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Saturday, December 31, 2022

Moeller: Jaguars Can Take a Giant Step Forward Sunday

By Jeff Moeller

Note to Jaguars: Don’t mess it up.

Also, this is still the time to be thankful and believe in fate. The latter is a factor I have harped on over the past two weeks. Fate is on their side.

You may have to take a second look, but the first-place Jaguars have placed themselves in a position to win the AFC South or gain a Wildcard spot. At this point, they control their one destiny.

The key words are “at this point.” That means, they have to go into Houston Sunday afternoon and beat the 2-12-1 Texans. Remember, this is the same Texan team that came into Jacksonville and beat a sluggish Jaguars’ team, 13-6, behind the running of Dameon Pierce, who bulldozed his way for 99 yards and scored a late fourth-quarter touchdown that won it.

Trevor Lawrence had a rough day with two bad interceptions on a 25-for-47, 286-yard performance, all was listless late Sunday afternoon as the Jags sat at 2-5. It had all the making of another 3-14 or 4-13 season.

From there, the Jags took a giant leap, and the Texans stayed status quo with an asterisk* (they were right on the cusp of victories against a number of teams).

So, there should be some concern when the 7-8 Jaguars saunter into NRG Stadium for a 1 o’clock kickoff Sunday. The Texans finally got over the top last week with a 19-14 hard-fought victory over the Titans in Tennessee last Sunday that snapped a nine-game losing streak.

Yes, these are the former AFC South leaders that fortunately fell to the Dallas Cowboys last Thursday night that dropped their record to 7-9.

So, the stage is set. Beat Houston –which lost Pierce for the season – and head home for the chance to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 with a victory over Tennessee.

This Titans squad is banged up and reeling on a six-game losing streak. Derrick Henry, the league’s second-leading rusher with a hip injury last week, did play, but seven other starters were sidelined in the 27-13 loss to Dallas.

Henry ran for 121 yards with a touchdown in the Titans’ 36-22 home loss to the Jaguars Dec. 11.

Even though fate apparently looms in the Jags’ favor next week, they have to take care of business this week.

Further memo: Don’t Mess it Up.

Houston likely will love to play the role of a spoiler here. For whatever reason, and nothing to have to do with this current team, Houston has won the last nine meetings between the two.
When was the last Jaguars’ victory over the Texans? Ironically it was in 2017 when they swept the series, the Jags’ winning 29-7 in Houston.

Yes, this is fate. The Jags have a very winnable game in front of them Sunday, and Dallas did them a huge favor by beating a Tennessee team that currently is a shadow of itself from a 12-win team last year and two years removed from being in the AFC Championship game.

Suddenly and shockingly, these once 3-7 Jaguars are on the step toward the next level. They have won four of their last five and three straight. Lawrence has risen to the ranks as one of the best in the league. Travis Etienne broke the 1,000-yard season mark last week, and the re-energized secondary has pushed the defense into another category.

The Jaguars need to take care of business and rout the Texans. They can then return to TIAA Field next Sunday and claim a divisional crown and host a playoff game.

If they lose and beat Tennessee next week at home, the Jags can still claim a wildcard spot, but there are too many situations that would have to end in their favor. They don’t want to go that route.

Final thought: Don’t mess it up.

It is there for the taking, a situation one couldn’t have imagined after the first Jaguars’-Texans’ game.

(Columnist Jeff Moeller covers the NFL and football for SportsDay and the Florida Sports Wire.)

Friday, December 30, 2022

Gator Bowl: Shootout with South Carolina Goes to Notre Dame, 45-38

(SportsDay Photo by Nancy Beecher/Florida Sports Wire)

By Mike Bonts

JACKSONVILLE (Florida Sports Wire) – Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner ran for two touchdowns and threw for three more as the Irish rallied to defeat South Carolina 45-38 before 67,383 in the Gator Bowl Friday.

He was named the MVP. The sophomore threw for a career-high 274 yards with 18 completions on 33 attempts and three scores. He also added 61 yards on the ground.

Tight end Mitchell Evans caught the winning TD from Buchner with 1:38 to play.

The Irish offense ran for 264 yards total. Audric Estime led with 95 yards on 14 attempts. Logan Diggs added 13 carries for 89 yards and a touchdown. Chris Tyree added 21 yards on five rushes.

Braden Lenzy added four catches for a game-best 89 yards and a touchdown.

Buchner ran for an 11-yard score in the third quarter and 15 yards to tie the game with 5:54 to play in the first quarter. He had two passes returned for touchdowns.

Trailing 38-31, O’Donnell Fortune picked off Buchner on the end zone and set a new Gator Bowl record with a 100-yard TD tying the game 38-38 with 7:43 to play.

DQ Smith picked off Buchner in the final minute of the quarter. He returned it 53 yards for a TD. It was Smith’s second interception of his career and second touchdown of 2022

Diggs ran for a 39-yard score to give Notre Dame its first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter. Diggs scored on a pass in the flat and ran 75 yards down the sideline to pull the Irish to within a TD with 5:06 to play in the half.

The Gamecocks' Xavier Legette caught two TD passes.

South Carolina QB Spencer Rattler threw a 42-yard TD to Legette in the corner of the end zone in the second half. The Gamecocks took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards when Rattler completed the drive with a 13-yard TD pass to Legette.

Rattler was 29-for-46 for 246 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Legette had seven catches for 78 yards while Nate Adkins had five receptions for 78 yards.

Carolina was led on the ground by Juju McDowell’s 28 yards on six carries.

South Carolina led 24-17 at the half.

The Irish drove to the South Carolina six-yard line to open the second quarter. But on a third and goal Alex Huntley sacked Tyler Buchner at the 19. Blake Grupe kicked a 37-yard field goal to make it 21-10.

South Carolina responded with a 45-yard field goal by Mitch Jeter.

The Gamecocks drove to the Notre Dame 25 in the p[ening quarter aided by a face mask call. On a fourth and 8 South Carolina scored on a pass from punter Kai Kroeger to Hunter Rogers on a fake field goal. Kroeger is now 4-for-4 passing this season for 107 yards and two touchdowns. It was Rogers’ first career touchdown reception.

