Saturday night the first place Massachusetts Pirates hope the friendly confines of the DCU Center will play a part in helping the team to pick up a win over the Carolina Cobras for the first time this season. The Cobras handed the Pirates their first loss in franchise history back on April 21, 55-47, in Greensboro and did it again at the Coliseum on May 19, 72-65. Home field advantage is of major importance to the coach and his players not only for this game but for the playoff run as well. Head Coach Ameer Ismail admits that to accomplish their goals it has not been business as usual.
“We do prepare a little differently. It’s more up tempo, a faster pace and situational type practices to get us ready for any scenario that could possibly arise. We have to put ourselves into situations that could possibly happen. We need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That will allow us to grow and take that next step toward being a championship level team. It’s very important to have that urgency and tempo,” he said.
Another tough task on Saturday will be to slow down Carolina quarterback Charles McCullum who has thrown eight touchdown passes in each of the two games against the Pirates this season. Ismail has seen performances like that from McCullum many times before this season.
“I actually played against McCullum. In 2010 I was with the Tri-City Fever and he played with the Kent Predators in the IFL. Back then he had Michael Vick type agility and speed. He ran around a lot and he made a lot of guys miss. He’s come into his own as an all-around quarterback in the pocket. Now he runs around as he buys time to throw. I’ve also coached against him when he was with Wichita Falls and I was in Spokane. We won that game,” Ismail said with a laugh.
In their first meeting with the Cobras, the game was tied at 21 at halftime. Pirates led a nip and tuck game until the final three minutes before Carolina’s Fabian Guerra made a one handed catch for a touchdown to secure the win. The second meeting was a different story. The Pirates held a 20 point lead heading into the final quarter but Jermaine Jones recovered a fumbled snap in the end zone for a score and a late interception by Keith Lewis set up the winning drive as McCullum hit Tyron Laughinghouse for the winning points. Laughinghouse ended that game with five TD receptions on eight catches for 97 yards. Ismail say’s that can’t happen this time.
“We have to focus on finishing. We have to continue doing our job and not have any letdowns. At this stage of the season everybody knows where they are supposed to be and when they are supposed to be there so we have to execute. We have to finish drives defensively. We can’t have any bumps in the secondary. We have to apply pressure up front and make him (McCullum) feel uncomfortable in the pocket and make him throw before he’s ready.”
Ismail continued, “We can’t turn the ball over especially in the fourth quarter and make it easy for them. You can’t do that and expect to win the game. In this game it’s also about the number of stops you get and limiting possessions as well as forcing turnovers. That’s a major factor; not points allowed, not total yards, it’s all about stealing possessions and capitalizing on a greater percentage of the time when we get the ball and getting the ball more frequently.”
So far this season the Pirates are derailing opponents’ possessions at a 50 percent clip. That percentage may have to increase when the Pirates host the Cobras at 7 pm on Saturday.
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