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:

img_0307

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.

IMG_7111
Me and Paul in the end zone
IMG_7105
With OL Cornelius Lewis
IMG_7112
With WR Mardy Gilyard
IMG_7113
With OL Bill Vavau
IMG_7114
With DL Kaelin Burnett
IMG_7115
With DB Cheatham Norrils
IMG_7118
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.

Day 3 in Seattle: Round 1 Recap from 2018 Special Olympics USA Games Level V Golf Tournament

Immediately following round 1, I reported via Facebook Live.  See video below.

Also, after the round, Flutie sponsored golfer and 2nd after round 1 golfer, Tyler Lagasse, had his article featured on ESPN.

Late last night (July 2nd) I created a more detailed round 1 recap as a video report that focuses on Flutie Foundation-supported Tyler Lagasse of Special Olympics Massachusetts and Scott Rohrer of Special Olympics South Carolina.

The voiceover text and video are below.

It was cold and damp as the golfers waited in their carts to begin.  The carts were used to speed up pace of play.  Tyler won the toss to tee off first.

Both Tyler and Scott bogied on the first hole as their nerves seemed still high for the start of the tournament.  They both bounced back in Hole 2, with Tyler just missing a birdie and Scott making one from a couple feet away.

One of Scott’s most challenging holes was the Par 4 3rd hole.  He took a penalty stroke for hitting out of bounds but recovered with a solid 2-putt to finish the hole.

Both parred the 4th hole with each of them coming within a foot of a birdie on 10 foot or more putts.

On hole 5, Tyler just missed par but still gained a stroke on Scott, who just missed his bogey putt.

On the 7th hole par 3, Scott came within inches of a birdie off a putt of over 20 feet and then Tyler’s par putt almost rimmed out but went in.

Hole 8 was shortened to Par 3 and they both parred, but it was their partner, Travis Curtis from Maine that dazzled on the Par 3 9th with a near hole in one.

On hole 11, both Tyler and Scott had chances for eagles with very long drives and solid shots with Scott landing on the green in 2 and Tyler on the back fringe.  Tyler’s eagle shot got him within 10 feet but on his birdie attempt he rolled past the hole by a few inches.  Scott’s birdie attempt reached the lip of the hole.  A good hole for both golfers and the start of a strong back 9 stretch for Scott as he played 1 over for the final 8 holes.

Hole 12 was a very strange hole as Travis Curtis called for a rules official as his ball appeared to land in a divot-like hole on the green.  Then there was a loud plane soaring over us as well.  Tyler 4 putted the hole for a double bogey but then picked up his play and went 2 over on the last 6 holes.

On 13, all three golfers hit strong off the tee and landed within feet of each other.  On Tyler’s second shot he landed at the very back of the green.  Tyler’s putting came back strong when he hit a 50 foot putt within inches of the hole almost making a birdie and tapped in for par as did Scott.

On 14, Scott made a very exciting 20 foot putt for birdie, pumping his fist as the ball dropped in the hole.  Tyler had a 3 foot birdie putt lip out of the hole after a tremendous tee shot but had to settle for a par tap in.

On 15 and 16, the tee shots of Tyler and Scott landed really close like they had on 13.  Their scores were close too, as Scott had par and a bogey and Tyler was close to matching it, just missing a par putt on 16 to go bogey and par.

Hole 17 is Eagle’s Talon signature hole.  It’s a par 3 over a lot of water and the tee was moved up.  The green has 3 levels making putting difficult.  Travis Curtis had his birdie putt just missed from 10 feet go in and out of the hole.  Scott and Tyler each had very long putts for birdie and left themselves about 3 feet on either side of the hole.  All 3 golfers got par.

The long par 5 18th hole was an adventure for all 3 golfers starting with Tyler’s tee shot got a lucky bounce off the cart path to avoid landing in a hazard area.  Travis Curtis ended up with a 9 after getting in trouble with the water.  In the end, both Tyler and Scott had 1 foot putts to end the round with a par but Scott’s putt just lipped out.  Still, both golfers finished strong and within 2 strokes of each other.  They hope to carry their momentum into tomorrow.

After the first round, Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer are 2nd and 3rd on the Special Olympics USA Level V Golfer leaderboard.  I had the chance to talk to both Tyler and Scott moments after they signed their scorecard.  Even though my cameraman (my dad Ken) had his first technical difficulty with one of my interviews, the audio came through for you to enjoy.  I also had the chance to quickly speak to the Round 1 Leader, Brock Aoki.

_________________________________

This post can also be seen on the Flutie Foundation blog.