Game Notes: The 28 combined points by the two teams in the first quarter set a Gator Bowl record, which was 24 points by Mississippi State and Michigan in 2011...the game was the highest scoring game in Gator Bowl history...the last interception returned for a touchdown in Gator Bowl history was Virginia Tech’s James Anderson in 2006... Sherrod Greene led the Gamecocks with 11 tackles, five solos..the Irish defense was led by linebacker JD Bertrand and cornerback TaRiq Bracy. Each finished with eight tackles, five and four solo, respectively.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Golf: Remembering Kathy Whitworth, the Game’s Greatest Winner

 The golf world and the world in general lost one of its most incredible women with the passing of Kathy Whitworth yesterday. Kathy was a champion in the truest sense of the word, both on the golf course and off. In the short time I spent with Kathy, I was truly blown away by her and her approach to the game and to life. Her strength, insightfulness and vibrancy were obvious from the minute you met her! She inspired me as a young girl and now as the commissioner and I know she did the same for so many others. We all mourn with Bettye, her family and the entire golf world.” – LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan

(From the LPGA) By Ron Sirak

The dining room at Trophy Club Country Club near Flower Mound, Texas, gazes upon the rolling hills and old oak trees through which two courses meander, one named for the club’s most famous member, Kathy Whitworth, the other the lone design by the icon of Texas golf, Ben Hogan.

Inside the dining room the wall opposite the windows appears at first to be a shrine to the rich golf history of a state that gave the game Hogan, Byron Nelson and Babe Zaharias, among others. The glass case running nearly the length of the room overflows with the spoils of victory.

But closer inspection reveals the hardware was all earned by just one daughter of the Lone Star State —Kathy Whitworth — whose 88 LPGA victories are the most ever on a professional tour.

Whitworth, who along with Mickey Wright gave the game golf’s greatest rivalry, passed away suddenly on Saturday evening, December 24, while celebrating Christmas Eve with friends. She was 83. As LPGA Founder Louise Suggs said: “Mickey was the greatest golfer, but Kathy was the greatest winner.”

That Whitworth fashioned such a career after a rookie season in 1959 in which she had a stroke average of 80.30, won only $1,217, coming within a hairsbreadth of quitting, is testimony of the grittiness that defined her.

What started as a plan concocted around her family’s kitchen table in Jal, New Mexico, a company town tucked so far in the southeast corner of the state that it is almost in Texas, ended up being a blueprint for greatness, albeit one that needed years to pencil in all the lines.

There was reason during Whitworth’s early LPGA seasons to think she was never going to win, let alone set a record that may never be broken. If there is a lesson from Whitworth’s odyssey it is this: Do what you love, commit to it completely and learn from your mistakes.

“I was really fortunate in that I knew what I wanted to do,” Whitworth said. “Golf just grabbed me by the throat. I can’t tell you how much I loved it. I used to think everyone knew what they wanted to do when they were 15 years old.”

Whitworth’s domination crossed generations as she won at least once a record 17 consecutive years. She began against Wright, Suggs and Betsy Rawls and finished with Nancy Lopez, Betsy King and Beth Daniel. Along the way she tussled with Carol Mann, Judy Rankin and JoAnne Carner — a Hall of Fame roster against whom she established her record number of wins.

And in addition to Whitworth’s 88 victories, she was runner-up a staggering 93 times — 181 top-two finishes.

Whitworth, whose athletic features stretched over a 5-foot-9 frame, was born in Monahans, a tiny dot on the west Texas map. Her parents owned a hardware store in Jal, where she grew up as the youngest of three daughters and learned golf with her grandfather’s clubs on the nine-hole course built for employees of El Paso Natural Gas.

When Whitworth talked about golf, it was with a passion that explained what drove her. Discussing a long-ago shot — “a knock-down cut 2-iron from 160 yards into a howling wind” over water to a back right pin to beat Hollis Stacy—her eyes sparkled as if seeing the ball in flight.

“Winning never got old,” said Whitworth, who developed a love affair with golf by learning on the course rather than on a practice range.

“A lot of young players today don’t have that chance,” she said. “They can go hit balls, but they don’t have the chance to just drag the bag along and learn how to play.”

Her first teacher was Hardy Loudermilk, the pro at Jal, who was friends with Austin’s Harvey Penick. When Whitworth was 17 Loudermilk introduced her to Penick.

“Hardy and Harvey would talk on the phone,” she said, “and Harvey would tell him what I was working on and what to look for so Hardy became a surrogate, so to speak.”

Two years after taking up the game at age 15, Whitworth won the 1957 New Mexico Women’s Amateur, a success she repeated the next year.

“Mickey [Wright] and I played an exhibition with her in Roswell, N.M., and she was this teenager and green, just starting out in golf,” remembered Rawls, who also studied with Penick and won 55 LPGA events.

“We never thought we’d see her on tour because she was just so unpolished,” Rawls said. “She learned to play on tour, and she learned it very well.”

But the on-the-job training involved a lot of losing. Fortunately, her father and a couple of local businessmen subsidized Kathy with $5,000 a year for three years.

“I almost quit because I was playing so bad,” Whitworth said. “I went home after being on tour three or four months, and I thought, ‘I just don’t know if I am good enough.’ I was talking to Mom and Dad around the kitchen table, which we usually did, and they said, ‘Well, you have three years. If you don’t make it, just come home and we’ll do something else.’ When they said that it kind of took the pressure off me.’

Whitworth won her first check at the Land of the Sky Open in Asheville, N.C. “Thirty dollars,” she said. “Tied for last-place money, but you would have thought I won the tournament.”

But there were five second-place finishes and 3½ years on tour before Whitworth claimed her first victory, at the 1962 Kelly Girls Open.

“I really didn’t win it,” she said with typical self-deprecation. “Sandra Haynie three-putted the last hole and gave it to me.”

Whitworth notched six more runner-up finishes before she got her second win at the Phoenix Thunderbird Open later that year.

If a career could ever be reduced to one shot — and it is never that simple — it was the approach Whitworth hit on the final hole at Phoenix.

