Force open playoffs in Jacksonville

Georgia Force

The Georgia Force finished the regular season with a 9-9 record and clinched the No. 3 seed in the AFL’s American Conference. This Saturday the Force open the playoffs against the Jacksonville Sharks at Sea Best Field in Jacksonville. The Sharks finished their regular season with a 10-8 record and clinched the No. 2 seed by winning the South Division.

The Force has gotten the better of the Sharks, though as they won both regular season games. The Force won the first game at Jacksonville 69-41 before taking the game at the Gwinnett Arena 59-39 on June 9. But the Sharks are the defending Arena Bowl champions and have the second-longest winning streak in the AFL having won their last three games.

Offensively, the Sharks are led by quarterback Benard Morris who has thrown 17 touchdowns and only one interception over the last three games. In the game last week against Pittsburgh, Morris threw a career-high eight touchdowns in three quarters of play. He was named AFL Offensive Player of the Week.

Morris’ favorite two targets are Jeron Harvey and Terrance Smith. Harvey has 101 receptions, 970 yards and 25 touchdowns while Smith has 99 catches, 1,158 yards and 29 scores.

Defensively, defensive lineman Scooter Berry and linebacker Aaron Robbins have been one of the most dominant pass rushers in the league. Berry had 13 sacks (an AFL rookie record) on the year while Robbins had 10 on the year. Over the last two weeks, the tandem had five sacks with each player tallying a sack in each game.

Berry and Robbins will look to take down a Force offense that has found new life since quarterback Bryant Moniz took over a month ago. Last week against New Orleans, Moniz only threw for 175 yards and two touchdowns, but he also added three rushing touchdowns and was named the MVP of the week for Week 20. In the four games, Moniz has thrown 16 touchdowns and two interceptions.

Larry Shipp has been the team’s leading receiver all year and was even named the 15th best player in the league by Arenafootball.com. Shipp has 1,584 yards and 33 touchdowns on 133 receptions. C.J. Johnson has been a solid No. 2 option for Moniz. He caught 102 passes with 1,075 yards and 14 touchdowns. Michael Johnson will be the No. 3 receiver and will make his fifth consecutive start.

Mario Norman and Tracy Belton are the key players on defense. Norman led the team in tackles with 73 while Belton, who missed over a month of action this year due to an injury, led the team in interceptions with 11. Belton also has 54 tackles on the year. Robert Durham and Jeremy Grier have also been consistent contributors. Durham racked up 33 tackles and Grier notched 54 tackles and one interception.

The Force and Sharks have developed a good rivalry over the last two seasons. The Force may have won the season series, but the Sharks were able to win the Arena Bowl by taking down the Force in the in conference championship game last year. The Force are confident they have the fire power to take down any team in the league based on the way Moniz has played the last month. But the Sharks come into the game thinking they have found their stride and enter the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league.

The game kicks off at 7 p.m. The winner will face the winner of the Philadelphia Soul/New Orleans Voodoo contest in the American Conference title game next week.

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