Force comes through with playoff berth

Having already faced a pretty much do-or-die situation in last week's regular season finale, the Georgia Force know all about playoff pressure.

After coming up big under pressure once, the Force must now do it again as the playoffs get under way with a trip to Jacksonville for a first-round game Saturday night at 7.

It's an opportunity Georgia (9-9), the South Division runner-up and No. 3 seed from the American Conference, might not have had without a clutch effort in a 55-48 win last Saturday in New Orleans.

"It was probably the best game we've played as a team in a long time," Force coach Dean Cokinos said earlier this week. "But this is the time of year when everything starts over. Your next game has got to be your best game."

Indeed, the Force put nearly everything together last week in New Orleans, especially with its defense, which forced the VooDoo into five turnovers -- including Jerry Turner's recovery in the closing seconds that sealed the win.

Cokinos points to the face the Force played as close as they've come to full strength this season, with stalwarts Tracy Belton, Ahmad Hawkins and Matt Marcorelle all in the lineup after missing time throughout the season to injury.

"All of those guys bring a veteran presence," Cokinos said. "For us, it's about trying to field the best team we can. Last week, we did that."

The Force offense and special teams units also benefitted from the veteran presence of players like Larry Shipp (6 rec., 68 yards, TD, 3 rushes, 18 yards, TD) and C.J. Johnson (149 all-purpose yards, kickoff return for TD), as well as clutch plays from rookie quarterback Bryant Moniz (3 TDs rushing, 2 TDs passing).

They will need that same kind of team effort Saturday against a very familiar foe.

The Force won both regular-season games against Jacksonville, but the Sharks (10-8) enter tonight's game red-hot after winning their final three games -- and four of their last five -- to sneak past Georgia and New Orleans and grab the South Division title.

Jacksonville quarterback Bernard Morris had a huge game in last week's win over Pittsburgh, completing 20 of 25 passes for 194 yards and eight TDs to earn the AFL's Offensive Player of the Week honor.

And Cokinos expects to see a Sharks team that resembles more of the latter than the one the Force beat by an average of 22.5 points during the regular season.

"We're very familiar with them -- as well as they're familiar with us," Cokinos said. "It's a good matchup. They've made some chances on defense, and so have we. So, there will be some unknowns."