By Mick Moninghoff
Saturday, August 3
Greensboro, NC

Pirates wide receiver Rannell Hall had nine receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns, but it was not enough as the Carolina Cobras defeated Massachusetts 30 to 26 in Greensboro Coliseum. With the victory, the second seeded Cobras now advance to the NAL Championship game on August 17 against the winner of the fourth seeded Columbus Lion verses the top seeded Jacksonville Sharks game, which will be played on Tuesday night in Jacksonville. The NAL title game will be held on the home field of the highest reaming seed.

The third seeded Pirates got off to a rough start losing the league’s top scorer, Mardy Gilyard, on its first possession to an ACL injury. Still the Pirates were the first to score as Cobras Kicker Brandon Rutherford missed a 37 yard field goal on the teams’ first possession and on their second drive, wide out Jordan Jolly fumbled after making a reception. Chucky Williams recovered for Massachusetts and three plays later quarterback Sean Brackett found Hall from 20 yards out for the only points in the first quarter.

Kyrin Priester’s three yard scamper tied the game on the first play of the second quarter, but on the very next play the Pirates took back the lead as Brackett hit Thomas Owens with a short pass that the wide out took 45 yards to the end zone and a 14-7 advantage. Later in the quarter, after a missed field goal attempt by the Pirates Mike Weaver, the Cobras came back.  Cobras quarterback Charles McCullum hit Jolly with a 45 yard bomb to put Carolina down by one as the point after was no good. With 1:47 left in the half, the Pirates went on a six play, 30 yard drive which ended with Hall pulling in an eight yard pass as the horn sounded. The Pirates led 21-13 at halftime.

The defensive battle would continue in the second half as the teams would combine for only 22 points the rest of the way. After the Pirates turned the ball over on downs, McCullum hit Lavon Pearson for a TD from 32 yards out. James Summers ran in a two point conversion to tie the game. That knot did not last long as Weaver connected on a 40 yard field goal to put the Pirates on top, 24-21. The Pirates would increase the lead with seven minuets remaining in the quarter, 26-21 as Toby Johnson tackled McCullum in his own end zone for a safety. Those would be the final points the Pirates would score in the 2019 season.

Rutherford got the two points back on his kickoff with a “Deuce.” Weaver then missed a 60 yard field goal attempt, but on the next play McCullum fumbled as Johnson caused it and recovered it and the Pirates were looking at first and goal from the five. Two plays later the Cobras got the ball back as Kenny Veal intercepted Brackett in the end zone. 71 seconds later Chucky Williams returned the favor picking off McCullum and the scoreboard read Pirates 26-23 after three quarters.

The final quarter began with the Cobras holding the Pirates on fourth and goal from the eight. McCullum then drove the Cobras down the field on a 10 play, 37 yard drive as he finished it off himself with a two yard TD run and the with point after the Cobras had their first lead of the night 30-26 with 8:02 to play.

After the Pirates turned the ball over on downs, Rutherford missed a 40 yard field goal to set up one of the strangest endings to an arena football game. Brackett started the final drive with a 40 yard pass to Hall giving the Pirates first and goal at the five. After a Carolina penalty with the ball at the three, Brackett was sacked by Micah Robinson. On second and goal from the 12 with just seconds remaining, Brackett lofted a pass to Owens along the wall, in the end zone, in front of the Pirates bench. With Cedric Poole defending, Owens jumped and had the ball go off his hands, as he leaned back onto the wall, the ball hit the top of the wall, Owens then grabbed the ball off the wall without it hitting the ground for what appeared to be a game winning touchdown for the Pirates with 2.1 seconds remaining. The play was then reviewed for several minutes by the officials while players from both teams discussed the play. Upon review, it was deemed that the Pirates bench had interfered with the play, thus making it incomplete. On the final play of the game Brackett’s pass intended for Hall fell incomplete and the Cobras escaped with a 30-26 victory.

Brackett finished the night 21 of 40 for 295 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. McCullum was 17 of 33 for 202 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Jolly was his top receiver with 96 yards and a score.

Williams led the Pirates defense with seven and a half tackles plus an interception. a fumble recovery and a pass break up.
Poole had four and a half stops for the Cobras.