“I point to the second [victory] as the one that made the first one not just a fluke,” Whitworth said.

“It boiled down to Mickey and I the last nine holes, and Mickey was playing behind me,” Whitworth said. “I wasn’t sure what the spread was [because there was no leader board], but I made a decision to go at the hole. The pin was stuck behind a trap. I thought, ‘If I am going to [win], I can’t back away.’ So I whipped it in there about 15 feet and made the birdie.”

Whitworth won by four strokes.

“That gave me a lot of confidence to think that I could play knowing I was in contention,” she said. “I didn’t have to back away.”

The next year she won eight times. Seven times in her 33-year career, she won seven or more tournaments in a season. In 1981, Whitworth became the first LPGA player to pass $1 million in career earnings.

“She just had to win,” says Rawls. “A lot like Mickey Wright and Louise Suggs. There’s just something that drives them. Kathy was a very intelligent person. It was unacceptable for her to make a mistake. She hated herself when she made a mistake. She was wonderful to play with — sweet as she could be, nice to everybody — but oh, man, she berated herself something awful. And that’s what drove her.”

From her maiden victory to her last, the 1985 United Virginia Bank Classic, Whitworth was relentless. Everyone has stories about how Whitworth carried on a running dialogue with herself about how she didn’t deserve to be a professional golfer. The standards she set were unreasonable to everyone except her.

“From 100 yards in she wasn’t trying to get it close, she was trying to hole it,” said Greg Sheridan, who caddied for Whitworth late in her career.

Whitworth started in an era of 35-player fields competing for $7,500. Players traveled by car, stayed in cheap hotels or with local families and did all the bookkeeping, scheduling and promotion for the Tour themselves.

“I’m glad when I look back on it that I didn’t succeed right away,” Whitworth said. “When it happened, I was ready. I think some people win without even knowing how they won. I had lost some playoffs. I had come close a few times. You have to learn how to win. You learn by making mistakes and analyzing the round after the tournament and thinking back and saying, ‘Ah, I should have…’”

That Trophy Club display sits in silent affirmation of Whitworth’s achievements, a fitting destination for an odyssey that began around that kitchen table in Jal and was always about substance over style.

Simply, Kathy Whitworth got the ball into the hole faster than anyone else in her era – and that made her golf’s greatest winner.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Moeller: Jaguars Performance in New York was Resemblant of a Contender

 By Jeff Moeller

Thursday night’s game in the Meadowlands was billed as the showdown between the top two quarterbacks in the 2021 draft.

The Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence showed up, the Jets’ Zach Wilson didn’t. Neither did the Jets on a night of steady, driving rain. 

Still, the Jaguars looked like a team that already has clinched a postseason berth, a task they can achieve in two weeks.

Last week, I wrote about how fate can be a factor for the Jags down the stretch, and it certainly appears possible.

Jacksonville had their way with the New Yorkers most of the night until practice squad quarterback Chris Streveler provided some late spark in the second half, but the Jets couldn’t find the end zone in their 19-3 defeat.

It was so bad that Streveler was their leading rusher with 54 yards.

In a must-game situation for both teams, it only proved that both teams are currently heading in opposite directions. The Jags have their franchise quarterback, and again, the Jets don’t.

More importantly, the Jaguars may have stepped up to the next level. On the surface, a 7-8 record is a reflection of mediocrity, but they have reached the next plateau.

Their performance in New York was resemblant of a contender, as they closed out a game, they could have easily lost even in the second half.

Don’t forget it wasn’t that long ago that this team was in the midst of a 20-game losing streak that was finally broken last October in a 23-20 victory over Miami in London. Since then, the Jaguars are 9-17, but the nine remaining losses from last year can be attributed to the disarray under former head coach Urban Meyer.

The Meyer stint now seems so long ago with the Jags’ realignment and maturation under Lawrence and head coach Doug Pederson.

That’s how it apparently will be for quite some time. They are the new cornerstone foundation.

Lawrence looked like a seasoned veteran against the Jets, throwing for 229 yards and running for 51.

“For the most part, I thought he did a nice job of controlling and managing what we asked him to do,” Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said of Lawrence. “The weather was obviously a challenge with the wind and the rain, but I thought he played tough again, played physical. It was really good to see that out of our quarterback.”

The Jags are climbing high on a three-game winning streak heading toward a rematch with Houston - a game that was a pure clunker – a week from Sunday in another must-win spot, and then can win the AFC South title with a win over Tennessee at TIAA Field.

They will amass the most wins since the 2017 10-6 team that caught some laste-season momentum and ended up in the AFC Championship game. Ironically, it was the same season they last won three straight games.

Talk about fate. Tennessee plays Houston – which has been playing teams tough until the end recently – and then have a Thursday night showdown with Dallas, which will still need the game if they beat Philadelphia Saturday.

Tennessee lost starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and the Titans are reeling. But head coach Mike Vrabel is one of the better ones around, and he can find a way.

Aside from Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne has hit the 1,000-yard plateau for the season, and the receiving trio of Evan Engram, Christian Kirk, and Zay Jones all have 60-plus catches and all three easily could surpass the 1,000-yard mark in receiving this season.

The Jags’ defense - notably the secondary – has paid better in recent weeks, and they have tightened some loose spots.

Jacksonville provided a picture of a team that has all three phases of its game intact. They have shown a better sense of reliability and cohesion, as they earlier endured a five-game losing streak.

This is a different Jaguars team that can suddenly see a division title within their grasp. Winning the AFC South can justify their stance.

(Columnist Jeff Moeller covers the NFL and other sports for Florida Sports Wire and SportsDay.)

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars at NY Jets in Matchup of Playoff Hopefuls

(SportsDay Photo by Jim Brady.Florida Sports Wire)
 (From the National Football League)

Week 16 of the 2022 NFL season gets underway tonight (8:15 PM ET, Prime Video) as the Jacksonville Jaguars (6-8) visit the New York Jets (7-7) in a pivotal late-season meeting between playoff hopefuls.

