Massachusetts Pirates Blowout Steelhawks in Final Regular Season Game, Playoff Bound

Yesterday I attended the final Massachusetts Pirates game of the regular season.   I won the tickets in a Mark Fidrych Foundation raffle at the 2018 Make Your Mark Kickoff Event.  (NOTE: the Make Your Mark softball tournament will be held on August 18th at Casey & Memorial Field in Northborough).  I went to the game with my dad, my longtime friend Paul Alfonso, and his dad Tony.

The Pirates play in the National Arena League (NAL), one of many Arena Football leagues across the country.  The season takes place between April and August, ending right around the start of the NFL season.  I’ve been to one Pirates game earlier this year when they played the Maine Mammoths back in May, so I knew that although Arena Football has many differences from NFL football, it was still very exciting.

Arena football is an 8 on 8 game.  There are no designated running backs, but offensive linemen will sometimes run the ball.  Typically, the starting offense is made up of a QB, three wide receivers, and four offensive linemen.  The defense typically has three defensive linemen, two linebackers, and three defensive backs on the field.  The Pirates fans are often called the 9th man, because like the Seahawks in the NFL, they are the league’s loudest fans.  The game is played on a 50-yard field rather than a 100-yard field and is often played in hockey stadiums.  Players will often be pushed into the boards which is considered out of bounds, but sometimes wide receivers dive over the boards to make catches and if they do, it’s considered a completion.  The downsized field makes for much higher scoring.  Although the uprights are narrower, kickers can often make it through the uprights on a kickoff from the opposite end zone, scoring what is often called a “deuce”, worth two points.  The smaller field also makes it so nobody ever punts.  On fourth down, teams will either go for it or go for a field goal.

The 10-5 Pirates were scheduled to play the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks, the worst team by win-loss record in the NAL.  They had not won a game all season long, and they were 0-14 going into this game, their final game of the regular season.  The game was held at the DCU Center in Worcester, the home of the Massachusetts Pirates.  The stadium also currently hosts the Worcester Railers, the ECHL affiliate of the New York Islanders, and was formerly home to the Worcester Sharks (now the San Jose Barracuda), the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate.

We all made score predictions on our way to the game:

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We arrived at the game, bought some pizza, popcorn, and soft drinks, and took our seats.  Before the game, the Pirates welcomed members of the Special Olympics of Massachusetts team, who were attending the game.

The game began and the Pirates got off to a fast start after the Steelhawks won the toss and deferred.  Pirates QB Sean Brackett was out with a sprained ankle but QB Darron Thomas was doing a good job filling in.  He completed a deep pass to WR Lavon Pearson to get the Pirates close to the end zone.  A Pirates o-lineman ran in the TD to put the Pirates up 7-0.  Steelhawks kicker Spencer Hotaling was off to a rough start.  He attempted a “deuce” on the opening kickoff and missed.  He also missed in a Steelhawks FG attempt, but the Pirates defense had shut down Lehigh Valley quickly in their first drive, making for a difficult kick.  Despite a nice catch by WR Charles McClain, the Steelhawks were shut down again in their next drive, and Spencer Hotaling’s field goal attempt was blocked.

The Pirates scored another TD on a huge catch by WR Mardy Gilyard.  He was being covered very closely by the defense, yet he still scored.  Although Pirates K Ali Mourtada missed the extra point, he scored a “deuce” on the kickoff, making it 15-0 Massachusetts.

To start the 2nd quarter, Lavon Pearson made a catch that set the Pirates up to score another touchdown.

The Pirates scored another one soon after on a one-handed catch by Lavon Pearson.  The Steelhawks did not make much progress offensively in the 2nd quarter, and they were so far behind that they had to start going for it every time on 4th down.  With little time left in the half, the Pirates had one more scoring opportunity.  Darron Thomas had one long pass that was deflected into the stands but completed a long pass on the next down to make it 1st and goal for the Pirates.  The Pirates tried to eat some clock before scoring in order to make sure the Steelhawks did not get another chance before the half.  But they lost the ball in a fumble, losing the opportunity to score.  However, they were up 29-0 at halftime.  The Steelhawks nearly scored on a nice pass just before the half but failed.

