“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.