Each team enters the matchup only one game out of the AFC playoff picture. The Jaguars hold the all-time regular-season series advantage, 8-7, but the Jets earned the victory in the most recent meeting, a 26-21 win in Week 16 of the 2021 season.

New York quarterback ZACH WILSON (91 rushing yards) and running back MICHAEL CARTER (118) each set career high rushing totals in rushing in that game, including a 52-yard touchdown run by Wilson.

The Jaguars enter Week 16 with back-to-back wins and sit only a game back of Tennessee for first place in the AFC South. Jacksonville is looking to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2017.

Last week, the Jaguars overcame a 17-point deficit in the third quarter to defeat Dallas, 40-34, in overtime. Quarterback TREVOR LAWRENCE led a seven-play drive with just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter to set up the game-tying 48-yard field goal by RILEY PATTERSON as time expired.

In overtime, safety RAYSHAWN JENKINS recorded the game-winning 52-yard interception-return touchdown – his second interception of the game – to mark the seventh-longest game-winning interception return for a touchdown in overtime since regular-season overtime was instituted in 1974.

Jenkins also led the team with a career-high 18 tackles, the most tackles in a game by a player with multiple interceptions since 1991.

Lawrence totaled 318 passing yards and a career-high four touchdown passes in the victory, his second consecutive game with at least 300 passing yards and three touchdown passes.

Over his past six games, the second-year quarterback has 15 touchdowns (14 passing, one rushing) against one interception with a 111.2 passer rating, the highest passer rating among qualified passers in the NFL since Week 9.

Running back TRAVIS ETIENNE led the team with 127 scrimmage yards (103 rushing, 24 receiving) last week and needs 83 rushing yards on Thursday to become the fifth player in franchise history to record 1,000 rushing yards in a season.

Wide receiver CHRISTIAN KIRK aims for his fourth in a row with at least five catches and has over 90 receiving yards in two of his past three games. He needs 34 receiving yards for his first-career 1,000-yard season.

Wide receiver ZAY JONES had six catches for 109 yards and a career-high three touchdowns in Week 15 and has a touchdown reception in each of his past two games.

Linebacker FOYESADE OLUOKUN enters Thursday with at least 14 tackles in each of his past four games and can become the first player since 2000 with at least 14 tackles in five straight games. He leads the NFL with 156 tackles this season.

The Jets enter Thursday one game back of an AFC Wild Card spot, as the franchise is aiming for its first postseason berth since 2010.

Last week, Wilson made his eighth start of the season and totaled 317 passing yards and two touchdown passes, his second-career game with at least 300 passing yards.

Running back ZONOVAN KNIGHT has at least 75 scrimmage yards in three of his four career games and is one of three undrafted rookies with over 300 scrimmage yards (321) this season. Wide receiver GARRETT WILSON totaled 98 receiving yards in Week 15, his fourth-consecutive game with at least 75 receiving yards, the longest active streak in the league.

Wilson leads all rookies with 67 catches and 966 receiving yards this season, both the most ever by a Jets rookie. Tight end C.J. UZOMAH recorded his third-career game with two touchdown receptions last week. In his last game against Jacksonville (Sept. 30, 2021, with Cincinnati), Uzomah recorded five catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns.

Defensive lineman QUINNEN WILLIAMS leads the team with 11 sacks this season and is the first Jet with at least 11 sacks in a season since 2015 (MUHAMMAD WILKERSON).

Linebacker QUINCY WILLIAMS aims for his sixth in a row at home with a tackle for loss. Linebacker C.J. MOSLEY is one of 10 players in the NFL with at least five tackles in 14 games this season.

In the teams’ 2021 meeting, Mosley recorded 10 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Rookie cornerback SAUCE GARDNER leads the NFL with 16 passes defensed in 2022, while cornerback D.J. REED tied a career high with three passes defensed last week.

Prime Video will stream 15 Thursday Night Football games this season (Weeks 2-17, excluding Thanksgiving). The game will feature Al Michaels, Kirk Herbstreit and Kaylee Hartung on the call.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Moeller: Jacksonville Jaguars Shock Dallas Cowboys with Comeback, OT Pick in Win

(SportsDay Photo by Jim Brady/Florida Sports Wire)
By Jeff Moeller

JACKSONVILLE (Florida Sports Wire) -The thump around Jacksonville came around 4:20 p.m. Sunday afternoon. A few minutes later, “Sweet Home Alabama” rang loudly through TIAA Bank Field.

This could be fate. Better yet, call it about mettle and character. The days about wondering if they will get the top pick in next year’s draft are officially over. Welcome, Jaguars’ fans, to the beginning of the next chapter.

Down 27-10, the Jaguars seemed destined to lose to the 10-3 Dallas Cowboys as a team that is still not there against a team that is there. This was supposed to be the game for the Cowboys to clinch a playoff berth and let them concentrate on their first-place showdown with Philadelphia Christmas eve.

Yet, we got another glimpse of what could be.

Rayshawn Jenkins’ 51-yard pick six gave the Jaguars a 40-34 overtime win over the Cowboys and sent the more than 60,000 into a state of pandemonium. Jenkins earlier had an interception in the third quarter that stopped a potential scoring drive.

If you’re a Jaguars’ fan, you have to believe.

Down 27-10, the Jaguars showed the mettle and character that most thought head coach Doug Pederson would bring to this team.

They battled back to 11 second left in regulation when kicker Riley Patterson booted a 48-yard field goal to send it into overtime. The Jags overcame two booth reviews during the final stretch.

Mettle and character.

Not long before Patterson’s field goal, it again looked doomed. Trevor Lawrence, who threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns, coughed up the fumble after he was hit trying to get a first down on his own running upfield after he escaped a sack.

That play deflated the crowd and the magic was apparently gone.

But the Jaguars’ defense held Dallas and forced them to punt. The Jaguars got the ball back with 1:01 left and worked their way down the field for Patterson’s field goal.

Lawrence earlier tossed a perfect lead pass downfield to a wide-open Zay Jones for a 59-yard scoring play, and he later connected with Marvin Jones on a 10-yarder in the back of the end zone that brought them to within 27-24.

