JACKSONVILLE - With his team down by one point and six seconds remaining, Marco Capozzoli drilled a 51-yard field goal as time expired to give the Jacksonville Sharks a 58-56 victory over the Georgia Force in the American Conference Semifinals. The win advances the ArenaBowl XXIV Champion Sharks to the conference championship game against the Philadelphia Soul.
Facing a fourth-and-long from inside their own territory, the Sharks initially sent the offensive unit onto the field. But following a time out, Capozzoli trotted out to attempt a kick that would advance the Sharks to the American Conference Final for the second straight year. The perfect attempt split the uprights, clearing the crossbar by inches as the clock struck zero.
Capozzoli's kick is the longest in franchise playoff history, topping the 36-yarder that he booted to clinch the Sharks' 2011 American Conference Championship victory over Georgia. It is also the longest kick in overall team history, beating out Capozzoli's 37-yarder which he kicked against the Orlando Predators this year.
Prior to the fourth quarter, it did not appear that this game would end in dramatic fashion. Jacksonville led 34-21 at halftime before the Force opened the third quarter by trying an onside kick that failed, giving Jacksonville the ball at the Force one yard line. Quarterback Bernard Morris did not waste his chance to score, giving a pump fake and tucking the ball for an easy rushing touchdown. Just like that, the Sharks led 41-21 with 13:51 to play in the third.
On the ensuing possession, constant pressure from the Shark defense forced Georgia into another field goal attempt from the end zone, which was no good. Morris then used key downfield blocking to scramble for a 30-yard touchdown run, putting Jacksonville ahead 48-21 with 10:31 left in the third quarter. In addition, Georgia starting quarterback Bryant Moniz was injured on that possession, giving way to backup Darnell Kennedy for the rest of the game.
Down by four scores, the Force did not give up. After a one-handed touchdown catch by Mike Johnson, the Force defense then forced a field goal attempt by Capozzoli that hit the right upright and was no good. Georgia then marched the length of the field on a drive that ended in another Johnson touchdown that pulled the Force within 48-35.
Georgia then cut the deficit to just seven before the Sharks bounced back with a touchdown drive, highlighted by a 25-yard run by fullback Rendrick Taylor. Two plays later, Jeron Harvey caught his third touchdown of the night and the Sharks went ahead 55-42 with 7:43 left to play.
On the next Georgia possession, Kennedy escaped a sack and scrambled for 25 yards to put the Force in scoring position. Georgia then punched it in from one yard out to cut the Shark lead to 55-49 with 5:16 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Sharks got the ball back, only to have Taylor stopped short on fourth and one, giving the Force the ball at the Jacksonville 12. Kennedy then found Johnson in the end zone for a score that gave Georgia its first lead of the game, 56-55.
Jacksonville started the final drive of the game inside their own five. Prior to the field goal, Morris was hit as he threw and the ball popped high into the air - only to be caught by Jacksonville offensive lineman Vladimir Richard, who hung on to give the Sharks another chance and set up Capozzoli's game-winner.
Morris finished the game 19-of-35 for 183 yards, five touchdowns and an interception. The Jacksonville quarterback also rushed for 67 yards on six carries, setting a franchise playoff record. The total is one yard shy of the franchise-record 68 he rushed for during the Sharks' June 9 loss in Georgia.
Taylor added 32 yards on five carries, while Josh Philpart scored a rushing touchdown. Philpart did most of his work in the passing game, totaling 60 yards and a touchdown on six receptions. Jeron Harvey led the team with seven catches for 70 yards and three scores, while Jamarko Simmons caught a touchdown pass and Bobby Sewall hauled in a 22-yard reception.
For Georgia, Kennedy's impressive relief effort allowed the quarterback to end the game 11-of-14 for 111 yards and four touchdowns. Johnson led the Force with 9 catches for 84 yards and four scores, while Larry Shipp led the team with 88 receiving yards.
With the win, the Sharks will take on the top-seeded Philadelphia Soul in the conference championship game. Following their Saturday victory over the New Orleans VooDoo, the Soul announced that the game will kick off at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, August 3.