Massachusetts Pirates (8-6) vs. Carolina Cobras (9-5)
Saturday, August 3, 2019 – Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC, 7:00 PM

By Mick Moninghoff
August 1, 2019
Worcester, MA

The right to advance to the National Arena League Championship game will be on the line Saturday night in the Greensboro Coliseum when the third seeded Massachusetts Pirates (8-6) take on the defending league champion Carolina Cobras (9-5) at 7:00 PM.

The Cobras enter the playoffs as the second seed but are on a two game losing streak, while the Pirates won their last game of the season to complete a four game sweep of the New York Streets as they continue the leagues’ most impressive comeback story of the season.

The Cobras opened the season against the Pirates and proved they were the defending champion with a 54-22 win in Worcester and repeated the performance with a 50-22 the following week in Greensboro.  In the two games Cobras quarterback Charles McCullum accounted for 12 touchdown passes with eight of them going to wide receiver Jordan Jolly, who posted back to back games of over 100 receiving yards.

The Pirates struggled without a true center in those games, playing with a roster that included 16 rookies that were new to arena football. As the Cobras ran off four wins in their first five games, the Pirates fell to 1-4 and were fighting to stay out of the NAL’s basement.

That’s when the Pirates turned it around and went on a six game winning streak to climb back into the playoff picture, ultimately finishing just a game being Carolina in the final regular season standings.

When all was said and done, the Cobras averaged 51.4 points per game while the Pirates averaged 48.4.

There are a few others that indicate that this game maybe too close to call. The lines appear to be on par with each other. Carolina’s defense, which ended up first in the NAL, accounted for 36 sacks while the Pirates notched 30. Meanwhile Carolina allowed 24 sacks and Massachusetts just 25.

This game will feature several individual matchups of potential All-National Arena League performers. Pirates quarterback Sean Brackett, the reigning NAL Most Valuable Player, came on to lead the league in total plays, passing attempts, completions and rushing touchdowns (12). His numbers on the season were 244 of 396 (61.6%) for 2,523 yards with 15 interceptions and 57 touchdowns. Charles McCullum, QB of the Cobras led the league in total touchdowns, yards, yards per carry, yards passing, TD passes, plus yards per attempt and per completion. McCullum’s regular season numbers were 232 of 394 (58.9%) for 2,883 yards with 15 interceptions and 66 touchdowns.

Among non-quarterbacks, running back was Quayvon Hicks of Massachusetts led the NAL with 4.0 yards per carry and finished in the top ten in every rushing category.

Each quarterback has a receiver that will be considered as an MVP candidate. The Pirates Mardy Gilyard led the NAL in scoring setting a single season records with 33 total touchdowns and points with 198. Gilyard ranked in the top ten in every receiving category.  Opposite Gilyard is the Cobras Jordan Jolly who led the league with 104 receptions, 31 receiving touchdowns (both marks tied league records) while setting an NAL record with 1,210 receiving yards and had the leagues’ best average of 86.4 receiving yards per game.

Pirates defensive back Lawrence Austin has made a serious case for NAL Defensive Player of the Year honors as he finished second in total tackles with 63 (one behind Cody Saul of Jacksonville) while leading the NAL with 56 solo stops. He also was tied for second in the league with 10 interceptions and was third in passes defended. Austin led the league in interception return yards with 166 and was tied for second with two interceptions for touchdowns.  The Cobras will counter with defensive back Mike Green who led the NAL with 44 passes defended, was one tackle behind Austin with 62 and tied the Pirates DB with 10 interceptions.

The Pirates defensive front is led by JD Griggs who was second in the league with 9.5 sacks and third with 12 tackles for a loss. He is mirrored by Carolina’s Steve Miller who was second in the league with 13 tackles for a loss and third with nine sacks.

For those looking for an edge the Cobras were second in the league in turnover margin with a plus 17 where the Pirates were third at minus one.

However, the Pirates have a decided edge in the kicking game with Mike Weaver who tied a league record with four “Deuces” in a game last week against New York. Weaver averages 8.9 points per game which is tops in the league. His five made field goals tie him for the league lead and he is first among active kickers in field goal percentage at 45.5.

The Series:
The Cobras won the season series two games to none and enjoy a four games to one advantage over the Pirates all-time. This will be the first playoff meeting between the two clubs.

Greensboro is Blue for the Pirates:
This will be the Pirates fourth trip to Greensboro to play the Cobras. Carolina has won the three previous meetings in the Coliseum. 4/21/18 (55-47), 5/19/18 (72-65) and 4/20/19 (50-22)

The Coaches
2019 was the first season for the Pirates Anthony Payton as a Head Coach at any level. This will be his first time guiding a team in a playoff game. Payton was the offensive coordinator of the Pirates last season. His brings an 8-6 record into this event and was 0-2 vs. the Cobras this season.

 Billy Back is in his second season as coach of the Cobras. His record in Carolina is 21-10 including two playoff victories last season. He is 4-1 all-time vs. the Pirates.

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 Last Meeting
The Carolina passing combination of Charles McCullum to Jordan Jolly put on a show, connecting five times for touchdowns as the Cobras rolled to a 50 – 22 victory in the Greensboro Coliseum over the Pirates. Carolina QB Charles McCullum, who scored on a one yard run, finished the game 13 of 28 for 230 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Jolly pulled in seven receptions for 116 yards and five scores.

Pirates quarterback Sean Brackett was 19 of 41 for 150 yards and two interceptions and three touchdowns.  In all the Pirates turned the ball over six times on the night, (five in the first half) which sealed their fate. Mike Green led the Carolina defense with ten tackles and two interceptions. Lawrence Austin had one interception for the Pirates.

The Pirates led the NAL in 2019 in the following categories:
Yards Per Rush – 3.3
Pass Efficiency – 104.9
Completion Percentage – 60.9
Field Goal Percentage – 40% (three way tie)
Interception Return Average – 10.3 yards
Fumble Return Average – 45.0
First Downs Rushing – 42

The Cobras led the NAL in 2019 in the following categories:
Scoring Defense – 31.1 points per game
Total Defense – 223 rushing yards allowed, 2,319 passing yards, 2,542 total yards, 4.0 yards per play, 57 touchdowns and 181.6 yards per game.
Total Offense Average per Play – 6.2 yards
Rushing Defense – 223 yards, 1.6 yards per carry, 14 touchdowns and 15.9 yards per game.
Pass Efficiency Defense 95.4 rating. 49.5 completion percentage, 43 touchdowns 165.6 yards per game, 11.8 yards per completion and 7.0 yards per attempt.
Red Zone Defense – 63.6 % and 28 touchdowns
Field Goals Attempted – 17
Fumbles Returned for Touchdowns – 4\
Opponent Penalties – 121

The Massachusetts Pirates are members of the National Arena League (NAL). The Pirates play all home games at the DCU Center located at 50 Franklin St. Worcester, MA. 01608. for ticket information on the Massachusetts Pirates please call (508) 452-MASS (6277), email [email protected] 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 508-452-MASS (6277). Follow the Pirates on Facebook at Facebook.com/MAPirates on Instagram @mass.pirates, as well as Twitter @mass_pirates.