The Jacksonville Sharks dominated the first-year National Arena League (NAL) after jumping from the Arena Football League (AFL) and completed their run by defeating the Columbus Lions in front of 9,730 fans.
It looked like the Sharks (13-1) would run away with the game and title when they jumped out to a 20-7 lead in the third quarter when backup quarterback Jason Boltus came in for the injured Damien Fleming and tossed a touchdown pass to Maurice Williams with 1:33 left in the quarter.
After Columbus scored a touchdown to pull within 20-14, Boltus came back into the game and led a scoring drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Devin Wilson. The Lions again responded with another touchdown to stay within 27-21.
In the final minute, the Lions (10-4) were driving down to field threatening when Defensive Linemen Jermiah Price recovered a fumble with four seconds left to seal the win for the Sharks. Price was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
The Sharks become the second former AFL team to win a title in their new league. The Arizona Rattlers won the Indoor Football League crown last week.
The NAL announced some of its teams and markets for its second season in 2018. The league had eight teams last season, but only the Columbus Lions, Georgia Firebirds, High Country Grizzlies, Jacksonville Sharks, Lehigh Valley Steelhawks and Monterrey Steel will return. The Corpus Christi Rage and the Dayton Wolfpack travel team, which was based out of Atlanta as the Atlanta Wolfpack and then the Georgia Doom, will not return in 2018. A previously announced expansion team called the Jersey Flight (Trenton) has been added, along with an announcement this week of teams in the markets of Boston, Providence (RI), Richmond (VA) and Orlando. The Richmond team will be the Richmond Roughriders who were part of the 2017 league known as Arena Pro Football, which is changing to the American Arena League for 2018 after a merger with the Can-Am Indoor Football League. The Orlando market was home to the Orlando Predators team, which last played as part of the Arena Football League in the 2016 season. The NAL plans to finalize more markets in the near future and all teams must have leases in place by mid-August.