During the half, I enjoyed a mini football game between the Worcester Police Department and the Worcester Fire Department.  More fans were rooting for the fire department but it ended in 14-14 tie.  Here is some video I took of this mini-game:

The Pirates scored another pair of touchdowns in the third quarter.  They scored one on a fumble by Steelhawks QB Patrick Ryan that was recovered for a TD by RJ Roberts, and the other on a deep pass to Lavon Pearson.  Ali Mourtada scored a deuce after that one to make it 44-0 Pirates.  Mardy Gilyard scored another TD just minutes into the 4th.  Here is Gilyard’s TD:

The Steelhawks scored their only TD of the game by recovering their own fumble. The ball was nearly recovered by two Pirates players but found its way into the end zone, where Jason Johnson recovered it for the TD.  The Pirates scored 2 more touchdowns before the end of the game.  Lavon Pearson scored on a long ball to make it 58-7 Pirates, and another Pirates TD was scored when Spencer Hotaling missed a long field goal that Pirates DB John Hardy-Tulieau returned for the touchdown.  Mourtada made one more deuce to make the final score Pirates, 67, Steelhawks, 7.  My dad came the closest to predicting the score but we all overestimated the Steelhawks offense.

During the game, I noticed a man with a laptop sitting near us.  I gave him my business card and it turns out that he was writing a recap on the game for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.  His name was Bill Gilman.

The Pirates, who finished the season 11-5, will play at home in the NAL semifinals next week.  They will host either the #3 seed, the Carolina Cobras, or the #4 seed, the Columbus Lions.  It all depends on whether the Jacksonville Sharks beat the Maine Mammoths tonight.  If the Sharks win, the Pirates are the #2 seed and play Carolina.  Otherwise, the Pirates are the #1 seed and host Columbus.  The Steelhawks missed the playoffs after a 0-15 finish.

After the game, they allowed fans to walk onto the field for an autograph and photo session.  Paul and I took plenty of pictures on the field, some of them with Pirates players.  I gave the players and a couple fans my business card as well.  Paul got his Pirates football signed by all the players we took photos with.

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Me and Paul in the end zone
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With OL Cornelius Lewis
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With WR Mardy Gilyard
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With OL Bill Vavau
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With DL Kaelin Burnett
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With DB Cheatham Norrils
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With OL Thomas Claiborne

I even met Special Olympic powerlifter Joe Morrill, Team Massachusetts’ only powerlifter at the USA Games, on the field.  He had his USA Games medals with him.  He won two golds (combo and deadlift) and two silvers (bench press and squat).  He had roomed with Tyler Lagasse in Marlborough before.  Speaking of Tyler, I am meeting with him and his family at APEX tomorrow to celebrate his silver medal win at the USA Games, where I will go live on Facebook with Tyler and compete with him in simulation golf, go-kart races, Olympic bubble hockey, candlepin bowling, and other games.

I had a great time at the Pirates’ final game of the season.  Arena football is fast-paced and very exciting.  The rule differences from the NFL give football fans a nice indoor viewing experience during the NFL offseason.  I’d like to thank Ann Fidrych, Jessica Fidrych, and the Mark Fidrych Foundation for making this amazing experience possible.

NFL Thanksgiving Day Picks

Thanksgiving is finally here.  The parades, the food, and best of all, an NFL Thursday tripleheader.  Here are my predictions for today’s games.  Last week I went 10-4, putting my overall record at 88-72.  Comment with your thoughts, and have a great Thanksgiving.

Note: In the images, the team on the top is the road team, and the team on the bottom is the home team.

 

 

Game 1: Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions, 12:30 PM EST, FOX

The Lions will win as their offense continues to roll.  The Lions have won three straight, scoring at least 27 points in all games during that span.  For the Vikings, QB Case Keenum will have another big game as his receivers, especially Adam Thielen, come up big against the weak Lions secondary.

But despite being slowed down by a tough Vikings D, QB Matthew Stafford and WR Kenny Golladay will lead the offense in this game, connecting for 150 yards and a TD.  Stafford’s other receivers will also step it up, and the Lions will win in a close one.