Lawrence also endured a costly interception that led to a Cowboys field goal and apparently helped seal a victory.

Mettle and character.

This also was a Jaguars’ defense that allowed Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to combine for 91 yards in the opening quarter, but they allotted Dallas 63 yards on the ground the rest of the way.

It was a statement victory in the Lawrence/ Pederson era, and suddenly there is plenty of chatter about the Jags being back in the hunt for the AFC South title. They needed help from the Chargers late Sunday afternoon.

Jacksonville will now head to New York for a quick Thursday night turnaround against a Jets team that has its playoff chances hanging like a low bulb on a Christmas tree with a bad home loss to the Lions.

The Jags likely have to run the table against the Jets, Houston in Houston, and then have a showdown against Tennessee in their home and season finale for a postseason bid.

Whatever happens, it will be an interesting and meaningful final three weeks of the season, a situation that has avoided Jacksonville for quite some time. It isn’t about figuring out the order of the Jags’ high draft pick next season.

It was a magic Sunday afternoon at TIAA field that easily could have been a glimpse of the future Lawrence/Pederson era.

Call it fate. Call it mettle. Call it character. With this win, the Jags may have finally turned the corner onto another road.

We’ll find out if their course has changed in a few days.

Brady’s Bunch: Jaguars Defeat Cowboys Sunday in Dramatic Fashion

 (SportsDay Photo Gallery by Jim Brady/Florida Sports Wire)

Saturday, December 17, 2022

ECHL: Jacksonville Icemen Win Fifth Straight with 4-2 Win at Tulsa

By Jake Wheeler 

Florida Sports Wire

TULSA, OK -- Parker Gahagen made 34 saves to pick up the win while Jacob Hamacher picked up his first career professional goal as the Jacksonville Icemen defeated the Tulsa Oilers 4-2 at the BOK Center Friday night.  

The Icemen extended their win streak to five games.   

The Icemen got off to a fantastic start in this contest as just 35 seconds into the game, Jacob Hamacher scored on a sharp angle shot on the goal line to pick up his first career professional goal.  

Following the goal, the Oilers found their legs and started to get some scoring chances of their own. Jacksonville’s Parker Gahagen came up big with a few keys stops, including one where Tulsa generated a 2-0 breakaway.  

Moments later, the Icemen’s Jacob Friend added another tally off of a slick dangle and shot from the slot. Late in the opening period, Tulsa went to the powerplay and made Jacksonville pay as Soper scored on a one-timer to cut their deficit to one goal at the end of one period of play.   

Halfway through the middle frame, the Icemen added another goal as Luke Lynch redirected a Jacob Panetta point shot to regain the two-goal lead.  

Moments later, Tulsa would head back to the powerplay, and Justin Bean scored on another one-timer to bring his squad back to one goal by a 3-2 mark.  

Late in the second period, Jacksonville added another one as Christopher Brown when he redirected a Luke Martin shot to scored get some momentum back. After 40 minutes of play, the Icemen led 4-2 while being outshot 28-14. 

The Icemen got off to a better start in the third period as they wanted to close out game one of the two-game set in Tulsa.  

The third featured a lot of back-and-forth play, as each team had offensive zone pressure and some chances with the Oilers picking up the pace late in the game. 

Each team traded powerplay opportunities with neither team being able to capitalize with the man advantage. The Oilers pulled their goaltender with one minute left to get the extra attacker out, but they could not generate much with the added skater.  

The Icemen went on to win 4-2, for the fifth consecutive victory. 

Thursday, December 15, 2022

ECHL: High-Scoring Forward Craig Martin Returns to Jacksonville Icemen

 JACKSONVILLE (Florida Sports Wire)  The Jacksonville Icemen, ECHL affiliate of the NHL’s New York Rangers and the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack announced today that the team has agreed to terms with forward Craig Martin. 

Martin’s return marks the fourth consecutive season he will be a member of the Icemen, where he is tied for third All-Time in points (91) and goals (39) in Icemen club history.  

Martin was acquired by the Icemen from Adirondack during the 2019-20 season.
Martin, 27, returns to Jacksonville after leading the Icemen in scoring last season with 60 points and a career high 29 goals.  

Martin’s 60 points tied a team record for most points in a single season, originally held by former Icemen forward Wacey Rabbit. Martin began this season overseas with Slovakia’s Presov HC. 

The 6-1, 182-pound forward totaled 75 points (27g, 48a) in 134 games during his four collegiate seasons at Quinnipiac University from 2015-2019.  The Trail, BC resident Martin was acquired by the Icemen from Adirondack on Nov. 26, 2019.

The Icemen begin a two-game set at Tulsa on Friday. 

Monday, December 12, 2022

NFL: Tennesse Titans Drop Third Straight – a 36-22 Loss to Jacksonville Jaguars

Jim Wyatt, Senior Writer/Editor


NASHVILLE – The Titans lost their third straight game on Sunday – this one a sloppy, 36-22 loss to the Jaguars.

Titans running back Derrick Henry ran for 121 yards in the contest.

But on this day, the Titans didn't do much else right.

The Titans turned the ball over four times in the game, including three times in the first half, which led to 17 points.

"Nothing was good enough today," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "Yeah, we're frustrated. It sucks to lose."

The Jaguars scored 29 straight points at one point in the contest before a Tennessee touchdown in the fourth quarter.

But by then, it was too little, too late.

While the Jaguars were harassing Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was sacked four times, the Titans defense couldn't get to Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who wasn't sacked while throwing for 368 yards and three touchdowns.

After starting the season 7-3, the Titans dropped to 7-6 with the loss.

"It is frustrating," Titans defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons said. "I hate losing. So, we have to find a way to win a game. The key word is accountability – we have to hold each other to a higher standard. When you walk into the building, the body language, the demeanor, everything, it matters.

"We have to be better as a whole, as a team."

Things looked good early at Nissan Stadium.

Henry scored on a three-yard touchdown on the opening drive, giving the team an early 7-0 lead. The run capped a 10-play, 76-yard drive, and it featured first down completions to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Robert Woods and Chig Okonkwo.

