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-by Jose Bahena

The newest team in the Triad, the Carolina Cobras of the National Arena League, opened their first game as a team in dramatic fashion. Carolina took on the defending NAL Champions Jacksonville Sharks. With much fanfare, as 5,132 cheered on the two teams, the Cobras won the coin toss and took possession of the ball for a unbelievably long opening drive that would extent over the first 13 minutes of the game. First game jitters were in no short supply for either team opening the NAL season in the Greensboro Coliseum.

As the first quarter would have several high and mishandled snaps by the home team,  a few saving grace flags against the Sharks, including one on a Cobras 4th and 8 to keep the Cobras offense moving downfield. Cobras Quarterback Charles McCullum finally hit pay dirt for the Cobras when he found wide receiver Phillip Barnett for the first touchdown in team history.

The defending champions struck quickly in the second quarter to bring it back to a tied 7-7 game. Carolina’s next drive would stall out with McCullum being sacked on 4th & 8 and putting the Sharks within striking distance to take the lead 14-7. The next Cobras possession quickly marched the ball downfield to once again find Barnett open in the end zone to tie the game back up, but with just two seconds before the end of half, Jacksonville’s Nick Belcher would land one through the 9 foot wide goal posts to take a 17-14 lead into halftime.

To start the third, the Cobras came out strong when kicker Craig Peterson nailed the first Deuce of the game (2 points awarded for kicking the ball through the uprights on a kickoff) to cut the lead to 1, followed quickly by a sack in the end zone that forced Sharks quarterback Patrick McCain to make a hasty maneuver with the ball that gave the Cobras’ defensive back Darius Thomas an opportunity to make a backwards dive to intercept the pass.

To capitalize on the Sharks error, Barnett laid out for his third touchdown reception of the game on the very next snap to take a 23-17 lead after the extra kick attempt by Peterson. The Sharks next drive would end in a touchdown by Fullback Derrick Ross shifting the scoreboard in Jacksonville’s favor at 24-23. The next possession for Carolina would be spoiled when wide receiver Jermaine Jones was able to snag the ball in the end zone but a illegal formation penalty negated the points, and on the next snap the play clock hit zero and forced the Cobras back another five yards. The combination of pressure from retracted points in a closely contested game and multiple flags putting Carolina behind the on the drive seemed to rattle McCullum as he overthrew Jones and the pass was intercepted by Jacksonville defensive back Marvin Ross in the end zone.

The Sharks wouldn’t squander the gift from McCullum and managed to stretch the lead to 30-23 after scoring six but having Belchers extra point attempt blocked. After a brief scuffle on the field involving players from both teams, Carolina recouped and were able to let McCullum roll to the right of the pocket and find Tyron Laughinghouse open in the end zone to tie the game at 30 before Peterson would hit his second Deuce of the night to tip the lead back to the home team at 32-30.

Starting the final quarter McCain tossed deep to the 3 yd line and the Sharks finished off the drive with a rushing touchdown by Ross, followed by a failed two point conversion and on the kickoff Belcher hit a Deuce of his own to bring the score up to 38-32 in Jacksonville’s favor. With time becoming a factor, another cobra mishap found the ball directly in the arms of Sharks Defensive Back Charlie Hunt. A major advantage for the visiting Sharks, with a six point lead and possession of the ball, the Cobras defense managed to hold them to a field goal and a 32-41 lead. With time running low the Cobras looked again to Barnett for his fourth touchdown reception with just a under two minutes remaining in the game.

Cobras Head Coach Billy Back decided to go for a two point conversion that ultimately failed and left the Cobras short at 38-41. Billy Back would have one last trick up his sleeve, an onside kick attempt. The crowd erupted as the Cobras recover the ball with great field position. Unfortunately for the Cobras, Jacksonville’s Head Coach challenged the recovery and it was determined that the Cobras has illegally touched the ball and Jacksonville would be given possession with just 58 seconds left in the game. After the use of Carolina’s remaining timeouts, the Sharks were able to run off the remaining time in the game to seal the victory over the Cobras.

The loss puts the Carolina Cobras at 0-1 on the season but the Cobras will have time to regroup as next week they travel to Portland to take on the Maine Mammoths in their first ever road game and will be still searching for the first win in team history. Kick off will be at 7:00 pm EST on Saturday April 14th and the game will be broadcasted courtesy of the National Arena League’s Youtube channel.

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