By Josh Hunsucker | @jphunsucker
Leading up to Arena Bowl XXVIII, the San Jose SaberCats knew full well that Jacksonville Sharks wide receiver Joe Hills would be tough to stop. In fact, Clevan Thomas admitted that shutting down Hills would be the most important part of the SaberCats defensive game plan going into Saturday’s ‘Ship in Stockton, CA. For the first 30 minutes of the game it didn't work. With time winding down in the second quarter the SaberCats dropped an interception in the end zone and Hills made them pay, scoring for the fourth time in the first half. The SaberCats went into halftime trailing 33-27.
At the start of the third quarter the San Jose had yet to make one defensive stop of Hills and the Sharks, who finished the game with nine grabs for 133 yards. The SaberCats struck first in the third quarter when Erik Meyer hit DJ Stevens on a 26-yard strike. What everyone in the Stockton Arena after that touchdown didn’t know was that they were about to witness a scoring outburst, even by AFL standards.
On Jacksonville's next drive, a combination of penalties and a new SaberCats defensive look on the Sharks receiving corps forced a fourth and long. Tommy Grady's pass was deflected by San Jose and into the hands of David Hyland who raced into the end zone for a pick-six.
On the ensuing drive the SaberCats forced a Jacksonville fumble, which Clevan Thomas opportunistically jumped on. A few plays later, a Myers toss to Dariu Reynolds whipped the Stockton Arena crowd into a frenzy. Suddenly up 48-33, the crowd was delirious and deafening. An improbable 21-0 run had the screws holding down the arena ceiling rattling loose.
On the very next play the roof would come off and the game would, for all intents and purpose, be over. For those who don't know, in the AFL, kickoffs that rebound off of the nets and goal post supports are live balls. It is part of the game to routinely field kickoffs off the netting like an outfielder catching a ball off the outfield wall.
On Nich Pertuit's kickoff something crazy happened. The kick sailed perfectly onto the crossbar and bounced back about 15 yards right into the hands of the SaberCats David Hyland who had a clear path to waltz into the end zone. Prior to Arena Bowl XXVIII Pertuit admitted that he had only kicked the ball off of the crossbar three times in his life and the SaberCats had never recovered one of those kicks. Unreal play. Game over.
The SaberCats closed out the third quarter on a 28-0 run and traded blows with Jacksonville in the fourth quarter to seal the 68-47 victory and their fourth championship in franchise history.The ensuing champagne bath in the ‘Cats locker room was as raucous as one can imagine. Yet another championship has arrived on the shores of the San Francisco Bay.