The Titans then forced a three-and-out on Jacksonville's opening drive.

But a fumble by Tannehill, as he was being sacked, gave the Jaguars the ball at the Tennessee 20-yard line. Three plays later, Lawrence connected with tight end Evan Engram on a 12-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-7 with 6:01 left in the first quarter.

It was a sign of things to come.

The Titans reclaimed the lead 14-7 on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to Okonkwo, which capped a six-play, 75-yard drive.

Then, the Titans turned it over again, this time on a Tannehill interception, and the Jaguars cashed it in for three more points to make it 14-10 with 8:52 left in the second quarter. A second field goal by Jaguars kicker Riley Patterson made it 14-13 with 3:10 left in the first quarter.

A Henry fumble gave the ball back to the Jaguars, and they cashed it in for another touchdown – a 20-yard strike from Lawrence to Zay Jones with 11 seconds left – to take a 20-14 lead at halftime.

The Jaguars extended their lead to 27-14 after taking their opening possession of the second half and driving straight down the field for a touchdown, scoring on a one-yard run by Lawrence.

After a 21-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence to tight end Evan Engram, it was 33-14 Jaguars over the Titans with 3:07 left.

The Titans' fourth turnover of the game – a direct snap to Henry, who couldn't handle it – led to another Jacksonville field goal and made it 36-14 with 10:52 left.

A two-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine – and then a two-point conversion pass from Tannehill to Okonkwo -- with 7:15 left made it 36-22.

"I think we are trending in the wrong direction," safety Kevin Byard said. "But at the end of the day, I am not going to sit here and pout around. I am just going to go in the building tomorrow, watch the film. It is all about how we respond at this point – pouting and pointing fingers is not going to do anything. We still have four games left, and we have to find a way to start winning ball games.

ReliaQuest Bowl: Illini, Bulldogs Looking to Put Exclamation Point on Their Season

By Joey Johnston

When the college football season began, practically no one expected the Illinois Fighting Illini and Mississippi State Bulldogs to be surrounded by beaches, palm trees, world-class attractions and the Tampa Bay area's inviting destination for a New Year's weekend bowl game.

Let's roll the preseason predictions:

Illinois: Picked sixth among seven teams in the Big Ten Conference's West Division.

Mississippi State: Picked sixth among seven teams in the Southeastern Conference's West Division.

Needless to say, the coaches, players and fans from Illinois and Mississippi State aren't just happy to be invited to the Jan. 2 ReliaQuest Bowl at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium. They are thrilled. And after remarkably productive seasons that have stamped the Illini (8-4) and Bulldogs (8-4) as surprise contenders, they are determined to erase the last question marks with a resounding exclamation point.

"For this season, it's more of a leap start for the future,'' said second-year Illinois coach Bret Bielema, whose team finished one victory away from winning its division and participating in the Big Ten Championship Game. "To be part of the ReliaQuest Bowl and the City of Tampa will be very big for us.

"People across the country who can't go to Tampa can have a watch party and breathe this culture we've created. Specifically for us as a football team to play an SEC team on January 2, it's a big deal and it has so many positives. We recruit heavily in Florida so it will be a big deal for those families to drive down and watch their sons play.''

Illinois, which has 18 players from Florida (tops in the Big Ten), was ranked in the Associated Press top 25 for five consecutive weeks and also appeared in the College Football Playoff rankings for the first time in program history. It's the first Illinois bowl appearance since 2019 and only the third in the past decade.

The Illinois offense was paced by junior running back Chase Brown (Bradenton St. Stephen's), the nation's second-leading ground-gainer (1,643 yards), who needs just 58 yards to break the Illinois single-season rushing mark (1,697 by Mikel Leshoure in 2010). He rushed for 100 yards or more in 10 consecutive games before falling just short against Purdue (98 yards). Brown is a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, presented to the nation's top running back.

Meanwhile, the Illini passing game has been bolstered by the addition of quarterback Tommy DeVito, a Syracuse transfer whose 70-percent completion rate is ranked third nationally.

During the regular season, Illinois (featuring seven starters from Florida) ranked in the top 10 nationally in 17 different defensive categories, including leading the nation in interceptions (22), ranking second in scoring defense (12.3 points allowed per game), and third in total defense (263.8 yards allowed per game). Illinois junior cornerback Devon Witherspoon is a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, presented to the nation's top defensive back.

Mississippi State is no stranger to postseason appearances, having qualified for its 13th consecutive bowl game (one of only seven programs to play in bowl games each season since 2010). Included in that lineup was a 2019 appearance in Tampa (a 27-22 defeat against Iowa).

Under third-year Coach Mike Leach, the Bulldogs have developed a giant-killing reputation, having defeated seven AP-ranked opponents (all coming when the Bulldogs were unranked), the most recent of which occurred on Thanksgiving night, when Mississippi State upended the Ole Miss Rebels 24-22 in the Egg Bowl rivalry game.

"We are excited to play in the ReliaQuest Bowl against a quality, well-coached Illinois team,'' Leach said. "We look forward to continuing competing, improving and building on the positive momentum surrounding our program. Our players and coaches are excited for the practices and preparation ahead.''

The Bulldogs finished the regular season as one of the SEC's top passing offenses, while ranking in the league's top five in 11 different categories, including interceptions and kickoff return average. The Bulldogs are top 10 nationally in kickoff return average, completion percentage and defensive touchdowns.

Mississippi State sophomore quarterback Will Rogers, who never met a pass pattern he didn't like, is the SEC leader in passing yards (3,713), touchdown passes (34) and points responsible for (204). He has set the program record for touchdown passes (81) and passing yards (10,428), surpassing the numbers of Bulldog legend Dak Prescott, now with the NFL's Dallas Cowboys. Rogers was named among the 11 finalists for the Manning Award.

One of Rogers' favorite targets is senior wide receiver Austin Williams (32 catches), who was named the SEC Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Williams has a 4.0 cumulative grade-point average and is currently working on his third college degree.

