The 2018 Season for the National Arena League began tonight April 7th, and crowds packed the arenas in Massachusetts and Greensboro.
Jacksonville Sharks @ Carolina Cobras
The Defending 2017 NAL Champions, the Jacksonville Sharks, traveled to Greensboro, NC to face the Carolina Cobras in the Cobras first game in franchise history. The Carolina Cobras play their home games at the Greensboro Coliseum, and fans showed up tonight as a great turnout of 5,135 people showed up to watch a great exciting match-up. For most of the game, the Cobras and Sharks went back and forth and the lead kept shifting, it wasn't till the end where the Sharks gained momentum and took the lead with 13:39 left in the game when FB Derrick Ross scored on a rushing touchdown to make it 38-32. The Sharks then looked for a 2 point conversion, but a pass from QB Patrick McCain to WR Chris Cilchrist was intercepted by DB Antwan Hadley for Carolina, On the kickoff, Kicker Nick Belcher nailed a deuce to extend the Sharks lead to 41-32. The deuce played a big part in some parts of the game as Cobras kicker and former CFL player Craig Peterson made 2 deuces during the game total. The Cobras venue is probably one of the best in the league for kicking deuces because of its high ceilings unlike other venues through-out the league. When the Cobras took over the ball after Belcher's deuce, QB Charles McCullum looked deep down the field for WR Phillip Barnett but his pass was intercepted by LB Charles Hunt for the Sharks. Later on as the Cobras regained possession, McCullum threw a touchdown pass from the 10 yard line to Barnett for a Cobras touchdown and the Cobras narrowed the Sharks lead to 41-38. On a two point conversion, McCullum overthrew Barnett and they failed on the conversion for 2 points. The Cobras and Kicker Craig Peterson attempted an onside kick with 1:04 remaining in the 4th Quarter and many fans thought they had recovered their onside kick. However, after video review the officials ruled that the Sharks had taken possession because the ball didn't go 10 yards. From there on, the Sharks ran down the clock and defeated the Carolina Cobras 41-38.
The Carolina Cobras showed their strength in tonight's game even though they fell short. The dynamic group from the former Wichita Falls IFL team of Coach Billy Back, McCullum, Barnett, Jones, and Laughinghouse were key factors to the successful moments for the Cobras. Barnett ended up with a total of 4 Touchdowns! Once WR Jordan Jolly returns for Carolina, the team will become even more stacked than they already are with wide outs. It is evident Carolina will rely on their passing game above all things, as they only ran the ball a few times in the First Quarter with Lineman Jordan Mosley.
As for the Jacksonville Sharks, it seemed like a different version of the Sharks that many people are not used to. Without the leadership of Grady, it took a little while for Patrick McCain and his offense to get going as the team relied on Derrick Ross for his dynamic running game. In the end, the Sharks came out on top and McCain didn't have a bad game throwing the ball at all. The defending champs have started off 1-0 with a great hard fought match-up between Carolina.
Maine Mammoths @ Massachusetts Pirates
Two Expansion Franchises for the 2018 NAL Season faced off in the first ever game for both franchises and it is what could be called a rivalry match-up between the two teams from the Northeast US. The Maine Mammoths from Portland traveled about 2 Hours down to the DCU Center in Worcester to face-off against the Massachusetts Pirates. The Pirates took the field in front of a huge crowd in the 12,239 seat venue. An official attendance number has not yet been announced but sources have reported that is was near if not a sellout of 12k in attendance in attendance. Fans witnessed the Pirates destroy the Maine Mammoths 51-24 on some brand new and very unique Teal and Purple Turf. Former AFL Veteran Quarterback Sean Brackett made his NAL and Pirates debut in a very great fashion. Brackett had a spectacular game passing the ball and had multiple touchdown passes in tonight's game to former Monterrey Steel WR and Arena Football Veteran London Crawford and a few others. Dashawn Johnson assumed the role of a fullback for the Pirates and had two touchdowns on the night. His size and explosiveness has a similar look to Derrick Ross. Johnson has proven himself as an impact player in Arena football, playing for the Cleveland Gladiators in 2014 and 2017, as well as the Los Angeles Kiss in 2015. Johnson most recently dominated the IFL with the Iowa Barnstormers reaching the league Conference Championship in 2017. As for the Defensive Side of things for the Pirates the stacked defense of NFL and arena football experienced players made its name known allowing a very good quarterback and receiver duo of Bane and Wilson to a minimum of only 24 points. Mammoths WR Wilson left the game after Three Periods of play with an injury, and there has been no update on his status. Defensive Back for the Pirates Kiante Northington ended up having two interceptions on the night. Northington starred at Division 1-FCS Eastern Kentucky University appearing in 46 games totaling 207 tackles and 6 INT’s over his career.
The Pirates proved tonight that they are stacked on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Sean Brackett was looked at as an overrated Quarterback coming into the game by the looks of his past AFL stats, but Brackett showed off his arm tonight. Brackett has great options of who to throw the ball two, as the team has very experienced WR's such as London Crawford, Lamont Bryant, and Ja-Mes Logan. Also, FB Dashawn Johnson showed off his power and explosiveness as he scored twice. The Pirates defense also succeeded in stopping Maine's QB Bane and WR Wilson.
Will the Maine Mammoths struggle next week versus Carolina? With the Mammoths defense allowing 51 points to the Pirates and the offense failing to succeed, it doesn't look too promising next week for Maine as they will face a very good Cobras team.
What about Columbus Lions and the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks?
For all fans wondering, where was the Lions and Steelhawks? Do not worry, the Lions and Steelhawks will kickoff their season next Saturday as they will face each other in The Jungle in Columbus, GA. Many fans have underestimated both teams this off-season as there has been many changes and signings going on. The Steelhawks lost NAL MVP QB Warren Smith Jr. and now rookie Caleb Walton will have to step up for the team. On the other hand, Mason Espinoza and Jeremy Johnson will dual it out for Columbus' starting quarterback start.