Force rallies for win

Sonny Kennedy

When the Georgia Force defeated the Jacksonville Sharks 69-41 back in March, many thought that the Force were a team ready to take the next step. The victory was a measure of revenge for the Force after Jacksonville topped Georgia in the American Conference Championship game last season. However, the Force have gone 4-5 since that win and were facing the Sharks again on Saturday night at the Gwinnett Arena, winners of three straight entering the contest. Thanks to a gutsy effort by Larry Shipp and the defense, the Force came away with huge 56-39 win. The victory gave the Force sole possession of first place in the American Conference South Division.

The Sharks started off the game with a bang as quarterback Bernard Morris threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jamark Simmons on the first play of the game. The Force responded two minutes later when R.J. Archer threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Shipp. Jacksonville punched right back with a score when Morris found Bobby Sewall for a 17-yard touchdown pass. The Sharks added on to their lead late in the first when Morris found Simmons again for a seven-yard touchdown pass to give the Sharks a 20-9 lead after one quarter.

The Force looked to cut the Sharks lead to at least four to start the second quarter, but Archer’s pass was intercepted by Laroch Jackson, who returned it 52-yards for the score. The Force bounced back to score 10 points to close out the half thanks to a 12-yard touchdown pass from Archer to Shipp and a 21-yard field goal from Carlos Martinez.

The Force opened the third quarter with Archer throwing a five-yard touchdown pass to Shipp, cutting the Sharks’ lead to one. Jacksonville responded with a score as Bernard threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Jeron Harvey. But the Force would respond as well, with Mykell Benson scoring on a seven-yard touchdown run. The Force would add two more points to close out the third when defensive lineman Kris Cooke sacked Bernard in the end zone for a safety, giving the Force their first lead.

Jacksonville (6-6) would reclaim the lead early in the fourth quarter when Bernard threw a 1-yard pass to Simmons, a play set up by the Sharks defense. Jacksonville defenser Scooter Berry sacked Archer, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Aaron Robbins.

The Force would not be down for long as Shipp scored his fourth touchdown of the game via a one-yard run. Then the defense took over for the Force as Jeremy Grier intercepted a Bernard pass which was returned four yards for a touchdown.

The Force defense would come up big again as Mario Norman picked off another Bernard pass and that led to Shipp throwing a one-yard touchdown pass to Shay Hodge to close out the game.

Shipp was named Offensive Player of the Game and Playmaker of the Game. He caught 13 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown and threw for another score. Archer was 27-of-42 with 284 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Grier was named Defensive Player of the Game for coming up with the game-changing interception in the fourth quarter. It was his fourth interception of the year, putting him third on the team behind Norman and Tracy Belton, who remains sidelined with a groin injury.

The Force (7-6) will be on the road the next two weeks as they face the Chicago Rush and the Utah Blaze. They will return to the Gwinnett Arena on July 1 when they take on the Orlando Predators.

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