Inside Stories

Pirates Eye Victory Over Gunslingers

by Ben Gottschalk

LOWELL – This Saturday night at the Tsongas Center, the Massachusetts Pirates continue their homestand, facing off against the San Antonio Gunslingers for the first time in Pirates history. Kickoff is set for 7:05.

The Pirates currently hold the third-best record in the Eastern Conference of the Indoor Football League at 6-5. Meanwhile, San Antonio sits at the sixth seed in the Western Conference with a 5-5 record, currently outside of a playoff spot. The Gunslingers have been in good form lately, winning three of their last four games and scoring 50 or more points in seven matchups this season.

All-Time Series: Since San Antonio joined the IFL this season, the Pirates and the Gunslingers have yet to face each other. Consequently, this upcoming matchup will mark their inaugural meeting.

The Last Time Out: June, 8 Lowell, MA – The Massachusetts Pirates clashed with the top-seeded Green Bay Blizzard in a thrilling Saturday afternoon showdown at the Tsongas Center, ending in a narrow 36-33 defeat. Despite the Pirates valiant efforts, highlighted by standout performances from Jimmie Robinson and Quincy Patterson, they ultimately fell short against the formidable Blizzard, led by the impressive Max Meylor.

Early on, the Pirates surged ahead to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, fueled by Connor Degenhardt’s precise passes and Robinson’s explosive plays, and eventually found themselves up 15-3 early in the second quarter thanks to a touchdown from Isaac Zico and a safety from Guy Thomas. However, the Blizzard quickly countered, as Demetrius Moore returned a kickoff for a touchdown and a few drives later, Meylor and Harry Ballard connected on a touchdown. As the clock struck zero right before halftime, Green Bay taking its first lead of the night 17-15.

As the game progressed, it became a gritty back-and-forth affair, marked by key defensive stops and explosive offensive bursts. Despite facing setbacks like turnovers and penalties, the Pirates displayed resilience, mounting several impressive drives to keep pace with the Blizzard.

One pivotal moment came late in the third quarter when Quincy Patterson’s rushing touchdown put the Pirates back in the lead at 27-23. Yet, Green Bay wasted no time in responding, reclaiming the lead with a touchdown pass from Meylor to Ballard, setting the stage for a nail-biting finish.

Throughout the game, standout performances emerged on both sides. Jimmie Robinson’s electrifying 114 rushing yards and Quincy Patterson’s three rushing touchdowns provided sparks for the Pirates offense, while Max Meylor’s precision passing and 157 passing yards as well as Harry Ballard’s clutch receptions for 69 yards and two touchdowns anchored the Blizzard’s aerial assault.

With the game deadlocked at 33-33 and time ticking away in the final quarter, both teams dug deep in search of a decisive advantage. The Pirates sought to control the clock and capitalize on scoring chances, but Green Bay’s defense stood firm, forcing a turnover on downs deep in Pirates territory. In the waning moments, Green Bay secured the win with a clutch field goal from Andrew Mevis, edging ahead 36-33.

San Antonio emerged victorious last Saturday night, defeating the Duke City Gladiators 46-45 in a thrilling home game. Initially trailing 6-0, the Gunslingers rallied in the second quarter with 14 unanswered points, courtesy of a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown by Sam Castronova, seizing the lead. Despite Duke City’s strong showing in the third quarter, scoring 15 unanswered points to reclaim a 21-14 lead, the fourth quarter turned into a high-scoring shootout. Both teams combined for 56 points in the final 12 minutes, with the lead changing hands multiple times. In the end, Castronova’s connection with Nyquan Murray in the back of the endzone with 24 seconds remaining propelled the Gunslingers ahead for good, thwarting Duke City’s comeback efforts. Castronova shined bright amassing 233 yards and four touchdowns on 26 of 33 passing attempts, while Murray made significant contributions with nine receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns.

Team Stats (Includes IFL Rankings): This Saturday’s game promises to be a clash of defense and offense. The Pirates boast one of the league’s stingiest defenses, allowing just 115.3 yards per game and ranking second in points allowed at 34.1 per game. On the flip side, San Antonio’s offense leads the league with an impressive 215.5 yards per game and ranks second in points scored, averaging 51.3 per game.

