By Jose Bahena
It had been nine weeks since the Jacksonville Sharks had come to town and beaten the Carolina Cobras in the inaugural teams only home loss of the season. A sore spot in the Cobras resume coupled with the first place in the National Arena League on the line, the Greensboro team left little to chance on Saturday in a brutal display of power.
The Carolina Cobras were awarded first possession of play and Charles McCullum and the rest of the offense went to work. Three minutes in to play McCullum was able to launch a deep pass to a long time team mate in Wide Receiver Jordan Jolly to give the cobras the first strike in the end zone. Craig Peterson came on to land a point after kick making it 7-0 for the home team. The Sharks opening offensive possession wouldn’t go for the defending NAL champions as Cobras defensive pressure forced a turnover on downs way back at the Carolina 2 yard line. Eager to put more points on the board in their favor Carolina marched the ball down the field, only to be deflated when McCullum’s pass was intercepted by a Sharks defensive back in the end zone.
Not a beat was missed when the Cobras shifted back to defense as they stifled the Sharks offense, holding them back at their own 5 yard line. Defensive Lineman Dwayne Beckford was able to scoop up a mishandled Sharks snap for a safety. Keen eyes by Head Coach Billy Back and his staff allowed him to confidently throw a challenge flag on the ruling of a safety, which resulted in the officials overturning the call as it was a Cobras defensive touchdown by Beckford. Peterson’s extra point was on the goal post and recovered by the sharks special teams unit all the way for a two point safety of their own leaving the score at 13-2. Jacksonville wanted to show that they had no intention of getting bested by the newcomers, as quarterback Adrian McPherson lobbed a toss successfully to the end zone. A positive point after left the Sharks down but not out at 13-9.
As the second quarter began the Sharks were able to collapse the pocket and down McCullum in backfield for another safety, drawing closer at 13-11. The two points given up by the offensive line of the Cobras were quickly forgiven as Peterson railed one through the uprights for his first Deuce kick of the night, netting points for the Cobras lead to the tune of 15-11 and putting the Sharks on their own five yard line. Carolina’s wave of black and silver defensive players made sure Jacksonville never strayed too far from that five yard line, as they backed the sharks up to the two yard line and forced another turn on downs for the visitors. That effort by the defense made for easy work between McCullum and one of his top targets, Phillip Barnett. 22-11 read the scoreboard after the point after by Peterson.
Jacksonville kept cool under the 11 point deficit and drove the line of scrimmage down the field. Much to the chagrin of the Sharks, the would be scoring pass was intercepted by Defensive Back Ken Walton. In a twist of ironic fate, Walton was making his first home appearance for the Cobras as he was recently released from the opposing Jacksonville team. The sharks immediately returned the favor by intercepting McCullum’s pass and putting their offense right back on the field. This time the Sharks wouldn’t be turned away empty handed as they beat the coverage and found a man open in the end zone to cut into the lead at 22-18 after the PAT. On the kickoff, the Sharks were able to hit their own Deuce kick and pull within two points of the Cobras. Back on the offense, The cobras would have their second hiccup of the night and be forced to turnover the ball on a failed fourth down conversion. Carolina would again have to cal on their defense to hold the Sharks to just a field goal, giving the Sharks their first lead of the night at 22-23. Needing to keep the moment in their favor Jacksonville attempted the onside kick, squarely recovered by Carolina’s Fabian Guerra at the 14 yard line. The crowd applauded Guerra as his number was called for the very next play pass from McCullum that went straight to the end zone. Peterson helped reclaim the lead with his point after attempt to make it 28-23. Time running short, the Sharks final drive of the half would end again with Michael Green making his first interception of the night for the Cobras.
The Second half of the game started off with the familiar Carolina Cobras swarming defense forcing the Sharks another turnover on downs, and giving the Cobras an easy two play touchdown drive with a hookup from McCullum to Jolly. Peterson made the extra point for a score of 35-23. Badly shaken the Sharks offensive unit hit the field again and once more stalled in the face of the Cobras defense, turning over the ball on downs. Confidence abound with the defense, McCullum felt free enough for a long shot down field, hitting paydirt on the pass to Barnett for the second time in the contest. Peterson not only rattled off the extra point, but also struck another Deuce on the kick off to start pulling away 44-23. In desperate need to get things going Jacksonville benched their starting quarterback in favor of Patrick McCain. Testing the water with McCain proved unfruitful as the Cobras secondary sniffed out another interception at the goal line, again it was Green for his second Interception giving the ball back to his own team at the 20 yard line to start into the final fifteen.
McCullum never took his foot off the gas as he fired again for the hookup to Guerra. The score crept up to 51-23 after Peterson’s kick was good through the uprights. McCain again took over under center for the Sharks, and again ended poorly as he was intercepted on the following drive by Green once more. The Carolina Cobras offensive hit the turf again but the drive was stopped by a fumbled handoff the fullback Jordan Mosely. The seemly unflappable Cobras Defense forced the ball back into the capable hand of their offense for the fourth time of the night, keeping the Sharks exactly where they wanted them. McCullum this time found the Barnett connection again in the end zone. Peterson continuing to hit the extra point tries and lighting up 58-23 on the overhead scoreboard display. The clearly worn thin Sharks hit the field again and be denied points with yet another fourth and out offensively. A big lead in front of the home crowd would expand a bit more with Jolly making his third touchdown reception, ticking the score up to 65-23 with Peterson’s extra point. Just over two minutes to play in the game, Jacksonville seemed to still have some fight in them as McCain let a pass fly into the end zone for six. The Sharks decided to go with [pride intact and hammer out the two point conversion to make the score 65-31. In the waning minutes of the game the Sharks opted for the onside kick, unfortunately for them it was indicative of the night as the ball was fairly recovered by Green and returned for a touchdown. A high snap botched the extra point try that resulted in a Shark taking the ball all the way back for a safety, leaving the score at 71-33. To make amends for the missed opportunity, Peterson railed off one final Deuce kick to add insult to injury for the Sharks. The Jacksonville Sharks had one last drive that proved unproductive before time expired, giving a final score of 73-33.
The victory keeps the Carolina Cobras in the top spot in the NAL and moves them along to 7-2 on the season while snapping the Sharks five game winning streak. The Jacksonville Sharks drop to 6-4 before heading into their bye week. The Cobras will also be on a bye week before returning to the Greensboro Coliseum to take on the Columbus Lions on Saturday June 23th. Tickets are available at the coliseum box office or at Carcobras.com