08/07/2018 1:14 AM -
By Mick Moninghoff
The Massachusetts Pirates begin the National Arena League playoffs as the number one seed on Saturday at the DCU Center when they face the Columbus Lions at 7 pm. The Pirates garnered the top spot with an 11-5 record in their first season in the NAL while the Lions are the fourth seed with an 8-7 mark. The teams appear to be heading in opposite directions. Massachusetts won three of its last four games whereas Columbus ended its season on a four game losing streak, scoring a season low 35 points in each of its last games against Maine and Carolina.
The biggest question in this contest will center on the signal callers as arguably the top two quarterbacks in the NAL did not play last week due to injury. The Pirates saw Darron Thomas get his first start of the season in a 67-7 victory over Lehigh Valley. Thomas filled in for injured quarterback Sean Brackett and was 12 of 18 for 190 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. Brackett suffered a left ankle sprain in a loss two weeks ago in Jacksonville. Brackett has seen improvement and is hopeful he can see action Saturday night.
Columbus quarterback Mason Espinosa is currently on injured reserve. His back up, Jeremy Johnson was 14 of 28 for 184 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in a 67-35 loss to Carolina.
The game will feature some of the most explosive receivers in the league as the Pirates Devonn Brown continues to lead the NAL in yards per catch with 19 on each reception. Brown leads the Pirates with 24 touchdowns and in receiving yards with 1,037. Lavon Pearson has the most receptions on the team with 83 to go along with 22 touchdowns and 1,007 yards. Mardy Gilyard, 20 TD’s, 70 receptions and 727 yards and Bones Bagaunte, 54 receptions, 560 yards and 14 scores are the other top targets.
The Lions will counter with Jarmon Fortson who currently leads the NAL in total touchdowns with 32 and TD receptions, 31. He also has a league best 104 receptions with 1,023 receiving yards. Teammate Durron Neal has 78 catches for 1,074 yards and 25 touchdowns.
The Pirates defense was impressive last week holding Lehigh Valley to just seven points while coming up with nine stops. Kiante Northington intercepted his league leading 12th pass of the season. He and fellow defensive back John Hardy-Tuliau each have 62.5 tackles to lead the Pirates. Nick Haag leads the team with 8.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss. The Pirates defense has caused 42 turnovers and has helped the team to a plus seven in the turnover/takeaway department.
Fans should expect a game that should go down to the wire. In the two meetings in the DCU center this season Lavon Pearson caught “walk-off” touchdowns to give the Pirates a pair of dramatic wins. In the May 6th contest Brackett hit Pearson with a ten yard pass with five seconds to play for a 44-37 win. On June 12th the pair hooked up again, this time with just 4.4 remaining. A two yard scoring play gave the Pirates a 62-55 victory. When the teams met in Columbus on June 30th the Lions turned the tables as kicker Tyler Rausa accounted for 20 points and hit a 16 yard field goal as time expired to give Columbus a 63-62 win.
The Massachusetts Pirates are members of the National Arena League (NAL). The Pirates play all home games at the DCU Center located at 50 Foster St. Worcester, MA. 01608. For more information on the Massachusetts Pirates please call (508) 452-MASS (6277), email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.masspiratesfootball.com. Single game tickets are available online at ticketmaster.com or the DCU Center Box Office. For group outings please call Kara Mancini at 508-929-0125 or email email@example.com. Follow the Pirates on facebook at facebook.com/MAPirates on Instagram @mass.pirates, as well as Twitter @mass_pirates.