Defensively, Mississippi State has a standout performer in sophomore cornerback Emmanuel Forbes, who was selected first-team All-SEC by Pro Football Focus. Forbes already has decided for forego his final season of eligibility for the NFL draft.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

NHL: Lightning Score Three in Third to Tame Panthers

 By Mike Bonts

TAMPA - The Tampa Bay Lightning (17-9-1) scored three goals in the third period as they earned their 10th win in their last 13 games with a 4-1 win against the Florida Panthers (13-11-4) Saturday at AMALIE Arena.

"I didn't think we moved the puck, managed the puck or moved our feet particularly well tonight," Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said. "We were trying to play a game slower than the game demanded itself to be played. We've got to find a way to get fast on a back-to-back."

Pat Maroon opened the scoring and notched his first goal of the season at 8:40 of the first period.

Zac Dalpe tied the game at 1-1 for the Panthers with a goal at 6:02 of the second period. Assists went to Josh Mahura and Eric Staal.

Brayden Point gave the Bolts a 2-1 lead at 3:03 of the third, sneaking a shot underneath the arm of Panthers goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky. The goal was Point’s 14th of the season.

Mikhail Sergachev scored his fifth goal of the season to extend the Bolts’ lead to 3-1 at 7:22 of the third period.

Sergachev’s 25 points (5-20—25) lead all Lightning defensemen this season and rank 4th among all Lightning skaters.

Steven Stamkos scored his team-leading 15th goal of the season and extended his point streak to 13 games. The goal came at 16:45 of the third period and gave the Lightning a 4-1 lead.

Andrei Vasilevskiy recorded his 11th win of the season and earned his 4th consecutive win against their down state rivals. Bobrovsky finished with 34 saves.

Moeller: Jaguars Face Titans on th Road in AFC South Showdown

By Jeff Moeller

This last one was a head scratcher. There have been a couple of those this season, especially with the Jaguars’ defense.

Here was a Jaguars’ defense in Detroit last weekend that didn’t look anything like they did at home against Baltimore the previous week.

Against the Ravens, the Jags’ defense was able to keep Lamar Jackson in check enough for them to pull out a last-second statement victory.

Once again, the pendulum swung upward toward the anticipation most Jaguars’ fans and even brass believed where it should be. A win in Detroit against a seemingly evenly matched team could ignite a possibly late-season surge.

However, once again, those hopes were dashed. Another opportunity that was wasted.

The Jags will be in Tennessee Sunday against a team that is struggling to find its consistency presumably at the right time to capture the AFC South title. Tennessee is 7-5 and coming off a 35-10 thumping from the Eagles last week and a tight 20-16 loss to the Bengals the previous week. Yet, the Titans are in a comfortable spot with a three-game edge over the 4-8 Jaguars and Colts.

So, here we go again with another opportunity for Jacksonville in the making.

Yes, the Titans have Derrick Henry, probably the game’s most prolific runner with his 1,078 yards with 10 touchdowns. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has lived up to his reputation as an average quarterback with his 11 touchdowns and four interceptions.

The Titans’ offense is ranked 29th overall, 15th rushing and 30th passing. These aren’t dominating numbers.

In turn, the Jags’ offense is 12th overall, ninth rushing and 15th passing. Trevor Lawrence has thrown for 2,834 yards with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions. Travis Etienne has 728 yards with four touchdowns and will get better.

The line here is 3 ½, but will it be a tight game like it was expected in Detroit last week?

This will depend on the Jags’ defense, primarily their pass defense that is rated 29th.

It truly has been their Achilles’ heel in recent weeks, noted by the 684 yards through the air the past two weeks.

New defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell was seen as a savior in the opening weeks of the season, but his stock has begun to drop. The Jags lost safety Andre Cisco and rookie linebacker Devin Lloyd was demoted. Questions have surrounded top pick Travon Walker on whether he has begun to reach his potential.

Despite the struggles, Caldwell sees the big picture.

“In Detroit, it’s one of those performances where it felt like it wasn’t us,” said Caldwell. “I think the talent is here. We’re happy with the players here. We just have to get them to understandWe that when you do it the right way, you just have to do it the right way over and over again.

“You’ll see time when we’re right on point, and then other times we’re not. We’ve got to get those guys playing the way they need to play over and over and over.”

In Tennessee Sunday, it would be the best place to start again.

(Columnist Jeff Moeller covers the NFL and other sports for SportsDay)

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

ECHL: Jacksonville Icemen Tame Utah Grizzlies, 5-2; Lodermeier Named POW

By Mike Bonts

JACKSONVILLE (Florida Sports Wire) – The Jacksonville Icemen (10-9) opened a three-game series against the Utah Grizzlies (9-10) Wednesday night before 5,125 at Veterans Memorial Arena with a 5-2 win.

Neil Robinson cut into a two-goal Jacksonville lead just 22 seconds into the final period.

But Travis Howe increased the Icemen’s advantage with his first goal of the year midway through the third. Then made it 5-2 on a shot into an empty net.

The Icemen scored twice in the decisive second period. Luke Martin and Zach Jordan lit the lamp. Jordan made it 3-0 on a shorthanded goal.

Utah averted a shutout on Tyler Penner’s fourth goal of the season on a power play in the final minute of the second period.

Icemen defenseman Hunter Skinner scored his second goal of the season on a power play to open the scoring. Derek Lodermeier picked up two assists in the victory.

Parker Gahagen stopped 27 shots for the Icemen. Trent Miner made 33 saves for the visitors.

The clubs meet again in Jacksonville Friday night at 7 p.m.

ICEMEN NOTES: Forward Derek Lodermeier has been named the Inglasco ECHL Player of the Week. Lodermeier scored four goals and added two assists for six points in three games last week. Lodermeier has 14 points (7g-7a) in 19 games with the Icemen this season. Lodermeier has recorded 65 points (37g-28a) in 151 career games with Jacksonville…. defenseman Jacob Friend was back in the Icemen lineup after a call-up to Manitoba last week…. the Icemen has won two in a row.

