JACKSONVILLE - The ArenaBowl XXIV Champion Jacksonville Sharks used a late defensive stand and long touchdown pass to hold off the Cleveland Gladiators, 56-42, in front of 9,662 at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on Saturday night.
In the red zone on fourth down with the Sharks leading 49-42 and under a minute to play, Cleveland (6-8) quarterback John Dutton's pass to the end zone was intercepted by Micheaux Robinson to end Cleveland's chance at tying the game. The next play featured a 35-yard touchdown pass from Jacksonville (7-7) quarterback Bernard Morris to Terrance Smith to put the game out of reach in the final seconds.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair as Cleveland scored on its first possession and Jacksonville responded in kind. With the game tied at 14, Cleveland's Maurice Williams returned a kickoff just before the end of the first quarter to take a 21-14 lead. The second quarter didn't start well for the Sharks as a fumble on the first play was recovered by Cleveland. But Robinson then recorded his first interception of the night on the ensuing drive and the Sharks tied the game with Smith's first score. The Jacksonville defense then stepped up again with a forced fumble, before Jeron Harvey's 3-yard touchdown catch gave the Sharks a lead they would not relinquish.
Morris had a strong game, completing 27-of-35 passes for 267 yards and 7 touchdowns without an interception. Three of those scoring passes went to Smith, who led the team in receiving with 11 catches for 122 yards. Harvey also caught three touchdown passes while Jamarko Simmons recorded a touchdown catch and a rushing touchdown.
Robinson and LaRoche Jackson combined for a big night as each had two interceptions, with Robinson's second pick squashing Cleveland's hopes at a comeback and Jackson's first coming on a quick pass to the front of the end zone earlier in the quarter. Jackson also led the defense with 11.5 total tackles (10 solo) Robinson followed with four tackles and an assist. Both Robinson and Jackson notched three pass breakups while Jack linebacker Charlie Hunt broke up three as well.
Cleveland's Robert Redd led his team with 121 receiving yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions, while Dominick Goodman finished with 108 yards and two touchdowns on 11 catches. Dutton completed 21-of-44 passes for 259 yards and four touchdowns, but chucked four interceptions. Dominic Jones led the Gladiator defense with seven solo tackles and four assists.
The win puts the Sharks in a temporary three-way tie for first place in the South Division, pending the outcome of the Georgia Force's late game against the Utah Blaze, the results of which were not available at time of publication. Next week the Sharks will head to New Orleans to take on the VooDoo in a pivotal game that could have sole possession of first place on the line. Next Saturday's game will kick off at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.