In their biggest game since returning to the field in 2011, the New Orleans VooDoo square off with the Jacksonville Sharks Saturday night at 7 p.m. at New Orleans Arena.
You can listen to the game live on Rush Radio 99.5, WRNO and on-line at www.wrno.com. Live video will be streamed via www.ustream.tv/NewOrleansVoodoo. The game will be televised on a tape delay basis on Cox 4 in the New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette markets.
The game is a battle for first place in the Arena League American Conference South Division and will go a long way toward determining the division champion and a playoff berth.
New Orleans and Jacksonville sit atop the division at 7-7 with four games remaining. The VooDoo have won two straight games and three of their last four. The Sharks have won 4-of-6 games.
The VooDoo won at Cleveland 54-42 on June 16 before downing Orlando 48-41 on June 22. New Orleans is seeking its first three-game winning streak of the season and seeking to climb above .500 for the first time this season.
Quarterback Kurt Rocco has completed 320-of-521 (61%) for 4,296 yards and 82 touchdowns with just 13 interceptions and he has rushed for five scores. Rocco was 22-of-34 for 246 yards and four touchdowns with an interception in the win at Orlando. Rocco is third in the league in passing yards per game (306.9) and ranks third in total offense.
L.J. Castile returns after a one game suspension. He is one of three receivers in a balanced attack with over 1,000 yards receiving, leading New Orleans with 90 receptions for 1,059 yards. Josh Bush has 85 catches for 1,251 yards and a team-high 27 scores while Quorey Payne has 83 receptions for 1,105 yards and 19 touchdowns. Payne led New Orleans with nine catches for 132 yards and two scores against Orlando.
New Orleans native Courtney Smith stepped in for Castile and in two games, he has 14 catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Joe Alajajian has 10 rushing touchdowns.
The VooDoo offense has not scored 60 or more points since a 68-61 win over Orlando on May 18.
New Orleans continues to lead the AFL in turnover margin at plus -21. The VooDoo forced four more in the win at Orlando, overcoming three of their own. The VooDoo has won the turnover battle in 11-of-14 games, losing the battle just once, against Milwaukee in a week two 65-42 defeat.
The VooDoo defense is a good one. New Orleans recorded a season-high six sacks in the win at Orlando, including two by former West Jefferson and LSU star Marlon Favorite. The six sacks nearly matched the season total of seven in 13 games prior to the breakout against the Predators. Still, New Orleans ranks last in the AFL in sacks.
Jack linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson is tied for the AFL lead with 12 interceptions while Jeremy Kellem has seven and Demarcus Robinson has five. Kellem leads the team with 82 tackles (7th in the AFL) and 17 passes defended (5th in the AFL), Robinson has 64 stops and Jackson has 50.5 tackles. New Orleans is second in the league in pass defense efficiency and in red zone defense.
In an effort to cure a season-long problem, the VooDoo signed their fourth kicker of the season, inking Gary Cismesia to replace Phil Marfuggi. Cismesia kicked earlier this season in the AFL for Kansas City before being released. He went on to kick for the Omaha Beef of the Indoor Football League, where he made 41-of-45 extra points (91%) and connected on 18 field goals, including a 56-yard effort. New Orleans is last in the AFL, converting just 72 percent of its extra point attempts.
Of several close losses for New Orleans that could have gone the other way, none was more excruciating than the 41-37 defeat for the VooDoo at Jacksonville on May 4.
New Orleans built a 37-14 lead early in the third quarter and did not score again.
The Sharks recovered an onside kick to set up a score and recovered a fumble for a touchdown as well as they outscored the VooDoo 27-0 the rest of the way for an improbable, thrilling win.
AFL veteran Bernard Morris came off the bench and despite throwing an interception which Robinson returned for a score, he threw a pair of touchdown passes and has remained the starter since. Terrance Smith had seven catches for 61 yards and two scores for the Sharks.
