TAMPA, FL - Quarterback Bernard Morris connected on two long touchdown passes in the final minute as the 2012 South Division Champion Jacksonville Sharks opened the 2013 season with a 64-55 win over the Tampa Bay Storm at Tampa Bay Times Forum on Saturday night.
Jacksonville (1-0) trailed by a 55-49 count with under a minute left when Morris found Jeff Hughley for a 25-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone. After knocking home extra point, Marco Capozzoli then executed a perfect onside kick, as Terrance Smith leaped and caught the ball at its highest point, allowing the Sharks to retain possession. On the first play from scrimmage, Morris then placed a pass into the arms of a sprinting Jeron Harvey for a long score that gave the game its final margin. The Jacksonville defense then held on the final possession to seal the victory.
The dramatic ending capped a game that was close from the start. Jacksonville took the opening kickoff and immediately put together an efficient scoring drive. After a three quick completions and a first-down run by Rendrick Taylor, Morris found an open Harvey in the corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown and the Sharks’ first points of the season.
The teams then traded touchdowns into the second quarter. Adrian McPherson put the Storm on the board with a pair of short touchdown runs, while Morris found the 6-foot-7 White for a five-yard score and then scrambled for another five-yard touchdown on the Sharks’ first possession of the second. That touchdown run put Jacksonville ahead, 21-14.
The game’s first turnover came late in the second quarter, when a Juan Bongarra kickoff took a high bounce off the rebound net and went over Hughley’s head. Tampa Bay recovered the loose ball at Jacksonville’s one-yard line, and McPherson plunged in four his fourth touchdown run of the first half as the Storm took a 28-21 lead.
After that score, Tampa Bay held the advantage until midway through the third. With the game tied at 35 and the Storm facing a 4th and 3, Tracy Belton swatted away McPherson’s pass to give the Sharks their first defensive stop of the game. On the ensuing drive, Morris hit Harvey for a one-yard score as the Sharks went back in front by a 42-35 count.
A few possessions later, Tampa Bay turned the game with a defensive stop of their own. The Sharks faced a 4th and 6 from their own 19 when Morris looked for Harvey beyond the sticks. Harvey dove and made what was initially ruled a catch on the field, but a Tampa Bay challenge overturned the call and gave the Storm a turnover on downs. Several plays later, McPherson scored his fifth rushing touchdown of the night to give Tampa Bay a 49-42 advantage.
Morris was on point from the start of Saturday’s game, connecting on each of his first 10 pass attempts. He ended the game an efficient 24-of-31 for 269 yards and seven touchdowns without throwing an interception. Rendrick Taylor led the way on the ground with seven carries for 57 yards and a score, while Morris added 20 yards and a touchdown on his five rushes.
In his return to Jacksonville, Jeff Hughley was Morris’ favorite target as he hauled in 13 receptions for 146 yards and a pair of scores. Harvey led the Sharks with three touchdown catches, while White added 47 yards and a touchdown on his four catches.
Defensively, Tracy Belton led all players with 10 solo tackles, while Smith and Micheaux Robinson chipped in with 4.5 stops each. Jerry Turner brought down McPherson in the backfield for the Sharks’ only sack, while Marcorelle had two quarterback hurries and a blocked kick.
The Sharks return to the road on Friday night against the Pittsburgh Power. With the win, Jacksonville would move to 2-0 for the first time in franchise history. Friday’s game is set to kick off from CONSOL Energy Center at 7:00 p.m.