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TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Portland Steel coach Ron James and the team are headed to Jacksonville for a Saturday game against the Sharks.The good news for the Portland Steel is they won’t have their fifth starting quarterback of the season when they play Game 7 Saturday night at the Jacksonville Sharks.


Actually, there is more good news for the Steel, even though they are 0-6 and battling assorted injuries.

The main thing is the Steel showed some life in Monday’s 55-48 overtime loss at the Cleveland Gladiators. Not that coach Ron James or the players are satisfied with the result.

“We’re disappointed we lost. We should have won it in regulation,” James says. “But we had a chance to win, and that’s what you work for every week.”

The Steel-Sharks game is 4 p.m. Saturday at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, and it will be Game 2 for Portland quarterback Shane Austin.

A fourth-year Arena Football League pro, Austin injected some life into the struggling Steel offense on Monday. He got off to an amazingly good start, considering he had only a couple of practices with the team. Austin connected on his first nine throws. He also rallied Portland from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

“Shane looked sharp,” James says. “I was confident he could give us a lift, and he did.”

It wasn’t a perfect game, by any means, though, as along with his six touchdown passes Austin had four interceptions. One was returned for a touchdown and the last one was picked off in the end zone in overtime to seal the win for Cleveland.

But Austin, a former University of Hawaii run-and-shoot QB who was in Portland’s training camp for a while before going to try out for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, made enough plays to help the Steel come within two points of its single-game high this season.

With other signal-callers (Danny Southwick, Kasey Peters, Darron Thomas), the Steel had games with just 28, 31, 21 and 27 points — very low outputs in the AFL.

“Last week, it started to look more like an arena game — offenses are supposed to score 50 points or more, and it’s supposed to be more like possession for possession and go right down to the wire,” James says.

Austin completed 36 of 56 passes for 363 yards.

"He gives us a leadership factor and the experience at the position we haven't had this season," James says.

Thomas, the former Oregon Ducks star who got one start this season in his return from knee surgery, remains No. 2 on the depth chart as the only other QB on the Steel roster.

"We have an outstanding backup who can learn from a veteran guy," James says.

At Cleveland, Portland set its AFL game highs for total offense (401 yards), total plays (64) and first downs (31).

James says he would give the Steel offense a grade of C-plus or B for its performance at Cleveland.

“The defense was a tale of two halves,” he says. “The first half was probably a D, but the second half was a B-plus, with two turnovers and holding Cleveland scoreless in the fourth quarter.”

The offense was impressive also considering injuries that all but decimated Portland’s receiving corps and forced a couple of defensive backs to see significant moments at wide receiver.

One of the receivers who got banged up during the game, Tom Gilson, managed to come back onto the field and finish with a career-high 16 catches (for 160 yards and two touchdowns).

James says the Steel are “hopeful” that Gilson and receiver Tyrone Goard (career-best 14 catchers for 136 yards and three TDs, including the game-tying catch on the final play of regulation) will go against Jacksonville.

And receiver Jabin Sambrano is likely to return from injury. The 5-11 Sambrano, a former Montana Grizzlies player, has 13 receptions and two touchdowns in two Steel games this season. “He gives us some speed,” James says.

Another receiver, Jared Perry, is “doubtful,” with an injury but is a “gritty performer,” James says.

The Steel won’t have starting defensive back and kickoff returner Terrence Mitchell, who suffered a concussion against the Gladiators. He joins a fairly extensive list of players who have missed time already this season.

“We’re patching the boat again,” James says, “but we’re going to be fine.”

Jacksonville has been waiting for Portland. The Sharks (2-4) had a bye last week. Their last game also was against Cleveland, and it was the opposite of the Steel-Gladiators game — Jacksonville had a 19-point lead in the second half, with QB Tommy Grady on the way to a five-touchdown day, but penalties, mistakes and three consecutive scoreless possessions helped Cleveland rally for the win.

Jacksonville is 0-2 at home this year, but the Steel have lost 19 in a row on the road, dating to May 3, 2014, a win at Tampa Bay.

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