The National Conference Champion San Jose SaberCats will host American Conference Champion Jacksonville Sharks in ArenaBowl XXVIII on Saturday, August 29th at the Stockton Arena. Kickoff is set for 4:00 pm PDT and you can catch the action on ESPN.
This will be the fifth ArenaBowl appearance for the SaberCats and first since 2008. San Jose has raised the Foster Trophy on three occasions (2002, 2004 and 2007), while Jacksonville reached the pinnacle of the AFL in 2011, winning ArenaBowl XXIV.
With a trip to Arena Bowl XXVIII on the line last week, the SaberCats defeated the Arizona Rattlers, 70-67, scoring 22 points in the final three minutes of the National Conference Championship game.Trailing 67-63 with 20 seconds left, the SaberCats orchestrated a 32-yard drive, capped off by a six-yard touchdown reception by Reggie Gray with eight seconds remaining.
The SaberCats were led to triumph by 2013 AFL Most Valuable Player, Erik Meyer, who completed 64.9-percent of his passes for 351 yards and nine touchdowns against the Rattlers. Meyer completed touchdown passes to five different receivers, including three to Darius Reynolds (three receptions -104 yards – three touchdowns), two with 2015 First Team All-Arena receiver “Big Play” Reggie Gray (eight receptions – 48 yards – touchdowns) and Rich Ranglin (two receptions – 19 yards – touchdowns).
Maurice Purify, who scored an AFL record seven touchdowns in Arena Bowl XXV, led all receives in the National Conference Championship with nine receptions for 150 yards, adding one touchdown. For the SaberCats to earn a fourth ArenaBowl title, they will need their offense to continue to play at the same highly efficient level that they have all season.
Statistically, San Jose ended the regular season with the number one scoring offense and defense. With the great balance on each side of the ball, the SaberCats defeated opponents by a remarkable average of 22.2 points per game in the regular season. San Jose also defeated the Portland Thunder, 55-28 in the opening round of the National Conference Playoffs to reach this point.
The previous meeting between these rivals was on April 17th, in week four, where the SaberCats defeated the Sharks 68-48. San Jose held a, 28-24 lead at halftime, before outscoring Jacksonville 40-24 in the second half, en route to the victory.
Reggie Gray, the 2015 AFL Cutters Wide Receiver of the Year, returned a 58-yard kickoff for a touchdown and added nine receptions for 80 yards and three receiving touchdowns in the week four matchup in Jacksonville.
Finishing the season tied for fourth in the AFL with 95.5 total tackles, David Hyland led all SaberCat defenders with 13 tackles against the Sharks on April 17th. Hyland also had an interception and two pass breakups, rounding out one of his best performances this season. Along with the legendary Clevan Thomas, rookie sensation Fredrick Obi and 2015 Second Team All-Arena defensive back Ken Fontenette, who led the AFL with 146.5 tackles this season and 9.5 against Jacksonville, San Jose’s secondary has risen to the occasion in propelling the SaberCats to this point.
Meanwhile, the Sharks became the first team in AFL history to earn a trip to the ArenaBowl despite starting the season 0-4. In true playoff fashion, Jacksonville, like San Jose, is coming off a dramatic victory of its own.
In the American Conference Championship game, the Sharks held a 28-14 halftime lead on the road against the no. 1 seed Philadelphia Soul. The Soul cruised back in the second half with a chance to win the game on its final drive.
In the final seconds, Dan Raudabaugh threw up a pass into the end zone which was subsequently intercepted by LaRoch Jackson, sealing the 61-56 victory for the Sharks.
Behind the arm of Tommy Grady, who threw for 238 yards and nine total touchdowns (eight passing), Jacksonville scored eight touchdowns on just 15 completions, stringing on big plays downfield. Receiver Joe Hills scored touchdowns on all five of his receptions, while London Crawford led the way with six receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown.
In his previous matchup with the SaberCats, Grady threw two touchdowns but was intercepted twice by San Jose. Hills led all receivers with 14 receptions for 155 yards, adding a touchdown, while Anthony “Tiger” Jones hauled in seven receptions for 109 yards. The premier matchup in the ArenaBowl for Jacksonville will be its fire power at the receiver position against the lockdown nature of the SaberCats defense.
It has been a journey for the SaberCats that began in March and throughout the summer there has been one goal this season. San Jose is just one game away from achieving its goal and winning ArenaBowl XXVIII.