JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Back-to-back National Arena League titles were within Carolina's grasp on Saturday night.
The Cobras had the ball and an 11-point lead with little more than a minute left.
But a pick-six followed by a successful onside kick were part of a formula that left Carolina 4 yards short of a championship.
Jacksonville staged a tremendous rally in the final minute, while the Cobras came up short on the 4-yard line on their final offensive play, enabling the Sharks to claim their second title in three seasons with a 52-48 victory at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
The defeat denies Carolina consecutive titles and is a fitting finish for Jacksonville, which lost its first game of the season and then won 15 in a row.
Carolina quarterback Charles McCullum had been brilliant with six touchdown passes split between Jordan Jolly and Von Pearson, as well as a score on a keeper.
But on third down, Aaron Bellazin, a linebacker, read the play, picked off the pass and rumbled 6 yards for the score. A two-point conversion cut Carolina's lead to 48-45.
Jacksonville recovered the onside kick with a minute remaining. Five plays later, Durron Neal hauled in a 4-yard scoring pass from Mike Fafual to give the Sharks the lead with seven seconds left.
Two plays later, Carolina's Kyrin Priester was hauled down after a catch 4 yards from the end zone.
Carolina lost a 14-0 first-half lead during a barrage of penalties, sacks and assorted gaffes. Chris Gilchrist returned a blocked kick attempt to even the score for the Sharks and followed with a fumble return for a touchdown on Carolina's next posession for a 23-14 Sharks lead.
Cedric Poole picked off two passes for the Cobras. One pick and long return in the closing minute of the first half allowed Carolina to reclaim the lead at 28-23 after a keeper by McCullum.
The other, on the opening play of the second half, gave the Cobras good field position and led to a McCullum to Pearson touchdown pass for a 36-23 advantage.