It appeared victory might slip away from the New Orleans VooDoo in their season-opener against Jacksonville on Saturday at Smoothie King Center.
However, a reverse of less than a yard with 2:22 showing, following by a big sack allowed the VooDoo to edge the Sharks 51-50.
“We just continued to fight and make big plays,” said coach Dean Cokinos, getting the win in his first game as New Orleans coach. “This is great group of young guys, and you saw their energy here tonight.”
The win came after the VooDoo went 3-15 last season after going 5-13 the season before. The opener was the first of three consecutive home games.
It came down to the end. The VooDoo went 30 yards for a touchdown with 2:22 remaining, scoring on a reverse by Carlese Franklin after two quarterback sneaks inches from the goal line were stuffed.
Sharks returner Terrance Smith was then stopped at the three on the kickoff return. On third-and-11, Roosevelt Falls sacked Sharks’ quarterback Tommy Grady. Then, Grady’s fourth-down long pass to Joe Hills on was tipped away by Cameron McGlenn with 12 seconds left.
“That sack was huge,” Cokinos said. “Then, we held on for the final play. These guys really wanted to win and get off to a good start.”
Jacksonville’s Joe Hills had tied the score at 44 with his fifth touchdown reception on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Sharks defensive back Terrance Smith then came up with an interception at the Jacksonville 2 and returned the ball to New Orleans’ 14. That led to fullback Derrick Ross’ second touchdown, a sweep left for five yards, as the Sharks led for the first time, 50-44.
The VooDoo headed into the fourth quarter ahead by a touchdown, 44-37, as Jacksonville continued to chip away. The Sharks, who trailed 27-6 in the second quarter, had tied the score at 37 at 6:36 of the third on a 6-yard touchdown to Hills.
The VooDoo jumped out to a 20-0 lead on its way to a 37-24 halftime lead.
That was a surprising development in that Jacksonville infused its roster with nine former All-Arena players while New Orleans has 16 on its roster with three years or fewer experience.
Also surprising was that penalties slowed the Sharks’ attack, with Jacksonville getting five for 30 yards in the first quarter alone.
The VooDoo got off to a fast start, getting good field position after receiver Larry Beavers returned the opening kickoff to the Sharks’ 21. Three plays later, rookie receiver Marcus Smith caught a pass off the net from Adam Kennedy for a 6-0 lead.
After holding the Sharks, thanks to 15 yards in Jacksonville penalties, New Orleans went 30 yards for a touchdown, with Kennedy passing 13 yards to Duvalt in the right corner of the end zone on a cross-field route at 3:56 of the quarter.
The VooDoo then appeared poised to break the game open. On the first play of the second quarter, Grady threw behind receiver Hills at the VooDoo five. The ball went off his fingers and was intercepted by VooDoo defensive back Cortez Stubbs. Stubbs sped down the left sideline, breaking a tackle at the five before going in at 14:04. Just like that, it was 20-0.
New Orleans went in leading by 13 at haltime.
Jacksonville came back with three touchdown passes in the quarter by Grady, all to Hills, the last with 47 seconds left before halftime. Still, New Orleans went in leading by 13 at halftime despite trailing in total offense (175-147) and first downs (13-9).