STOCKTON, Calif. - For the first time since 2007, the San Jose SaberCats are the champions of Arena Football. After a tight first half, San Jose forced turnovers and stifled the Jacksonville Sharks in the second half, claiming the fourth Foster Trophy in their franchise's history by a margin of 68-47 in ArenaBowl XXVIII on ESPN. The win solidified one of the most dominant seasons in Arena Football history.
Without the Riddell Defensive Player of the Year, defensive end Joe Sykes, SaberCats quarterback Erik Meyer had the space and the time to complete pass after pass against the Sharks. Meyer was able to feed star receiver Reggie Gray all game despite tight coverage from Jacksonville's impressive secondary - he finished the game with a team-high nine catches for 95 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
Much like last week's non-stop action in the Conference Championship games, the first half was a typical back-and-forth contest. Meyer and Sharks quarterback Tommy Grady traded blows, while both defenses struggled to contain each team's All-Arena casts of playmakers.
The usual suspects did the damage in the first and second quarters. Meyer had Gray in his sights while Grady and the hard-to-miss Joe Hills connected for four touchdowns. The first defensive stop didn't come until the final seconds of the half as Meyer tossed a Hail Mary as time expired into the arms of rookie All-Arena defensive back Greg Reid - so the Sharks carried a 33-27 lead into the locker room at halftime.
San Jose would receive the ball to open the first half and they never looked back.
Meyer and receiver D.J. Stephens found one another for a 26-yard touchdown on their first possession of the second half. On the ensuing drive for the Sharks, Grady's fourth-and-29 attempt on Jacksonville's 10-yard line was batted by Francis Maka and up for grabs at the line and, thus, picked easily by Jack linebacker David Hyland who hustled into the end zone for an easy score, padding San Jose's lead, 41-33.
Looking to bust back into the game, Grady and the Sharks needed an answer on their next drive but Hyland's defensive touchdown gave the SaberCats a stranglehold on the game's momentum and the team assumed control. Defensive end Donte Paige-Moss forced a fumble on the team's first play of the Sharks' drive and Meyer punched it in again to leap to a 15-point lead. It seemed the Sharks were scuffling to deal with the absence of receiver London Crawford who went down early in the first quarter.
As Jacksonville prepared to take the field again, Nich Pertuit's kickoff banged off the post and gently fell into the arms of Hyland once more who jogged into the end zone. It was harsh, but the Sharks were just dealt a serious blow to their comeback efforts thanks to an unfortunate bounce off the uprights.
And when Grady and the Sharks finally got the ball back, the vaunted San Jose defense - the same unit that led Arena Football with 45 sacks this year - reared its head and Jacksonville turned the ball over once more, this time on downs.
Meyer all but officially ended the Sharks' hopes for a fourth-quarter comeback when he rushed 17 yards for a score, his second rushing touchdown of the game. Jacksonville, held scoreless in the third quarter, picked up their first points of the half with nine minutes left in the game on a touchdown pass to Terrance Smith, normally one of the team's starting defensive backs.
Each team would score one more time in the game but the clock was moving too quickly for the Sharks to play their way back into contention and the SaberCats became kings of the turf once more.