Jacksonville wins Arena Bowl in wild finish

Updated: August 13, 2011, 1:46 AM ET
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- The Jacksonville Sharks were down to their final play -- and last option in the Arena Bowl.

Capping a wild finish even by Arena Football League standards, Aaron Garcia threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jeron Harvey on a play called "Iowa Pass" to give the Sharks a 73-70 victory over the Arizona Rattlers on Friday night.

"I was third option in that play," Harvey said. "Seriously, it was first Jomo (Wilson) and then Jarmarko (Simmons) and they jumped on both and I just sat there wide open and he found me."

Garcia found Harvey nine times on the night for 115 yards and three touchdowns, two in the final 1:26.

"Garcia gets paid to make plays. He's been good for a long time," Arizona coach Kevin Guy said. "He didn't have the first two reads and he came off those to the third read. For whatever reason we went off of him."

Nick Davila hit Kerry Reed with a 12-yard scoring pass with 21 seconds left to put Arizona up 70-67, but Garcia connected with Wilson on a 17-yard play to put Jacksonville at the 10 with 2 seconds left.

"I was just hoping," Garcia said about the final play. "I've always been told to play from the heart, play to the end, and that's what I was doing. I had to find somebody. Jeron was doing a great job the entire second half and he got open for us."

Sharks coach Les Moss went with his trusty "Iowa Pass" on the winner.

"It's a play that we run a lot of," Moss said. "We call it our bread and butter, actually."

The 40-year-old Garcia threw for 402 yards and eight touchdowns in his first Arena Bowl appearance.

Jacksonville (17-4) won its first title in its second year of existence, overcoming an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Arizona (18-3) entered the game on an 11-game winning streak.

The teams set a championship game record with the 143 points, breaking the mark of 131 set in San Jose's 69-62 victory over Arizona in 2004.

Garcia connected with Wilson on an 11-yard TD pass with 40 seconds left to give Jacksonville a 67-63 lead. But that was enough time for Arizona to regain the lead, by three.

"I was not looking to kick that field goal at all," Moss said. "We were going to go for it and try and win it there. We only had four days rest, so our guys were getting tired. I didn't want that thing to go into overtime. I knew that Aaron had it in him, one more in him, and I'm so happy for him."

Jacksonville won the American Conference championship on Monday over Georgia, two days after Rattlers won the National Conference title. The Sharks couldn't play Saturday because their arena was the site of the National Baton Twirling Championships.

Davila, the league's most valuable player, threw for 338 yards and eight touchdowns for Arizona.

Davila hit Chris Jackson on a 5-yard scoring pass with 52 seconds left, but Arizona tried an onside kick, giving the Sharks the ball on the Arizona 11.

The Rattlers stopped the Sharks on its first two possessions of the second half and, despite turning the ball over on downs once themselves, took a 42-32 lead on Davila's 9-yard pass to running back Odie Armstrong with 6:09 left in the third.

Jacksonville bounced back on Garcia's 3-yard pass to Simmons with 1:56 left in the third to cut it to 42-38. Jason Witczak missed his third extra point. There was a high snap on another conversion and a pass was thrown to an ineligible receiver.

Davila hit Chris Jackson on a 35-yard pass play to set up Armstrong's 1-yard run with 13:21 left that gave Arizona a 49-38 lead.

Arizona nearly put the game away with 11:32 left when Kevin McCullough picked off Garcia's pass at the Sharks 20, but Marcus Pittman was called for roughing the passer, keeping the drive alive. Three plays later, Garcia hit Simmons on 7-yard scoring play to cut it to 49-45 with 9:59 left.

Micheaux Robinson intercepted Garcia's pass at his 13, returning it to the 21 with 7:58 left.

Arizona won the 1994 and 1997 league titles. The Arena Football League is in its second year after sitting out a season when it declared bankruptcy


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press