Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Young Rivals Face off in Playoffs; after Splitting Two Games, Jacksonville Faces Orlando Tonight

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Young Rivals Face off in Playoffs; after Splitting Two Games, Jacksonville Faces Orlando Tonight

Article excerpt

Byline: GARY LEDMAN

A rivalry born 16 weeks ago and renewed at midseason comes to a high-stakes climax tonight. The Jacksonville Sharks host the Orlando Predators in the opening round of the Arena Football League playoffs, the third meeting this season for teams separated by only 140 miles of expressway.

Everything went right for the Sharks on April 16, when they opened their home schedule with a 57-31 rout of the Predators that launched a five-game winning streak. At that point, Orlando was 0-3.

The tables turned on June 18 in Orlando when the Sharks fell behind 22-0 and suffered their worst loss of the season 70-48. And then they lost the following week to Arizona, their only loss at home, which resulted in their only two-game skid.

Since then, the magic has returned. Jacksonville enters the playoffs on a five-game winning streak, including victories over Tampa Bay and Spokane to finish 12-4 and earn a home playoff game - and at least one more with a victory tonight.

That arc to the season, the Sharks hope, helped them to develop the proper mindset for playoff football.

"Meaningful games, and the way we approached them and played in them, is huge," Jacksonville coach Les Moss said.

"Having a game like last week really helped us a lot," Sharks quarterback Aaron Garcia said. "It really put us in a playoff mode a week early."

Garcia returned for the 64-49 win over the Spokane Shock a week ago after suffering a separated shoulder and a slight concussion early in the Tampa Bay game on July 17 and sitting out a road win over Bossier-Shreveport. That also afforded Bernard Morris a chance to experience essentially two full games as a starting quarterback.

But Moss is quick to point out that the final weeks of the season have been full of meaning to the Predators, too. They beat Oklahoma City 49-21 on July 24 to wrap up a berth in the postseason, and then for good measure, the Predators bused down Interstate 4 and beat the Tampa Bay Storm 75-60 to finish with an 8-8 record. …

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