For a moment, it looked like one of the best seasons in Sharks franchise history was going to end in a heartbreaking loss during Saturday night’s NAL championship game.
Instead, the team delivered a fourth-quarter comeback for the ages, bouncing back from a twelve-point deficit to defeat the Carolina Cobras, 52-48, and win their second NAL title.
The Sharks were in unfamiliar territory for the majority of the game, trailing through multiple quarters for the first time since their season-opening loss to the New York Streets. Carolina took a 14-0 lead to start the game, and led at the end of the first, second, and third quarters.
The Sharks’ defense struggled with the absence of Cody Saul, who was serving a suspension for his involvement in an altercation during the team’s previous playoff game.
The offense, meanwhile, struggled from inconsistent play under center. Both of the team’s QBs, Mike Fafaul and Jonathan Bane, saw action on Saturday night, and both threw two interceptions each.
Despite their struggles, and a strong overall performance from the Cobras, the Sharks were able to keep the game within reach through three quarters. A touchdown pass from Fafaul to Durron Neal then brought the Sharks within five points with twelve minutes remaining in the game.
The Cobras answered by slowly marching down the field for another touchdown drive led by league MVP Jordan Jolly. Fafaul then threw an interception on the ensuing Sharks possession, leaving the team down by eleven points, without the ball, and with under three minutes remaining in the game.
Just when it seemed like the Cobras had all but wrapped up their second straight title, Aaron Bellazin picked off a pass by Cobras QB Charles McCullum at Carolina’s five-yard line and returned it for a quick touchdown. The Sharks would convert on a 2-point attempt, bringing them within three.
Jax then successfully recovered an onside kick and went to work with exactly one minute remaining in the game. Having all three timeouts available, the team took its time to complete a series of short pass plays. Then, with seven seconds remaining, Fafaul found Neal again in end-zone for a 4-yard TD pass, putting the Sharks up 52-48.
With five seconds remaining, Carolina managed to get all the way down to the Sharks’ 4-yard line. But the Cobras ran out of time, as time expired and the Sharks escaped with a heart-pounding victory.
Fafaul finished 15-of-25 for 145 yards, 3 TDs, and 2 INTs. Bane went 5-of-12 for 26 yards and 2 INTs.
Devin Wilson led all receivers with seven catches for 89 yards and a touchdown. Neal also added two receiving TDs.
On defense, Bellazin and Seth Ellis each came away with one interception each.
And Chris Gilchrist, filling in for Saul at linebacker, had his best game of the year. Gilchrist, who usually plays as a receiver, blocked a field goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown, then later scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown as well. He was named the game’s MVP for his efforts.
The Sharks have now won two NAL championships in the league’s three years of existence. It’s the franchise’s third overall title, having won an AFL ArenaBowl as well.
The team finished the year on a fifteen-game winning streak.