburgh team they had dispatched 61-35 in week two, the Sharks led 21-20 with 3:21 remaining in the second quarter after a missed Pittsburgh extra point. Then, the spark.

Facing 4th and 10 from the Sharks 17-yard line with :53 remaining in the half, Jacksonville quarterback Bernard Morris connected with Jeron Harvey for 11 yards and a first down.

Four plays later, Morris’ pass caromed off of the horizontal ball at the bottom of the net standard, shot directly down where Harvey juggled and caught it for a touchdown with :06 remaining in the half.

Sharks WR Jeron Harvey made a circus catch for a key TD against Pittsburgh. (photo: Jacksonville Sharks)
Sharks WR Jeron Harvey made a circus catch for a key TD against Pittsburgh. (photo: Jacksonville Sharks)

The Sharks led 28-20 at the break. Two Pittsburgh turnovers in the third quarter ignited a Jacksonville victory. The Sharks outscored Pittsburgh 14-0 in the third quarter and cruised to a 70-48 victory to improve to 8-3 on the season, maintaining the best record in the conference with seven games remaining.

For the game, Morris completed 18 of 34 passes for 249 yards, 5 touchdowns and one interception. Harvey led Jacksonville receivers with eight catches for 122 yards and four touchdowns.

Here’s what we learned: When the Sharks play at or near their best, they are one of the best teams in the AFL, certainly capable of contending for a championship. When they aren’t at their best, they can still beat lesser teams. In the first half, Jacksonville committed eight penalties, many of them, of the sort that drive coaches crazy. Poorly times, thoughtless penalties. But they settled down and played much more engaged football in the second half, committing only four penalties and winning the turnover battle four to one.

Jacksonville, on a pace to break the Arena League record for sacks, only got to Power quarterback Steven Sheffield once, largely due to Pittsburgh’s game plan which featured almost entirely short passes. The Sharks now have 30 sacks on the year, most in the AFL. The record is 42.

The Sharks, who lead the league in rushing, out gained Pittsburgh 59-20, and scored five touchdowns on the ground. Jacksonville reached the 70 point plateau for the second time this year.

Coming up: The Sharks now go on the road for a pair of games out west. They’ll face Spokane and Utah before returning to SeaBest Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena to face Cleveland on June 22.

 

 

Sharks Preview: Defense Reigns

by Cole Pepper

Cole and Jerry pregame

The Jacksonville Sharks host the Pittsburgh Power at 7pm on Saturday night at the Veterans Memorial Arena. I’ll be on the call on channel 4 with Jerry Odom (above right).

Here are some of the story lines that we’ll be following for the game:

  1. What’s Changed? The Sharks easily defeated the Power in week 2 of the season, 61-35. The Power has used three different starting quarterbacks this year, including former LSU Tiger Jordan Jefferson. They’ve settled on Steve Sheffield for now. Will Jacksonville be able to dominate again or has Pittsburgh, winners of two of their last three, found their footing?
  2. Sack Attack. The Sharks lead the league in sacks with 29. They are on pace to shatter the AFL record of 42. The two top sack men in the AFL both play for the Sharks (DE Jerry Turner and MLB Aaron Robbins). The last time the Sharks faced the Power, Jacksonville totaled seven sacks. For the season, Pittsburgh has allowed 30 sacks in nine games, the most sacks allowed in the AFL. On paper, this looks like a major advantage for Jacksonville.
  3. Getting Defensive. Both teams have been impressive on defense this year. Jacksonville is the #1 scoring defense in the AFL while Pittsburgh is #1 in total defense and pass defense. The passing defense is particularly impressive considering that they have only 14 sacks and seven interceptions as a team. Expect a lower scoring game.
  4. Which Bernard Morris shows up? At times, Morris, the Sharks quarterback, has looked like an MVP candidate. At other times, he’s struggled to the point where Sharks head coach Les Moss sat him down for a game this year. If Morris plays as he did the first month of the season, this should be a relatively easy win for the Sharks. If not, anything is possible.
  5. Fudging the numbers. Former Jaguar Jamaal Fudge rejoined the Sharks mid-season and has suddenly found himself thrust into the starting lineup at Jack linebacker. He’s been productive recovering two fumbles and forcing three fumbles. He’s been a defensive back all his life, and while the Jack has some DB fundamentals, there is also a demand to play physically at that position. If Fudge can continue to create turnovers, it would be a major positive for the Sharks.