Game 2: Los Angeles Chargers @ Dallas Cowboys, 4:30 PM EST, CBS

The Cowboys run game will continue to struggle without RB Ezekiel Elliott, especially against the tough LA front seven.  But QB Dak Prescott will thrive in this game with the help of the league’s best offensive line.  He will find his receivers and boost the Dallas offense.  However, it won’t be enough as the Chargers offense continues to dominate.  Expect the Chargers to keep the momentum they developed last week, scoring 30+ points again.  Chargers win the Turkey Day battle.

Game 3: TNF: New York Giants @ Washington Redskins, 8:30 PM EST, NBC

The Redskins may be slowed down by a stingy Giants secondary, but not enough to keep them from having a big game offensively.  The Giants will continue to struggle to produce offensively, even though the Redskins defense hasn’t been great.  Redskins win led by big games out of QB Kirk Cousins and TE Vernon Davis.

 

That’s all for my Thanksgiving Picks.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts, and once again, have a great Thanksgiving.

NFL Week 6 Picks: Contenders and Pretenders

Welcome to my NFL Week 6 Picks.  Last week I went 6-8, placing my overall record at 36-41.  How will I do in this week’s slate of games?  Read below and comment with your thoughts.  This week is when the contenders start to separate themselves from the pretenders.  Who will come out on top?

Teams on Bye: Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks

Note: In the images, the team on the top is the road team, and the team on the bottom is the home team.  

Lock of the Week

The Jets have been on a pretty good run but all will come to an end against the Patriots.  I think the Patriots defense will continue to see improvement in this game.  Their secondary will shut down the depleted Jets receiving corps, even without CBs Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe.  Expect the Pats defense to force lots of turnovers as well, giving the potent New England offense more scoring chances.  In addition, I think Pats TE Rob Gronkowski will have a strong return from a leg injury that held him out last week.  He will dominate against the Jets D in this game.  Pats win with ease.

Upset of the Week 

The Lions have had a surprisingly strong start to the season.  I expect that to continue against an aging Saints team.  Lions QB Matthew Stafford will have a huge game as the Saints defense struggles to put pressure on him, giving the strong Lions receivers more time to get open.

Expect the Saints offense to struggle to run the ball effectively against the Lions D, especially after trading away RB Adrian Peterson.  Peterson was not making the biggest impact in New Orleans, but he provided the Saints with options in the run game.  If Saints RB Mark Ingram starts to look off his game, who do they turn to?   Lions pull off the upset.

 

TNF (Posted to Twitter on Thursday before the game)

After last week’s big victory, the Eagles offense is beginning to gain some momentum.  Expect that to continue against the Panthers as they put up 30+ points.  I also think the Eagles receivers will have another huge day against a rebuilding Carolina secondary.  Even though Panthers QB Cam Newton has gotten back in the swing of things, I think Newton will be the next victim of the Eagles defense.  Newton will be hammered in this prime time match-up.

Sunday’s Games

The Falcons are well rested coming off their bye week and their dominant offense should shine in this match-up.  Falcons WR Julio Jones will not be stopped by CB Byron Maxwell and the rest of the Dolphins secondary.  On defense, LB Vic Beasley and the Atlanta pass rush will not allow Jay Cutler to get into a rhythm.  Jay Ajayi could also have another rough day against a tough Atlanta run defense.  Atlanta will win easily at home.

The Ravens will win but it won’t be easy.  After facing two tough defensive fronts in Weeks 4 & 5, Ravens QB Joe Flacco should have an easier time this week against a weak Bears secondary.  I also expect Ravens WR Mike Wallace to lead the Ravens to victory with another 100 yeard game like last week (133-yard).

However, the Bears will also look a little better offensively with rookie QB Mitch Trubisky under center.  In addition, WR Kendall Wright will be targetted more with injured receiver Kevin White out again.   But things won’t be easy against a tough Ravens defense.  It will be close but I have the Ravens holding on in a tight one.

The Texans front seven will be challenged this week after losing defensive stars DE J.J. Watt and LB Whitney Mercilus for the season.  Expect Browns RB Isaiah Crowell to have a strong game.