AROUND THE LEAGUE: Good week for ECHL Southern Division clubs. The South Carolina Stingrays goaltender, Clay Stevenson, was selected as the Warrior Hockey ECHL Goaltender of the Week. Stevenson posted a perfect 2-0 record with one shutout, a 0.50 goals-against average, and a save percentage of 0.984 in two appearances against the Savannah Ghost Pirates last week. This is Stevenson’s first time receiving the league’s weekly honor. Cam Johnson, Florida (2-0-0, 0.50 GAA, .973 save pct.) was a runner-up.

(Mike Bonts covers hockey for SportsDay and the Florida Sports Wire.)

Monday, December 5, 2022

NFL: Lions Race Out to Double Digit Lead in 40-14 Drubbing of Jaguars

Tim Twentyman

Senior Writer, Detroit Lions

When asked this week about facing the Jacksonville Jaguars at Ford Field on Sunday, Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell said he thought the two teams were mirror images of one another. 

Both teams are young, building a culture under new coaching staffs, had 11 one-score losses on the year between them, and came in with identical 4-7 records.

But on this day, Detroit was clearly the more dominant football team.

The Lions raced out to a double-digit lead early and were on cruise control from there for a 40-14 win at home for their fourth victory in the last five contests. They improve to 5-7 on the season.

Detroit's offense scored on their first eight possessions of the game (TD, TD, FG, FG, FG, TD, FG, TD). The only possession they didn't score on was the final one with a couple kneel downs to end the game. 

Detroit racked up 31 first downs and had 437 total yards of offense. Detroit scored 30-plus points for the sixth time this season, just one off the franchise record set in 2011.

Detroit's defense played pretty darn well too, holding Jacksonville to 266 total yards, which is well below their season average per game (359.5).

Detroit jumped out to a 14-3 lead at the end of the first quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Jamaal Williams and a 10-yard pass from quarterback Jared Goff to wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. Williams' touchdown was his 14th of the season, two shy of Barry Sanders' franchise record of 16 in a single season.

Three Michael Badgley field goals in the second quarter (45, 42, 38) extended the Lions' lead to 23-6 at halftime.

Detroit took the opening possession of the second half 61 yards in 10 plays capped off by a D’Andre Swift 1-yard touchdown run to increase the lead to 30-6.

Jacksonville trimmed the lead to 30-14 with a 3-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trevor Lawrence to tight end Evan Engram and a two-point conversion run by Jamal Agnew.

Badgley's fourth field goal on the day, this one from 44 yards early in the fourth quarter, extended the Lions' lead to 33-14.

Detroit punctuated the blowout win with a 4-yard pass from Goff to St. Brown with less than three minutes remaining.

Goff was extremely efficient in this one, completing 31-of-41 passes for 340 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 115.9 passer rating. Goff has produced his third 300-yard game of the season and threw a touchdown pass in his 11th straight game at Ford Field.

Lawrence completed 17 of his 31 passes with one touchdown and no interceptions for an 82.6 rating. He also chipped in 32 rushing yards before being pulled late with the game out of hand.

The Lions won the coin toss to begin the game and elected to defer so they could get the second half kick. It turned out to be a great decision. Jacksonville turned the ball over on their first possession of the game on a Travis Etienne fumble caused by safety DeShon Elliott and recovered by linebacker Alex Anzalone. The Lions capitalized with the Williams touchdown.

Detroit was then able to put together an 11-play drive right before the end of the first half capped off by a Badgley 38-yard field goal. They received the second-half kick and scored with the Swift touchdown. That was 10 points on back-to-back possessions to help give the Lions a big third-quarter cushion.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Moeller: Jaguars Looking for Some Motor City Magic

 By Jeff Moeller

Last week’ s last-second, 28-27 win over Baltimore certainly as a statement win for Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars.

Lawrence was brilliant with his overall play throughout, reaching his crescendo on the final game-winning drive and subsequent two-point conversion to cap a 321-yard, three touchdown and no turnovers game in which he completed 29 of 37. His biggest previous win likely was- against Miami in London last year, or even the blowout 38-10 win in San Diego in Week Three.

But in this case, Lawrence and his team finished. It wasn’t just Lawrence, who had time to find his receivers, but it also was the Jags’ defense, which kept Lamar Jackson out of the end zone when needed.

They closed the door when they had to do it, and they didn’t leave it hanging. This can be the character-type win they have been anticipating.

Last week was about staying close enough to have the chance to win. This week, it is a must win to take the first step to begin a new identity. They aren’t just a pushover anymore.

These 4-7 Jaguars likely won’t be heading to the postseason, They have two games left with Tennessee and one in Houston to help change that narrative. Their first unanticipated home loss to Houston is the one that really stings now.

The Jaguars head to Detroit to face a 4-7 Lions team that basically is a mirror image of themselves. They have played well over the last month, and found their own ways to cross the threshold to the next level.

“Our whole focus has to be on the team that’s coming in here on Sunday, because they are very much a mirror image of us,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “They are starting over a little bit with a new coach, and they are hungry with a ton of talent coming off their best win of the season.”

Campbell is right.

Both teams have hit the reset button, and the tape now looks pretty interesting and convincing.

When they won consecutive games ending with the Chargers’ win a few months ago, the Jags lost a close game in the rain In Philadelphia, one they could have easily won.

That was the beginning of a five-game skid in which they lost those by a combined 32 points.
That was about being close.

This week is about winning another statement game in its own way.

It will have to be about Lawrence with running back Travis Etienne listed as questionable with a nagging foot injury that set him to the sidelines early last week. JaMycal Hasty showed some flash last week running the ball, and his contributions should increase.

Lawrence will face a Detroit defense that has given up a league -worst 28.2 points per game. Contrarily, the Lions have the eight-best offense and have scored 30 or more points in five games.

The Lions do have No. 2 overall pick edge rusher Adrian Hutchinson, who has 5.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits as opposed to the Jags’ No.1 overall pick edge rusher Travon Walker, who has 2.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits. There will be an angle on them.

Suddenly, Sunday becomes another chance for a statement game. This is one that a 4-7 team should beat another 4-7 team even if the latter one is at home. It is the perfect opportunity for the Jags to take the next step to the next level.

And it shouldn’t be about just being close.