Pirates to Lead IFL’s Midwest Conference

By: Mick Moninghoff
Pirates Writer
October 29, 2021

WORCESTER, MA – This season, the Indoor Football League is dividing its teams into two conferences when play is scheduled to begin on March 12. The IFL Champion Massachusetts Pirates will head up the seven-team Midwest Conference while the Arizona Rattlers, who appeared in the title game last season, will lead the West Conference which will have eight teams.

The Pirates are very familiar with the teams that make up the new Midwest Conference, having faced four of them last season. Some may argue that the Midwest is the stronger of the two conferences, as five of its seven teams, including the United Bowl Champion Pirates, made the top eight that qualified for the IFL playoffs last season. Of the teams that played last year, those that make up the Midwest Conference had a combined winning percentage of .555, whereas those joining the West Conference had a winning percentage of just .470. Here is a look at all of the teams that make up both conferences.

Midwest Conference:

The Massachusetts Pirates – Massachusetts claimed its first ever championship last season with a thrilling 37-34 overtime upset win over the Arizona Rattlers in the United Bowl. Kicker Garrett Hartley made the game winning 31-yard field goal and quarterback Alejandro Bennifield was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. The Pirates finished the season on an 11-game winning streak and won a franchise record 14 games. Their 11-3 regular season mark was also a team best as it placed them second overall.

Nine players earned postseason honors including wide receiver Thomas Owens who was a unanimous All-IFL First Team Offense selection. Center Jordan McCray was also chosen to the first-team offense. Defensive lineman Toby Johnson was a First Team defensive selection along with defensive back Harlan Miller. Second Team offensive honors went to lineman Jared Thomas, while defensive lineman JD Griggs, linebacker Martrell Spaight, linebacker/defensive back Chucky Williams, and kick returner Laquvionte Gonzalez were second team selections. Thomas was also an IFL All-Rookie Team choice as was Gonzalez who was recognized as a wide receiver and kick returner.

Bismarck Bucks – Last season Bismarck finished seventh in the IFL with a 7-8 record. They lost to the Pirates twice in the regular season and were defeated by Massachusetts 44-19 in the first round of the IFL playoffs. The win was the Pirates first ever playoff victory.

In 2021 Bucks wide receiver Raheem Harvey was named the league’s Most Improved Player. Wide receiver JT Stokes was named to the All-Rookie Team along with defensive lineman Da’von Keith and defensive back Zuril Hendrick, who was also an All-IFL Second Team defensive selection.

Frisco Fighters – After just one season, the Pirates established a rivalry with the Fighters. Frisco went 10-3 and finished third in the regular season. They were the last team to defeat Massachusetts, 40-33, in a June 12th game at Phoenix Field at the DCU Center. The Pirates returned the favor on July 3rd 38-37, giving the Fighters their first ever IFL loss. In that game Pirates Kicker Josh Gable kicked a 27-yard field goal on the final play of the game to give Massachusetts a road victory. The teams met in the IFL semifinals with the Pirates winning 43-33 to advance to the United Bowl.

Four Fighters were named to the 2021 All-IFL teams. Offensive lineman Maea Teuhema and defensive lineman Charles Williams both received first-team honors while running back DeMarcus Felton, who was the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, and defensive lineman Malcolm Goines were named to the second team. Defensive lineman Donald Louis was an All-Rookie Team defensive selection.

Green Bay Blizzard – The Blizzard finished tenth in the IFL last season with a 5-9 record. They were just one of three teams to record a victory over the Pirates as they defeated Massachusetts, 40-36. The Pirates avenged that loss, 50-33 enroute to their IFL Title.

Blizzard defensive lineman Dajon Emory was selected to the IFL All-Rookie Team along with defensive backs Momodou Mbye and Malik Reeves. Emory and Mbye were also named to the IFL’s Second Team defensive unit.

Iowa Barnstormers – The Pirates faced Iowa only once in 2021 winning by a score of 55-19. It was one of five games in which the Pirates held an opponent under 20 points. Iowa finished fifth with a 6-6 record and lost its first-round playoff game to Duke City 34-33.

Barnstormers’ linebacker Tony Jones received Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and was a First Team All-IFL defensive selection.

Quad Cities Steamwheelers – After a year off, Quad Cities returns to the IFL. The Steamwheelers were 4-9-1 in 2019 and took the field once in 2020, but were dormant last season.

Sioux Falls Storm – The Storm was 6-7 last season and made the IFL playoffs as the eighth seed; losing their first-round game to Arizona 69-42.

Nate Chavious was an All IFL First-Team selection at running back and as a kick returner. Trey Wafford was a First-Team defensive selection at linebacker/defensive back. Linebacker/defensive back Marquis Hendrix was an IFL All-Rookie Team selection.

