The Georgia Force battled back from a 48-35 third quarter deficit in Jacksonville to take a 56-55 fourth quarter lead over the Sharks in the opening round of the Arena Football League postseason, only to fall 58-56 when Marco Capozzoli was good on a 51-yard field goal attempt as time ran out. The loss ends Georgia’s season while the reigning AFL champion Sharks move on to the American Conference championship to face the Philadelphia Soul, who defeated the New Orleans VooDoo 66-53 in the other conference semifinal game. The winner will advance to ArenaBowl XXV in New Orleans on August 10th.
Capozzoli’s three-pointer is now the longest in Sharks franchise playoff history, topping the 36-yarder he kicked to lock up last season’s conference championship, also against Georgia. It is also the longest field goal in overall team history.
Jacksonville capitalized after Georgia failed to score on their first possession, taking possession at their own 19-yard line and scored five plays later when Bernard Morris (19/35, 193 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT) connected with Jeron Harvey (7 R, 67 yards, 2 TD). The extra-point was blocked, giving Jacksonville a 6-0 advantage with 9:21 to go in the opening stanza. Quarterback Bryant Moniz (8/17, 137 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT) needed only three plays to even the score, teaming up with CJ Johnson (5 R, 76 yards, 2 TD) for a 28-yard scoring pass, and then Georgia took their first lead of the game, 7-6, when Carlos Martinez was good on the PAT. Sadly for Force fans, Georgia would not manage another score until late in the second quarter, by then Jacksonville held a 27-7 lead.
While the home team scored touchdowns on their next three possessions, Georgia came up empty on a field goal try and then turned the ball over via interception before scoring with 6:50 to go in the first half to cut the deficit to 27-14.The teams exchanged TDs on the next two possessions and the half ended with Jacksonville seemingly in control 34-21
If Georgia fans were envisioning a third quarter similar to the one last week that gave the Force control of the game against New Orleans, they were brought back to reality on the kickoff to start the half. Martinez missed the ball on an onside kick attempt, but the ball left the tee due to the air from the missed kick and the Sharks recovered. Jacksonville pushed the score to 41-21 thirty-five seconds into the second half when Morris carried the rock in from the 1-yard line. Moniz was carried from the field on the ensuing Force possession due to an injury to his left ankle and Darnell Kennedy (11/14, 111 yards, 4 TD) came on in his place.
After another field goal try resulted in zero points for Georgia, Morris broke free for a 30-yard scoring run and, after the Capozzoli PAT, the Sharks held a commanding 48-21 lead only 3:44 into the third quarter.
The Force defense stepped up in a big way, including an interception by Ahmad Johnson, and kept Jacksonville off the board until midway through the fourth quarter which allowed Georgia to close the gap on the strength of three touchdown passes form Kennedy to Mike Johnson (9 R, 84 yards, 4 TD), the final of which was a 4-yard scoring strike early in the final quarter that brought Georgia to within six-points, 48-42 with 14:33 remaining in the game.
After a Georgia fumble on their next drive, Harvey pulled in his third touchdown of the game and the Sharks were up 55-42 with 7:43 to play. Kennedy scrambled for 25 yards to put the Force in scoring position on the next drive before Benji McDowell punched it in from one yard out to cut the Sharks lead to 55-49 with 5:16 remaining in the contest. The Force defense came through again when they stopped Jacksonville on a fourth and one, giving the ball to the Force offense at the Jacksonville 12-yard line.
Kennedy and Johnson connected for their fourth TD pass and catch of the night giving Georgia only their second lead of the game, 56-55, with 1:28 remaining in the game. Jacksonville started the final drive of the night inside their five. Early in the drive Morris was hit as he threw and the ball popped high into the air and the ball, as well as Georgia’s postseason future, seemed to hang in the air before being pulled in by Sharks lineman Vladimir Richard, who hung on to the ball, giving the Sharks another chance to set up the field goal that ended the Force season.
Coach Dean Cokinos reflects on the season in exclusive interview later this week
Discuss this story on the AFL message board
The Georgia Force are members of the South Division of the American Conference in the AFL. The Force play home games at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, located off I-85 on Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth.
Subscribe for continued Georgia Force, AFL updates and “Like” our Facebook page for discussion giveaways..