In terms of defense, the Gunslingers struggle in the IFL, conceding the highest points per game at 53.3. They rank average in other defensive metrics, allowing the fifth-highest total yards per game (232.4), the sixth-most rushing yards per game (82.3), and the ninth-most passing yards per game (150.1).

Offensively, the Pirates score an average of 36.4 points per game and gain 201.1 yards (12th). They also average 79.1 rushing yards per game.

Players to Watch (Includes IFL Rankings): Jimmie Robinson of the Pirates is the leading rusher in the IFL with 597 yards on 132 attempts (1st). He has 16 rushing touchdowns (6th) and gains 59.7 yards per game (2nd) and 4.5 yards per carry. Robinson also leads the league with 138.7 all-purpose yards per game.

The Gunslingers quarterback, Sam Castronova, leads the IFL this season with 2,159 passing yards and 53 passing touchdowns, marking the highest in both categories. Additionally, his average of 215.9 passing yards per game ranks first, while his efficiency rating of 194.1 stands as the second highest this season.

Castronova has also contributed 277 rushing yards (ranked 17th) on 77 attempts, with his 13 rushing touchdowns tying for the 7th most in the league this year.

Pirates quarterback Alejandro Bennifled is 112 of 171 (6th) passing and completing 65.5 percent of his passes. He has 21 touchdowns (7th) with four interceptions with 1,192 yards (5th). Bennifield throws for 132.4 yards per game (10th) with an efficiency rating of 159.9 (9th).

Pirates wide receiver Teo Redding has made 40 receptions (ranking 9th) for 446 yards and eight touchdowns. He averages 11.2 yards per catch and 40.5 yards per game. On the other hand, the Gunslingers boast three receivers among the top five for most receiving yards this season. Nyqwan Murray leads with 553 yards (2nd), followed closely by DJ Myers with 551 yards (3rd), and Kali Rashaad with 522 yards (5th). Murray’s 16 receiving touchdowns are tied for the most in the league this year, while his 69.1 receiving yards per game ranks third overall.

San Antonio’s kick returner, Kali Rashaad, ranks second in the league with 31 returns for 486 yards, averaging 15.7 yards per return. Meanwhile, Robinson sits fifth with 29 returns for 581 yards, averaging 20 yards per return, placing him sixth overall.

Saturday’s game will showcase some of the league’s premier defensive backs. Clifton Duck of the Gunslingers is tied for the second-highest number of interceptions this season with four. Meanwhile, Eugene Ford of the Pirates shares the same interception count and also ranks tenth with eight pass breakups.

The Coaches: This is Rod Miller’s first season as Head Coach of the Massachusetts Pirates and he is the sixth Head Coach in the history of the franchise. He is also the Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach. He is 6-5 leading the Pirates. Miller was the Defensive Coordinator for the Vegas Knight Hawks last season. His last stint as head coach was in Bismarck from 2019 through 2022 before the Bucks suspended operations. Miller was also a head coach in the China Arena Football League with the Qingdao Clipper. Prior to that, he led the Omaha Beef, the Trenton Steel and the Laredo Rattlesnakes.

Tom Menas, a former player for the 1985 San Antonio Gunslingers (USFL) team, made a comeback after 38 years. He took over as Head Coach and General Manager of the San Antonio Gunslingers. Menas brought a wealth of experience, including five years as a starting guard at Kansas State, where he helped secure the university’s first-ever bowl game appearance. Despite a premature end to his NFL career due to injury with the Detroit Lions in 1983, Menas quickly found a new home with the San Antonio Gunslingers. After retiring from pro football, he transitioned into coaching, making his mark in the indoor football world with various AFL teams and eventually the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, where he contributed to a Grey Cup victory in 2004. Menas’ coaching journey continued with successful stints at Michigan’s Oakland University, the Green Bay Blizzard (IFL), and the New Jersey Flight (NAL). In a remarkable feat, he led the Albany Empire (NAL) to consecutive championships in 2021 and 2022, making them the only team in National Arena League history to achieve back-to-back titles. Throughout his 55-year football career, Menas was part of 12 championship-winning teams.

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