Rocco was 16-of-26 for a modest 198 yards with four touchdown passes with no interceptions but the offense stalled in the second half. Payne led New Orleans with six catches for 74 yards and three touchdowns. Favorite and Brian Johnston each had a sack for New Orleans while Jacksonville sacked Rocco three times, including 1.5 by Aaron Robbins.
VooDoo coach Pat O' Hara remembers it all too well.
"That was a tough loss," O' Hara said. "Looking back on it, we know that we let that game slip away. Our team has learned from it and is focused for this week's game. Jacksonville is the defending ArenaBowl Champion and we expect their best."
Jacksonville is coming off of a big 56-42 victory over Cleveland last Saturday night. Morris was outstanding, completing 27-of-35 passes for 249 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions. Smith had a big game with 11 catches for 122 yards and three touchdowns while Jeron Harvey had nine catches for 61 yards and three scores. Laroche Jackson was huge on defense with a team-high 10.5 tackles and two interceptions while Micheaux Robinson added a pair of interceptions.
After a 1-3 start, the defending AFL champion Sharks have won 6-of-10 games to get to .500.
Morris has completed 140-of-241 passes (58%) for 1,610 yards and 38 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. He is a dual threat, ranking second in the AFL in rushing with 42 carries for 231 yards and six scores. Smith is the leading receiver with 92 receptions for 1,097 yards and 28 touchdowns. He is an extremely dangerous kick return man with three returns for scores and is second in the AFL in all-purpose yards. Harvey has 66 catches for 598 yards and 15 scores. Jamarko Simmons has 48 catches for 530 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Sharks rank third in the AFL, allowing just 274 yards per game. Jackson and Robinson each have a pair of interceptions and Jackson leads the team with 72.5 tackles. The pass rush is formidable, led by Richard Berry, who has recorded 7.5 sacks, fourth-best in the league. Berry has recovered three fumbles, tried for fifth in the AFL.
Robinson has provided a huge lift to the Sharks. He was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia in week 10 and has played very well, back home again. Robinson was an integral part of Jacksonville's run to the AFL title a year ago.
The special teams edge clearly goes to Jacksonville. You have Smith with his three kick returns for scores while New Orleans has yet to return a kick for a score. Marco Capozzoli is one of the AFL's top kickers. He has converted 74-of-89 extra points (83%) and is a perfect, league-best 8-of-8 in field goal attempts.
The Sharks are a minus -9 in turnover margin on the season. The Sharks are the least penalized team in the AFL with just 77 infractions enforced against them while the VooDoo have incurred 131 penalties.
New Orleans is averaging 54.1 points per game while allowing 53.7 while Jacksonville averages 50.9 points and allows 51.3 points per contest. Jacksonville swept the two games played against New Orleans in 2011 and leads the brief all-time series 3-0.
New Orleans is just 3-4 at home in the Graveyard while the Sharks are 3-3 on the road. With consecutive road games at tough San Jose and division rival Tampa Bay to follow, this is a crucial game for the VooDoo, according to O' Hara.
"This is a huge game," said O' Hara. "I hope our fan base comes out and gets behind us. We need them as our ninth man. As a team, we control our destiny and need to play sound in all three phases this week against Jacksonville. Both teams know what is at stake. This is a much improved team since our last meeting in May. Micheaux is a great defensive player and wide receiver Jeron Harvey is healthy. I can't stress enough how big of a game this is. It is huge."
VooDoo on Television: Cox 4 (tape delayed locally)
VooDoo on the Radio: 99.5 FM WRNO "Rush Radio"
VooDoo Broadcast Team: Ken Trahan (play-by-play), Jon Norris (color), Jimmy Frederick (sideline)
VooDoo on the Internet: www.wrno.com
VooDoo live game feed: www.ustream.tv/NewOrleansVooDoo
VooDoo live statistics: http://livestats.prestosports.com/neworleansvoodoo
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