“If we get through tonight, we’ll be on our way” Columbus Lions co-owner, Skip Seda told me just before kick off. “Pirates are a good team.” Seda was not shy about giving credit to the Massachusetts Pirates ownership and coaching staff for putting together a great team. And how right he was!
In a stunning display of football magic, Sean Brackett and company were able to pull off the unthinkable. With the rough start to the season experienced by the Jacksonville Sharks, the Lions have been deemed the heir to the National Arena League (NAL) throne. Spearheaded by the six foot four gunslinger, Mason Espinosa the Lions have been an offensive force. Starting their season with wins against the Steelhawks and then 2017 NAL Championship matchup with the Sharks, Columbus earned their leader status.
But then came the Sunday matinee in Worcester, Massachusetts. The battle raged with big defense in the first quarter and then finishing the half with the low score of 23-15 in favor of the Lions. This one possession advantage continued well into the fourth quarter when Brackett took advantage of a Kaelin Burnett (DL) interception and tied the score with 10 minutes left to play.
Then...the awesome: with the score tied at 30 Brackett feels the pressure from Lions defensive line and scrambles. The Pirate QB retreats 11 yards and throws an OMG from his back foot to newly acquired Mardy Gilyard who falls over the boards. Gilyard maintains possession in the Lions bench and it's ruled a touchdown.
This Pirate high was short lived as Espinosa marched his Lions down field and scored a (Massachusetts challenged) goal line TD pass tying the score at 37 with a minute remaining in the game. The following ground-ball kick-off backfired when Pirate Demetruce McNeal returns it to midfield. In a strange choice of clock management, Brackett and the Pirate offense burned thirty seconds with a Devonn Brown running play that lost 3 yards and a Gilyard 15 yard reception. The clock winds down to 16 seconds before either team called a timeout.
Nonetheless, after offsetting penalties to reset the down, Brackett puts the game away with a ten yard Levon Pearson touchdown pass on a corner route. Truly, an unbelievable finish to a great game.
After the game I asked Pirates Head Coach Ameer Ismail how he prepared for this matchup and he credited the team's veterans holding the younger players accountable. “We lost a day of practice this week...getting rained out [I omitted name of practice field] but we prepared to face a tough team” Coach Ameer said. He recognized veterans Bill Vavau (OL) and Devonn Brown (WR) for their leadership during the short week. Coach Ameer said they were fortunate to have recently acquired Mardy Gilyard who in only his second game came out with two big touchdowns.
Columbus returns home on May 12th to face the Carolina Cobras for their first faceoff and the Pirates meet the Maine Mammoths at home. Both games start at 7:00pm.
The Cobras showed no mercy last night in Greensboro, completely dominating the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks. At the end of the first quarter, they led 30-0 with running just three offensive plays and a pick six by Jermaine Jones. A defense that "can't go no respect" as Rodney Dangerfield would say, played with a chip on their shoulder, ended up with seven interceptions and seven sacks. Leading the way on defense, Tyrell Gollman had three of the interceptions and Dwayne Beckford had five sacks.
Trying to catch the Cobras off guard, the Steelhawks started off with an onside kick, Charles McCullum took advantage of the good field position, connecting with Tyron Laughinghouse on the first offensive play. After the PAT and kickoff by Craig "the leg" Peterson, the Steelhawks first offensive series would be short lived, with Jermaine Jones picking off the second play and returning it for a touchdown. Shortly after, it would be Cedric Poole's turn to pick off the Steelhawks. On their second offensive play, once again, McCullum found Laughinghouse in the end zone, and Peterson adding the PAT and duece on the kickoff quickly made the score 23-0. On their next offensive series, it would be Gollman, making the first of his three interceptions, setting up McCullum to find Phillip Barnett this time. The Steelhawks started to make some noise but was quickly quieted when Darius picked off McClain in the final seconds of the first quarter.
Within minutes of the second quarter starting, McCullum found Jordan Jolly giving the Cobras a 37-0 lead after Peterson made the PAT. After the kickoff, the Steelhawks quarterback would be picked off by Gollman for his second one, setting up McCullum to go yard again, this time to Fabian Guerra. The Steelhawks would make a quarterback change but this proved to be futile, with Poole intercepting him on the ensuing drive. Peterson would miss a late field goal, giving the Steelhawks the ball for a few seconds before halftime, down 44-0.
The Steelhawks would receive the ball starting the third quarter but Coach Schmidt's defense would shut down the Steelhawks, with Dwayne Beckford getting a sack on third down. The Steelhawks field goal attempt from their own end zone would be blocked out the back of the end zone, resulting in a safety. On the next drive, we saw McCullum going deep from Carolina's 20-yard line to Guerra, who fought and would not be denied his second touchdown of the game. After another defensive stop, the offense went back to doing what they had done all night, this time to Barnett, padding the Cobras lead, 59-0.
In firm control of the game, Coach Back rested McCullum and gave wide receiver/back-up quarterback, Jordan Jolly the fourth quarter snaps. Jolly handle the ball well, rushing for a touchdown while escaping the Steelhawks defense. Which was set up by Gollman's third pick of the night. In the final moments of the game, the Steelhawks drove down field loooking to put some points on the board to avoid a shutout. After a touchdown was called back due to an offensive penalty, the Steelhawks would deny the Cobras the shutout by kicking a field goal with four ticks left on the clock. Final score: 65-3.
To the Steelhawks defense, they are in the midst of personal changes, playing their third and fourth string quarterback's last night. That does not deminish a strong defensive standing from what has been an underrated defense. Which will get its chance to show what they can do against a strong offense next Saturday when the Cobras travel south to square off against what is arguably the best offense in the NAL this season, in the Columbus Lions.
If you are in the area next Saturday night, come out to the Columbus Civic Center to see what is no doubt going to be an exciting game between two dominant teams. Doors open at 6:00, kickoff is at 7:00.
Brackett is back! Those three words are music to the ears of Pirate nation. QB Sean Brackett who missed the Massachusetts Pirates depressing loss to Carolina Cobras was on fire in Sundays mismatch competition with the Steelhawks. Unfortunately for Coach Ameer Ismail and his band of buccaneers, in week 3 Brackett was invited to the Saskatchewan Roughriders mini-camp for a display of his quarterbacking talents. For those who don’t follow Canadian football, the Roughriders are one of the premier Canadian Football League (CFL) teams and an invite from them is always returned with “yes.” This trip, however most likely cost the Pirates their only loss and painful stomach ache from yours truly.
However, the plunder nightmare is over and Sean was back in full form against Lehigh Valley. He threw for 237 yards with 6 touchdowns in the 72-24 wallop. Of course, the loss of both Steelhawk starter and backup quarterbacks didn’t hurt the Pirates in their quest for the “W,” but I’m confident the Pirate win was inevitable in Pennsylvania.
This most recent Steelhawk pounding was followed by the abrupt resignation of head coach Bob Kohler. According to a statement released by the Steelhawks this morning, Kohler attributed his decision to his physical health affecting his effectiveness as a leader and not a result of the blowout he experienced over the weekend. Nevertheless, the Steelhawks named the offensive line and special teams coordinator James Parham as interim head coach. Maybe, with this change and further roster examinations Lehigh can find a way to be competitive in the NAL.
But the news coming out of week 4 was the return of our golden boy, Sean Brackett. He will win and he will win big! Combine that with the restless front office never satisfied with their roster and a head coach who vehemently pleads his case with the refs even in a 70-24 blowout, the Massachusetts Pirates are the team to beat...so bring it on NAL!