(Stockton)- The San Jose SaberCats rode a 35-point second half to earn their fourth championship, defeating the Jacksonville Sharks, 68-47 in ArenaBowl XXVIII on Saturday at the Stockton Arena in front of a capacity crowd of 9,115.
“It was a team effort, team win and there are a whole bunch of people you have to thank,” said Owner and Head Coach Darren Arbet.After trailing 33-27 at halftime, the SaberCats roared back, led by a 28-0 third quarter.
Quarterback Erik Meyer completed 17-of-29 passes for 204 yards, throwing four touchdowns and adding two more on the ground.
“It’s like any big fight or competition,” said Arbet. “Both teams come out swinging and someone has to take over and I felt we could take over.”
With the win, San Jose became the first team in Arena Football League history with a 20-win season (including playoffs).
The Sharks offense opened the game with a six-play drive, capped off by a 23-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Grady to Joe Hills, giving Jacksonville an early 7-0 edge.
However, the SaberCats answered on the ensuing drive, scoring on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Meyer to Reggie Gray in the back corner of the end zone. With a missed point-after-try, San Jose trailed 7-6. Gray led the SaberCats with nine receptions for 95 yards and three touchdowns.
The battle raged on, as Tiger Jones made the Cutters Catch of the Game, leaping up and snagging the ball while flipping backwards over the boards for the 15-yard touchdown and a 14-6 lead.
San Jose and Jacksonville would go on to trade scores in each of the teams next two possessions; First by San Jose with a four-yard touchdown reception by Gray and then by Jacksonville with a deep, 29-yard touchdown reception by Hills. SaberCats defensive lineman Donte Paige-Moss broke through the line and blocked the PAT, as the Sharks held a 20-13 edge.
Answering in championship fashion, Meyer would buy time and scramble down to the one yard line, setting up Odie Armstrong for the one-yard touchdown run, tying the game at 20-20 with 3:03 left in the half. After recovering an onside kick, the Sharks regained the lead at 27-20, with Hills’ third touchdown reception of the half.
On the heels of an eight-yard touchdown reception by Hills, his fourth of the half, the Sharks held a 34-27 halftime lead. Hills led Jacksonville with nine receptions for 133 yards and four touchdowns.
Opening the second half, the SaberCats would score on a beautiful touch pass from Meyer to D.J. Stephens who fought to keep possession on the 26-yard touchdown, giving San Jose the lead at 34-33.
Building on the momentum, Francis Maka, the SaberCats’ all-time leader in sacks, tipped a Grady pass at the line of scrimmage, allowing Hyland to grab the interception, returning it for the touchdown. Hyland’s second interception of the postseason gave San Jose a 41-33. Grady completed 22-of-36 passes for 310 yards and seven touchdowns, throwing the one costly interception.
On the following drive, the SaberCats league-leading defense, which forced 47 turnovers in the regular season, forced another Jacksonville turnover, when Paige-Moss stripped receiver Michael Lindsey and Clevan Thomas recovered.
“The defense has stepped up all year and got it done,” said Arbet. “I had a lot of faith in them and I knew they were going to start making some plays and they did.”
Deep in Sharks territory, the SaberCats pulled ahead, 48-33 with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Meyer to a wide open Darius Reynolds.
The SaberCats special teams also got into the fray, with kicker Nich Pertuit’s kickoff going off the bar and recovered in the air by Hyland, who returned the bar ball for his second touchdown of the game.
With the vaunted SaberCats defense locking down the Sharks, Jacksonville did not score in the second half until 9:07 remained in the fourth quarter, with a 24-yard touchdown reception by Terrance Smith.
The win marked the fourth ArenaBowl Championship for Arbet, who now holds sole possession of second place all-time in AFL history.
“I will never forget these last two weeks for the rest of my life,” said Arbet in regards to winning it all in his hometown.
Players of the Game:
Offensive Player of the Game: Erik Meyer
Defensive Player of the Game: David Hyland
J. Lewis Small Playmaker of the Game: David Hyland
Cutters Catch of the Game: Tiger Jones 1st QT TD
AFL highlight of the Game: Hyland interception return for a TD 3rd QT