By RJ Ciancio
The 0-9 Lehigh Valley Steelhawks hosted Jacksonville to try to play spoiler to the 7-4 Sharks. There were major implications for both teams. The Sharks were fighting to gain home field advantage throughout the playoffs while the Steelhawks were trying to find their first win of the season.
Spencer Hotaling’s opening kick sailed through the uprights for a deuce giving the Steelhawks an early 2-0 lead. The Sharks came out of gate with a beautiful mix of run and pass plays. However the drive sputtered out inside the Steelhawks ten. The Sharks brought out Brandon Behr who booted a field goal making the score 3-2 Jacksonville.
The Steelhawks came onto the field with Caleb Walton under center due to a Mark Foltz injury. Walton commanded the offense down the field with an impressive aerial assault. The drive took a turn for the worse when another quarterback-center exchange was botched, but luckily for Lehigh Valley, Walton was able to fall on the pigskin. On fourth down Hotaling’s field goal attempt peeled to the left giving the Sharks the ball on their own five.
Adrian McPherson made short work of the field as he found former Steelhawk Thomas Gibson for as 24-yard pass. Two plays later McPherson found Derrick Ross for his first career receiving touchdown. The extra point was good making the score 10-2 Sharks.
Lehigh Valley fired right back as Caleb Walton found FJ Williams for a 21-yard touchdown reception. Hotaling’s kick went through the uprights making the score 17-9 Jacksonville.
The Sharks began working their way down down the field with McPherson finding Thomas Gilson and Cody Saul before finding Trevor Kennedy for a nine yard touchdown reception. Brandon Behr’s extra point was good making the score 24-9 Sharks.
Yusef Reddick returned the Jacksonville kickoff to their own 19-yard-line. Walton found Reddick for an important third down conversion. However, the drive stalled out forcing a field goal attempt. However, Spencer Hotaling’s 21-yard field goal attempt was no good.
Jacksonville started the drive on their own five. On first down Adrian McPherson found Cody Saul on a slant that weant for 44 yards bringing the ball down to the Steelhawks four. On first and second down McPherson was stopped on two consecutive quarterback sneaks. On third and goal all-time AFL leading rusher Derrick Ross was stopped from scoring to end the half with the score reading 24-9 Sharks.
To start the second half Walton found Charles McClain for a first down. An undisciplined Sharks team was called for offsides, illegal defense and and a personal foul. The Steelhawks took advantage and after Caleb Walton snuck the ball in for a touchdown a minor skirmish ensued. Each team committed a personal foul so the fouls offset. Hotaling’s kick was good making it 24-16 Sharks. On the kickoff Hotaling dropped his second deuce of the night making it 24-18 Jacksonville.
The Sharks lack of discipline once again peaked its ugly head after receiver/cornerback Cody Saul pushed a player in the helmet after being held. This lead to Saul being ejected from the game forcing the Sharks to change their personnel. After getting the fresh set of down from the holding call the Jacksonville drive died out and on fourth down when the Sharks botched snap giving the ball to the Steelhawks who fell on the fumble.
The tides turned back in favor of the Sharks when two plays into the drive Caleb Walton threw an interception to Marvin Ross. Jacksonville marched its way down the field with the drive being capped by a running touchdown for Trevor Kennedy from two yards out. With the successful extra point making the score 31-18 Sharks.
Caleb Walton and the Steelhawks went right back to the air to begin their drive with Anthony Kelly and Charles McClain being Walton’s top two targets on the drive which was capped off with a McClain touchdown making the score 31-25 Sharks.
Jacksonville was marching down the field when a crucial fourth down came up. On the play McPherson’s pass was intercepted by Saveon Brown on his own one. He proceeded to return the ball down to the Sharks 15 when he fumbled. Luckily for the Steelhawks an teammate picked it up and ran it into the endzone. The extra point from Spencer Hotaling was no good but Lehigh Valley had tied the game up at 31.
The Sharks next drive was short but vital. After the offense stalled the Sharks decide to bring out Brandon Behr for 30-yard field goal. The Sharks lead 34-31.
Lehigh Valley and Jacksonville traded drives that ended in missed field goals and brought the game down to 46 seconds. The Sharks then broke down as they let Walton found McClain for an eight yard gain. On the next play the Steelhawks moved the chains. On first down the Steelhawks were being assessed a foul when Keith Bowers threw his helmet and giving up a first down and getting himself ejected in the process. The Sharks then tightened up after Lehigh Valley brought the ball to the Jacksonville five. On third down The Sharks committed a holding penalty giving the Steelhawks first and goal on the Jacksonville two. The Sharks defense once again stepped up forcing Spencer Hotaling to attempt a 20-yard kick to tie the game with five seconds left. The high snap on the kick messed up Hotaling and his kick was blocked at the line as time expired.
Jacksonville needs to work on discipline if they hope to win their second NAL Championship as penalties plagued them throughout the game.
Although the Steelhawks lost in a heartbreaker the game showed much upside for the team. Their receiving core and defense looked good throughout the contest and Caleb Walton played well in place of an injured Mark Fultz. Both teams have lots to look forward to as the Sharks look for another championship and the Steelhawks, their first win of the season.