JACKSONVILLE, - Thanks to yet another outstanding defensive effort, the 2012 South Division Champion Jacksonville Sharks emerged from a back-and-forth battle with a 40-34 victory over the Iowa Barnstormers in front of 8,011 on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on Friday night. With the win, the Sharks improved to 5-0 for the first time in franchise history.
Though Jacksonville (5-0) held a 27-16 halftime lead, Iowa (2-3) quickly erased that edge by opening the third quarter with two consecutive scores. After stalling on back-to-back drives, the Shark offense broke through on the final play of the third, as quarterback Bernard Morris hit Jeron Harvey for a three-yard touchdown that put the Sharks in front, 34-28, as the game moved to the fourth.
The Barnstormers then knotted the game midway through the fourth, as J.J. Raterink found Marcus Harris for a 26-yard score before Phil Marfuggi's missed extra point kept the game tied at 34. Trailing on their home turf with under five minutes remaining, the Sharks responded. Markee White caught the final three passes of the decisive touchdown drive, as his five-yard score put Jacksonville ahead for good, 40-34.
On Iowa's next possession, the Shark defense came up with one of its biggest stops of the season. After a first-down completion to Jesse Schmidt went for no gain and Raterink couldn't find Marco Thomas on second down, Jerry Turner broke into the Barnstormer backfield on third and long, driving Raterink into the ground as he released the ball. One play later, Tracy Belton broke up a long pass toward the end zone to force a turnover on downs. The Jacksonville offense did its job after that, as Bernard Morris rushed forward on the final play to run out the clock and seal the Shark victory.
Friday was the third time in five games that the Sharks allowed 30 points or less. Much of that defensive success came from what has become the league's premier pass-rushing unit. In the second quarter, Turner chased down Raterink for a fourth-down sack that turned the ball over, and in the fourth, Aaron Robbins took down the Iowa quarterback and forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate Justin Parrish.
In addition, the Shark secondary stepped up despite being without starter Micheaux Robinson, who missed the game due to injury. Belton led all players with 10.5 total tackles (9 solo) and four pass breakups, while Terrance Smith intercepted Raterink's third pass of the game for his team-leading fourth pick of the season. In his first regular-season game in a Shark uniform, Jacksonville native Jamaal Fudge assisted on three tackles as well.
On offense, Morris finished the game 25 of 36 for 237 yards and five touchdowns, but did throw his first interception of the season. Harvey caught eight of Morris' passes for 81 yards and three touchdowns, including a first-quarter grab off the rebound net. Jeff Hughley led all players with 10 receptions, totaling 75 yards. White caught six passes for 73 yards and two scores, and is now the only Shark with a touchdown catch in every game this season.
For Iowa, Raterink completed 17 of his 30 throws, totaling 240 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. The Barnstormers' biggest downfield threat was Harris, who totaled six receptions for 130 yards and two scores, while Schmidt led his team with seven receptions.
At 5-0, the Sharks now enter a stretch in which the team plays each of last season's ArenaBowl participants in back-to-back weeks. First, Jacksonville will head to Philadelphia for a matchup with the Soul next Saturday night. The team then returns home to face the defending ArenaBowl champion Arizona Rattlers on Saturday, May 4. Kickoff against Philadelphia next week is set for 7:05 p.m.