On offense, the Texans will continue to do well with rising star rookie QB Watson.  They’ve put up a total of 91 points over the last two weeks (45.5 PPG)!  The Browns had the chance to draft Watson and after this game may wish they did.  Texans offense will deliver again at home.

This will be a blowout because other than Niners WR Pierre Garcon, I don’t believe there’s anyone else that could step it up for San Francisco offensively.  Redskins QB Kirk Cousins and his receivers will thrive against the rebuilding Niners secondary.  They will lead the Redskins to an easy win.

Over the last three weeks, the Packers have averaged 32.3 PPG.  Expect their offensive success to continue, even against a tough Vikings defense.  The Vikings secondary will fail to hold back a stacked group of talented Packers receivers.  Packers receivers Nelson, Cobb, and Adams are all at full health this week so expect the Vikes D to have a rough day.  I think the Vikings run game could struggle without starting RB Dalvin Cook.  They’ll also be without WR Stefon Diggs.  Packers win as the Vikings struggle to get into an offensive rhythm.

The Rams have gained some momentum over the last few weeks but it’s never easy to win on the road.  The Jags have been off to a pretty strong start as well and their defense could put a stop to Ram’s run.  They will contain LA’s playmakers, making it tough for QB Jared Goff to play like he has for most of this season.

However, this win won’t be easy for the Jags.  Blake Bortles will be under pressure but I see him having enough success to lead the Jags to a win.  He will have to because I believe the Rams will slow down Jas star running back Leonard Fournette.  In the end, the Rams won’t produce enough offensively and they’ll fall short against the Jags.

As the Bucs defense finally starts to make its way back to full health, I think they’ll lead Tampa Bay to bounce back win after a tough Thursday night loss to the Pats at home.  I expect Cards QB Carson Palmer to take a lot of hits like Tom Brady did last week against an aggressive Bucs defensive front.  I don’t think Palmer has much left in the tank as he has struggled this season to help AZ put points on the board.  However, young Bucs QB Jameis Winston will thrive in this game, rebounding from a rough game last week against the Pats.  His receiving corps will create match-up problems against the strong Arizona secondary as Winston will buy his receivers more time with his elusiveness.  The Bucs will win the game with strong performances on both sides of the ball.

The Chiefs are the only remaining undefeated team and the Steelers have been inconsistent losing 2 of their last 3 games to teams they should have beaten, the Bears and the Jags.  Before I pick the Steelers to win again, they need to play more consistently.

Steelers QB Big Ben and RB Le’Veon Bell will struggle against the tough KC front seven that has shut down some top RBs and QBs during their 5-0 start.  The Steelers will also struggle defensively against speedster WR Tyreek Hill and one of the leagues best TE, Travis Kelce.  Big games from both Hill and Kelce will be just enough for KC to win by a Field Goal.

The Raiders offense should be back to full strength this week with star QB Derek Carr, WR Amari Cooper, and WR Michael Crabtree all healthy.  I think they’ll put up 30+ points against a weak Chargers defense.  The Chargers defense has cost LA many of their games as Chargers have averaged 19.8 PPG but are only 1-4.  The Chargers offensive success will bring them close but the Raiders offense will be too much in this shootout.

SNF

The Giants lost their top three receivers to serious injuries last week.  None of them will play in this game and the Giants will likely struggle offensively especially since RB Paul Perkins will also be out with an injury.  The Broncos arguably have the best defense in the league and will pressure Giants QB, Eli Manning all day.  Denver will pull away with the win even with their own offensive struggles.  The Broncos defense will carry them to a victory in a low scoring Sunday Night game at Mile High.    

MNF

This game will be a thrilling high scoring game that will be much more fun to watch than the Sunday Night defensive battle between the Broncos and Giants.  The Titans offense should score with ease against the struggling Colts defense, scoring 5+ TDs.  But this isn’t going to be a blowout.  Jacoby Brissett has led the Colts offense to win two of their last four games as they have scored over 22 points a game in the last 4.  Brissett will hit his star receiver T.Y. Hilton often as he will have a big game against the Titans secondary.  But in the end, the Titans’ offensive dominance will be too much for the Colts on the road and carry them to victory on Monday Night.  

