Jacksonville Sports Day

ARENA: Cobras Lose 41-38 to Jacksonville Sharks in Home Opener

Carolina Cobras’ quarterback Charles McCullum looks for a pass as he scrambles out of the pocket during Saturday’s National Arena League home opener against the defending NAL champion Jacksonville Sharks at the Greensboro Coliseum. The Sharks won 41-38. Photo by Andrew Krech News & Record

By Tim Nash

GREENSBORO — The wide-open, high-scoring football that fans had anticipated from the Carolina Cobras arrived about 15 minutes late.

By the end of the game, however, fans had seen plenty of scoring in a 41-38 Cobra loss to defending National Arena League champion Jacksonville Sharks.

The Cobras received the opening kickoff, and their first drive of the season took up 13:23 of the 15-minute first quarter. The quarter ended with the Cobras leading 7-0.

“That first drive was a combination of mistakes and the officials making some wrong calls that went our way,” said Cobra head coach Billy Back.

Jacksonville committed a series of infractions that consistently gave the Cobras new life. Twice on fourth-and-long situations, illegal defenses gave the Cobras automatic first downs.

The Sharks led 17-14 at the half, and the game began to open up in the second half.

Back said his team simply played below its potential. He refused to excuse the performance as first-game jitters or early season rawness.

“We were sloppy,” Back said. “We made a lot of mistake, including some coaching mistakes. We’ve been doing this long enough that we don’t expect those kinds of mistakes to happen.”

Mistakes caused the Cobra offense to have trouble getting started. Quarterback Charles McCullum, a two-time indoor football league MVP, was under constant pressure early. He had to throw several passes into the stands to avoid being sacked.

“Our offensive line didn’t play well,” said Back. “We didn’t give our quarterback time to throw, we had play clock violations, and we fumbled snaps. We shouldn’t be fumbling snaps. We had to go to the shotgun because of it.”

When McCullum, a 6-3, 205 native of Atlanta, had time, he was able to find his receivers and put points on the board. His favorite target of the night was Phillip Barnett, a 6-2, 220-pound receiver out of The University of Toledo. Barnett caught three touchdown passes.

A three-point loss to the defending league champions in the opening game of a first-year franchise may seem like a positive start. Not for Back, though, who said he thinks the Cobras can compete for the title.

“The sky’s the limit for this team,” he said. “But we have to do better, and we will get better.”

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