It was your typical arena football game. 119 total points score with the lead changing hands three times in the final 52 seconds. When the clocked reached zero the Massachusetts Pirates had their first road win in franchise history, a perfect 2 – 0 record and a 63 to 56 victory over the National Arena League defending champion Jacksonville Sharks.
The night started with the Sharks unveiling their 2017 NAL Championship Banner. Three players later the Sharks were on the board as quarterback Patrick McCain found Antonio Vaughn in the right corner of the end zone with a 25 yard strike and Nicholas Belcher’s point after put the home team out front 7-0.
The Pirates answered with a six play drive. Quarterback Sean Brackett found Devonn Brown with a 29 yard pass down to the one yard line. Brackett ran three times with the last covering the final yard into the end zone. Ali Mourtada’s PAT tied the game with 7:51 to play in the first.
Massachusetts could not take advantage of an interception by John Hardy-Tuliau as the Sharks tackled Brackett for a two yard loss on a fourth and one at the 19. The defending NAL champs cashed in with McCain hitting Vaughn from 20 yards out and the Sharks led 14-7.
The ensuing kickoff was returned 27 yards by Orlandus Harris Sr. The next snap tied the game as Brackett hit Brown with a 23 toss and the first quarter ended 14 all.
The second quarter saw Jacksonville string together a seven play drive that resulted in a Derrick Ross two yard touchdown run but a missed extra point left the score at 20 to 14.
Both defenses stiffened as the Sharks stopped the Pirates on a fourth and goal at the four, only to lose three yards, giving it back at the one. Harris scampered in from a yard out and the Pirates grabbed their first lead of the half at 21 to 20 with 54 seconds remaining. Jacksonville responded in two plays as McCain found Sam Charles from 12 yards out for a short-lived 26-21 advantage.
The Pirates closed out the half as Lamont Bryant recovered an onside kick at the nine. He caught a nine yard pass from on the next play as the Pirates led 28 to 26. After an incomplete pass, Hardy-Tuliau picked off his second interception of the half and returned it 30 yards to the end zone as the Pirates took a 34 to 26 lead in to the locker room at the break.
Jacksonville kicked off to start the second half and it was a 2:51 span that the Pirates would like to forget. Belcher nailed a duce. On a third and eight from the seven, Jermiah Price tipped a pass to Damien Jacobs who secured the interception and powered his way five yards for a score. Belcher then added the extra point, plus another duce to cap an 11 point swing. Before the Sharks offense took a snap in the third quarter they held a 37-34 lead.
The Pirates would answer. The Sharks pass rush was draped all over Brackett, but his Hail Mary found Devonn Brown. The play covered 45 yards and Massachusetts was back on top 41-37.
Jacksonville continued to roll as with 4:21 to play in the third, McCain found Vaughn for the third time on the night with a 24 yard strike to extend the lead to 44 to 41. The Sharks defense forced another turnover on downs as the third quarter came to an end.
The Sharks then decided to run the ball six times on a seven play drive that ended with Derrick Ross scoring on a one yard run to take a 50 to 41 advantage.
The Pirates would have say as they cut the deficit to three as it took just four plays for Brackett to lead the team to a score. Brown pulled in his third TD of the game and Massachusetts trailed by two. Jacksonville quarterback Patrick McCain was shaken up and could not continue. Backup Ryan Walker entered the game with 7:26 to play and went the rest of the way. Unable to mount a drive, Belcher attempted a 35 yard field goal that was wide left. With the door now open, Brackett used receptions by Brown, Bryant and Harris to get inside the five where the drive stalled. Mourtada came on to kick a 26 yard field goal, his first of the season, and the Pirates led 51 to 50 with 48 seconds to play.
Walker wasted little time as he hit Vaughn from 31 yards out to regain the lead. For Vaughn it was his fourth score of the game. Trailing 56-51, the Pirates had one last chance. It began with a 20 yard kickoff return by Demetruce McNeal as he got the ball to the Pirates 24 yard line. On the next play, Brackett went deep to Brown 26 yards for what proved to be the winning score with eight seconds remaining. A two-point conversion try was not good and Massachusetts led 57-56.
The Sharks could not move the ball past their own 15 yard line. With six seconds left, Belcher tried a 50 yard field goal for the win but Bill Vavau blocked the kick which was recovered by Toby Jackson who returned it five yards for a touchdown as the final horn sounded and the Pirates had secured their first ever road win 63 to 56. With the victory the Pirates are now 2 – 0 on the season and the Sharks drop to 1 -1.
After the win, Pirates Head Coach Ameer Ismail said they drew up the play to block the field goal during the final timeout.
“We have a ton of respect for Belcher, that guy is great,” Ismail said. We knew we had to get to him so we called on offensive lineman Bill Vavau to get some pressure up front. He’s the biggest and strongest lineman we have so he got the call and he made it happen.”
The Pirates will look to go to 3 – 0 next week when they continue their road trip Saturday night at 7pm at the Greensboro Coliseum when they meet the Carolina Cobras.
Score by Quarters 1 2 3 4 Total
Massachusetts 14 20 7 22 63
Jacksonville 14 12 18 12 56
Dashawn Johnson, 2 for -1; Sean Brackett, 4 for -1; Devonn Brown, 1 for 1; Orlandus Harris, 1 for 1
Brackett, 15 for 32, 258 yards, 5 TD, 1 Int.
Brown, 6 for 166, 4 TD; Harris Sr., 2 for 14; Lavon Pearson, 4 for 54; Lamont Bryant, 2 for 20, 1 TD.
Ali Mourtada, PAT 6 of 7, FG 1-1 (26 yards)
2 Point Conversions 0 for 1
John Hardy-Tuliau (2) 1 for a 1 yard return, 1 for a 30 yard TD return.
Derrick Ross, 7 for 20, 2 TD; Patrick McCain, 4 for 27.
McCain, 14 of 26 for 160 yards, 4 TD; Ryan Walker, 4 of 8 for 56 yards, 1 TD.
Antonio Vaughn, 8 for 145, 4 TD; Jamar Howard, 3 for 33; Sam Charles, 5 for 33, 1 TD; D. Ross, 2 for 5.
Nicholas Belcher, PAT 4 for 7, FG 0-2 (35 & 50)
2 Point Conversion 0 for 1
Damien Jacobs 1 (5 yard TD Return)