DULUTH — Playing from behind most of the first half, the Georgia Force found a way to build a lead on the Arena Football League’s top team Saturday night.
Unfortunately for the Force, they couldn’t come back one last time late against the Jacksonville Sharks.
The South Division leaders got the eighth touchdown pass of the game from Aaron Garcia, an 11-yard strike to Jeron Harvey with 1:29 left to lift the visiting Sharks to a 62-55 win before 4,301 fans at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
The Force (5-5) fell back to .500 for the first time since the beginning of the season despite seven touchdown passes from Brett Elliott (30-47-1, 283 yards), four of which went to Maurice Purify (10-106).
But Garcia (22-29-1, 279 yards) was just too much, throwing for the eight scores, including four each to Harvey and Jomo Wilson.
“They’re a tough team,” Purify said. “There’s a reason they’re 9-1 now. We just didn’t make enough plays. We left plays out there.”
The Force did make some plays to help themselves rally from three different 14-point deficits in the first half, and it was a special teams play that nearly turned the tide in Georgia’s favor.
After kicking a 35-yard field goal with 13 seconds left in the half, Carlos Martinez sent the ensuing kickoff into the crossbar of the right-side netting and into the field of play, where Tracy Belton pounced on the loose ball at the Jacksonville 4.
Elliott then fired a strike into Purify for the score with nine seconds left, and Martinez added the extra point to send the Force into intermission trailing just 35-31.
And momentum continued to shift Georgia’s way after Robert Durham picked off an Aaron Garcia pass in the end zone to thwart Jacksonville’s opening possession of the second half.
The Force then responded by marching 45 yards in nine plays, including a fourth-down conversion near midfield, before Elliott hit C.J. Johnson on a swing pass to the right side for a 7-yard touchdown, giving Georgia’s its first lead since the opening drive of the game at 38-35 with 4:30 left in the third quarter.
But as the teams exchanged the lead six times in the fourth quarter, it was Jacksonville that would have the upper hand last.
Still, it looked like the Force might have one last chance after Garcia found Harvey for the game winner with 1:29 remaining, and then hit Wilson for the two-point conversion to give Jacksonville the seven-point lead.
A seven-yard completion from Elliott to Purify and a Sharks penalty gave the Force first and goal from the Jacksonville 5, but a Larry Shipp run and three incomplete passes — the last a near corral of a deflected ball by Purify in the end zone — could not produce the game-tying score.
And Jacksonville was able to come up with a first down before running out the clock.