That’s all for this week.  What do you think will happen this Sunday?  Feel free to comment with your thoughts.  This season has been full of surprises so you should expect more.

NFL Week 3 Picks

The first two weeks have been full of upsets, and here are some locks, upsets and other scores to watch for in Week 3.

Lock Of The Week
Patriots, 37, Jaguars, 14

Tom Brady and the Patriots should have a dominant game against the Jags.  On offense, they Blount Force Trauma should get more touches after a quiet week 2 return.  I’d expect a TD from him.  The only road blocks are star linebacker Paul Posluszny and rookie defensive lineman Michael Bennett.  He can work around that.  I also expect a lot of passing touchdowns.  Julian Edelman doesn’t have a starting corner to watch him, so either safety James Sample or safety Jonathan Cyprien is left to guard him.  With Edelman and Gronk under that pressure, expect sleepers Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson and Scott Chandler to show up, about a touchdown each.  The Patriots can look forward to a relatively easy match.

Tom Brady will stun the Jaguars defense with consistent scoring.
Tom Brady will stun the Jaguars defense with consistent scoring.

On D, they should be all set as well.  Running backs TJ Yeldon and Denard Robinson are going nowhere when the defense has Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones and Jerod Mayo to cover.  Last year they also had the added pressure of Vince Wilfork and Akeem Ayers, but Mayo was hurt.  I wouldn’t expect it to be much worse, especially if you put Jamie Collins and Don’t A Hightower in too.  And Marcedes Lewis, who has starred to start the year, will be guarded by Devin McCourty.  And Allen Robinson will have Malcolm Butler on him.

Lock Notables
Colts over Titans, Seahawks over Bears, Texans over Buccaneers, Giants over Redskins

Upset Of The Week
Lions, 24, Broncos, 20

This might sound silly to you, but it’s not really that surprising.  Peyton Manning is getting older, and at the same time, Matthew Stafford is on the uprise.  Joique Bell and Ameer Abdullah will get touches, but will get DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller as guards.  It would be easier to throw the rock.  Not just to Megatron, who will have Aqib Talib by his side, but should break through once Talib wears down, but Golden Tate.  Tate, the former Seahawk, doesn’t have an amazing second string corner to guard him.  Tate should see action, along with tight ends Eric Ebron, thenewly signed Tim Wright and possibly Brandon Pettigrew if he’s healthy.

While on the Lions D, it’s a better fit for the Broncos offense.  DeMaryius Thomas will have Stephen Tulloch on him like white on snow.  Emmanuel Sanders and Owen Daniels may get TDs, but the overall options are limited in Denver.  I think Sanders’ season will be a low point in his career, and Daniels isn’t quite a perfect fit in the Denver style offense.  Expect an early season loss today out of Denver.  What about CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman.  Ngata and DeAndre Levy should be enough to hold them up.  So, the Lions could have a huge win vs Denver today.

The Broncos defense will be in for a surprise when Matthew Stafford throws fire.
The Broncos defense will be in for a surprise when Matthew Stafford throws fire.

Upset Notables
Rams over Steelers, Cowboys over Falcons

Other Scores
Jets, 37, Eagles, 30
Dolphins, 17, Bills, 14
Ravens, 27, Bengals, 23
Rams, 17, Steelers, 14
Browns, 14, Raiders, 9
Colts, 30, Titans, 24
Texans, 30, Buccaneers, 17
Packers, 33, Chiefs, 31
Chargers, 28, Vikings, 23
Cowboys, 27, Falcons, 10
Giants, 28, Redskins, 7
Seahawks, 33, Bears, 16
Panthers, 41, Saints, 21
Cardinals, 31, 49ers, 30

Team Of The Week
1. This team’s quarterback got severely injured last season.
2. This team has been in last in their division for the last couple years.
3. In 2013, this team’s division was the toughest.
4. This team is named after an animal.
5. This team is located somewhere in the Midwest.

Last Week: Chiefs