West Conference:

Arizona Rattlers – In 2021 the Rattlers had the best regular season record at 12-2. Kevin Guy was named IFL Coach of the Year, Quarterback Drew Powell was the league’s Most Valuable Player and defensive back Dillion Winfrey was the Defensive Player of the year. Still, the Pirates won both meetings against Arizona. Massachusetts scored a season high 68 points in a 68-44 regular season victory and in the United Bowl, the Pirates never trailed in the 37-34 overtime win, making those wins even more impressive.

Like the Pirates, Arizona had nine players recognized with post-season honors. Earning All-IFL First Team status on offense were wide receiver Jarrod Harrington and offensive lineman Jahair Jones. Defensively, lineman Nikolaus D’Avanzo and defensive back Dillion Winfrery were First-Team selections. Quarterback Drew Powell, lineman Lamar Mady and center Steven Gurrola were Second-Team offensive selections while defensive back Tyrell Pearson and kicker Ernesto Lacayo were chosen for the Second-Team defense and Special Teams. Jones was also an IFL All-Rookie Team selection.

Bay Area Panthers – The Panthers were set to play in 2020 as the Oakland Panthers, but never got the chance with the season being canceled due to covid-19. Last season the franchise moved to San Jose and will play its first game this season at the SAP Center with Kurt Bryan as head coach.

Duke City Gladiators – The Gladiators finished 7-7 last season and earned the fourth spot in the playoffs. They just made it out of the first round with a 34-33 win over Iowa and in the semi-final, they just missed advancing to the United Bowl. The Gladiators had a game winning touchdown over Arizona called back on the next to last play of the game. The final play of the game saw a game tying field goal attempt go wide left and Duke City’s season came to an end with a 58-55 defeat.

Duke City quarterback Nate Davis was named the Indoor Football League’s 2021 Offensive Player of the Year and was named as the QB on the All-IFL First Team. Teammate Dello Davis was a unanimous selection as an All-IFL First Team wide receiver. Wideouts Xavier Amey and Jared Elmore were All-IFL second team offensive selections.

Northern Arizona Wranglers – The Wranglers finished last in the IFL with a 1-13 record in 2021. The Pirates invaded Prescott Valley and left with a 51-16 road victory.

Wide receiver Todd Athey, was selected to the IFL All-Rookie Team.

San Diego Strike Force – The Strike Force returns to action this season. After going 6-8 in 2019 they played just one game in the canceled 2020 season. The team was dormant last season.

Spokane Shock – The Shock finished sixth in the IFL in 2021 with a 6-6 record and made the playoffs. Spokane lost its opening round game to Frisco 44-33. The Shock will enter 2022 as the only team in the West Conference to have defeated the Pirates. Spokane bested Massachusetts 34-26 in the Pirates home opener at Phoenix Field at the DCU Center. In the second meeting, the Pirates prevailed in double-overtime 63-57 in Spokane. Many of the players on both teams have faced each other multiple times while playing in the National Arena League which makes the rivalry just a little more intense. Each game between the Pirates and the Shock is a “must see” as bragging rights abound.

Shock defensive back Mike Green was an All-IFL First Team defensive selection and kicker Sawyer Petre was named as an All-IFL First Team performer on special teams.

Tucson Sugar Skulls – The Sugar Skulls finished ninth in the IFL last season with a 6-8 record. The Pirates only faced Tucson once in 2021, but that game turned the season around for Massachusetts. The Pirates went into that road game with a 3-3 record coming off a home loss against the Frisco Fighters. With the game tied, kicker Josh Gable nailed a 46-yard field goal as time ran out to give the Pirates a 37-34 victory. Since that time, Massachusetts has won 11 straight games and carries that winning streak into the 2022 season as the defending IFL Champion.

Sugar Skulls QB Demry Croft was named to the league’s All-Rookie Team on Offense. Wide receiver Ryan Balentine was an All-IFL Second Team offensive selection.

Vegas Knight Hawks – The Knight Hawks are the newest member in the IFL. The team will be coached by Mike Davis, who most recently was a defensive line coach with Toronto in the Canadian Football League. He was the head coach of the Nebraska Danger in the IFL for six seasons. The team will play in the Dollar Loan Center which is under construction in Henderson, NV. Their first game will be at home vs. Northern Arizona on Friday, March 18.

The 2021 United Bowl Champions; Massachusetts Pirates are members of the Indoor Football League (IFL). The Pirates play all home games at Phoenix Field 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 contact@masspiratesfootball.com or visit http://www.masspiratesfootball.com. For 2022 season, half-season, luxury, or group ticket packages please call 508-452-MASS (6277) or visit http://www.masspiratesfootball.com/tickets. Follow the Pirates on Facebook via Facebook.com/MAPirates, Instagram @mass.pirates, and Twitter @mass_pirates.

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