Saturday, April 13 DCU Center, Worcester MA 7:00 PM

Radio: 98.9 Nash Icon 7:10 PM
LIVE Streaming: NAL YouTube
PBP: Mick Moninghoff
Color: Thomas Claiborne

Season Opener: This is the season Opener for each team. It marks the second season in franchise history for each organization. Last season the Pirates had the best record in the National Arena League with an 11-5 mark but lost in the first round of the NAL playoffs to Columbus. Carolina finished its regular season with a 10-5 record and then won the league championship by winning its semi-final game over Jacksonville and then besting Columbus 66 to 8.

 For the Record: In season openers the Pirates are 1-0. They defeated the Maine Mammoths 51-24 at home last year to start their season. The Cobras are 0-1 in openers as they dropped their first game in franchise history to the Jacksonville Sharks 41 to 38 in 2018. This will be the first road opener for the Cobras.

 Injuries: The Pirates have three players who will miss tonight’s game due to injury. Wide receiver Tavares Martin Jr, defensive lineman Dajaun Drennon and offensive lineman Thomas Claiborne are all on short term injured reserve with lower body injuries. The Cobras have placed wide receivers Eric Brown and David Jordan and offensive lineman Darriel Mack on their injured reserve list.

The Series (Carolina leads 2 -1) : Last year the Cobras won both games in Greensboro (55-47 and 72-65) while the Pirates won the meeting in Worcester (56-53)

 The Last Meeting (July 21 DCU Center, Worcester): After losing the first two meetings in Carolina the Pirates finally turned the tables in Worcester with a win on the final play. On fourth and one on the seven yard line with 1.7 seconds on the clock, Quarterback Sean Brackett threw a perfect pass to Devonn Brown who was wide open in the right corner of the end zone for the victory. Brown finished the game with six receptions for 105 yards and three touchdowns. Brackett was 22 of 32 for 273 yards, two interceptions and eight touchdowns. In the loss Cobras QB Charles McCullum ended up 31 of 44 for 273 yards, no interceptions and six TD passes.

 The Coaches:

This will be the first game for Pirates as a head coach at any level.  Payton, the offensive coordinator of the Pirates last season, assumed this past offseason when Ameer Ismail, the NAL Coach of the Year in 2018 did not return.

Billy Back returns for his second season as coach of the Cobras. His record in Carolina is 12-5 including the two playoff victories last season.

More on Payton: In 26 years of coaching this will be Payton’s first time as a Head Coach. His professional coaching resume includes stops as an Offensive Coordinator in 2016 with Spokane in the Arena Football League and in the Indoor Football League with Portland in 2015. Prior he worked as a wide receivers coach with Louisville in the AF2 and also in the AFL with Las Vegas and Buffalo.

With Payton calling the plays last season the Pirates were the highest scoring team in the NAL. Massachusetts led the league in touchdowns with 123, most offensive touchdowns, total offensive yards and average yards per play. The Pirates also had the number one passing offense with 3,677 yards and 229.8 yards per game. Additionally Pirates QB’s had the most yards per completion with 12.2 and yards per attempt (7.3).

A former wide receiver, Payton enjoyed a nine year career in the IFL, AFL and AF2 with six teams including Dayton, New Jersey, Louisville, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Las Vegas.  He began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Eastern High School in Louisville, KY. Later he coached at Fern Creek High School in Louisville and also served as quarterbacks and wide receivers coach at Kentucky Wesleyan College. A graduate of Kentucky Wesleyan College, Payton also attended East Mississippi Community College and Austin Peay University.

 More on Back: This will be his 9th season as a head coach. Prior he led the Wichita Falls Nighthawks in 2016 and was the IFL Coach of the Year. Other head coaching stops included the Nashville Venom in 2014 & 2015, 2013 with the Texas Revolution and the Cincinnati Commandos (2009-2012). Back won three championships in Cincinnati and had a perfect 12-0 season in 2011. He was named Co-Coach of the year in 2010. Back enjoyed a six year career in the NIFL. He attended Miami-University of Ohio and was inducted into the Miami University Athletic Hall of Fame for his time there as a student athlete.

 The Quarterbacks:

Massachusetts Pirates quarterback Sean Brackett was the Most Valuable Player in the National Arena League in 2018. The 6-1, 205 lb. signal caller from Brooklyn, CT led the league in four offensive categories. Brackett completed 259 of 419 passes (61.8 %) for 3,170 yards, 74 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.  He also ran 25 times for 111 yards and scored four touchdowns. Despite missing almost three games due to a Canadian Football League tryout and a season ending leg injury, Brackett, a second team All-NAL offensive selection, led the league in total offense with 234.4 yards per game, 7.4 yards per play, 226.4 passing yards per game and 7.6 yards per passing attempt.

Carolina Cobras QB Charles McCullum let the National Arena League in four offensive categories. The Atlanta, GA native was 296 of 492 (60.2%) with 3,313 yards, 87 TD passes and 19 interceptions. Those numbers allowed him to lead the NAL in completions, yards, touchdown passes and interceptions.  He continued his run toward the title as in the semi-finals was 17 of 31 for 207 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions against Jacksonville and vs. Columbus in the title game went 19 of 27 for 258 yards with no picks and seven scoring strikes. He also added a rushing touchdown in the championship win.

 Players to Watch

In addition to MVP Sean Brackett, the Pirates offense has added fullback Quavyon Hicks who was the NAL Offensive Rookie of the Year and All-League first team fullback. Hicks led the National Arena League with 25.4 rushing yards per game last season while playing for the Columbus Lions. Hicks was second in the NAL in three categories with 305 rushing yards on 81 carries and 12 touchdowns. He also averaged 7.7 yards per catch with 15 receptions for 119 yards and three scores. Pirates first team All-NAL wide receiver Devonn Brown is expected to miss the game due to a Canadian Football League tryout with the Edmonton Eskimos.

On the defensive side first team All-League defensive end JD Griggs will be counted on to lead. Griggs, a product of Piscataway, New Jersey, had 12 solo stops and assisted on 17 others for a total of 20.5 tackles last season. He also had nine tackles for a loss, forced a fumble and broke up eight passes.

For Carolina, wide out Jordan Jolly, a second team All-NAL performer returns. He scored 21 total touchdowns last season. The six year pro had 68 receptions for 797 yards at 19 scores. He also ran eight times for 59 yards finding the end zone three times. On defense Michael Green was a first team All-League selection. He had 56.5 tackles with 18 pass break ups and seven interceptions. The seven year pro also had two tackles for a loss and one fumble recovery.

 One More Time: Replays of this game can be seen on NESN, NESN Plus and 11 Sports USA at the following times.

NESN Plus 7 to 9 PM Tuesday April 16
NESN Primary 1 to 3 PM Wednesday April 17
Eleven Sports USA Friday April 19 6 to 8 PM
NESN Plus 5 to 7 AM Friday April 19
Eleven Sports USA Saturday April 20 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM
*All Times Eastern