Inside Stories

Pirates Home Opener Presented by InsideLowell

by Mick Morninghoff

LOWELL – The Massachusetts Pirates (1-0) will play their first-ever home game at the Tsongas Center on Saturday night at 7:05 eastern time as they face the Jacksonville Sharks (0-0). After playing five seasons in Worcester, the Pirates relocated to Lowell. Dignitaries and luminaries will be on hand to welcome the Pirates and their fans to their new home. Lowell’s own “Irish” Mickey Ward will serve as the team’s honorary captain for the event. Ward, a world-renowned boxer, is a former WBU light welterweight champion.

Home Openers: The Pirates are 3-2 in home openers.

The Series: This will be the first meeting between Massachusetts and Jacksonville in the Indoor Football League. The Sharks moved to the IFL after winning the title in the National Arena League last season. Saturday will be Jacksonville’s season opener. The Pirates and Sharks met six times from 2018-2019 when Massachusetts played in the NAL. The Sharks held a 5-1 series edge in those matchups.

The Last Meeting: July, 20, 2019, Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena
Pirates’ wide receiver Mardy Gilyard scored three times and the Pirates defense intercepted Sharks quarterback Jonathan Bane five times, but it was not enough as the Jacksonville Sharks (12-1) defeated the Massachusetts Pirates (7-6) in overtime, 54-47.

On the Sharks first possession in overtime, backup quarterback Mike Fafaul hit Devin Wilson with a TD pass to give the Sharks a 54-47 lead. The Pirates possession ended with Robert Brown intercepting Pirates QB Sean Brackett to seal the victory for the Sharks.

For the Pirates Brackett ended the night 17 of 37 for 198 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. His top target was Gilyard who had ten receptions for 101 yards and three scores. Lawrence Austin led the defense with seven tackles and two interceptions. Sharks QB Bane was 13 of 29 for 132 yards and five interceptions along with two touchdowns. Fafaul was five for five in relief with two scores. Wilson led the Jacksonville receivers with eight catches for 94 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Brown was the top tackler with three and half stops and a pick.

The Last Time Out: March, 17, 2024 – Pirates defeat Green Bay 44-40
Trailing Green Bay 40-22 in the third quarter, the Massachusetts Pirates scored 22 unanswered points to come back to defeat the Blizzard 44-40 in their Indoor Football League season opener at the Resch Center in Green Bay, WI last Sunday. It was the first win for Rod Miller in his coaching debut for the Pirates. Massachusetts is now 5 and 1 all-time in season opening games.

Pirates quarterback Alejandro Bennifield engineered a four-play; 45-yard drive in 2:03 with the final play, a four-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Zico with just 15 seconds remaining in the game, giving Massachusetts its first lead of the day at 42-40. Bennifield added some insurance with a two-point conversion toss to Thomas Owens.

The Blizzard had one last chance, but on second and ten from the 12-yard line, quarterback Max Meylor’s pass in the end zone was intercepted by Matt Elam to secure the Pirates victory.

For Massachusetts Bennifield finished 13 of 24 passing for 111 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed six times for 26 yards and three scores. His top receivers were Teo Redding with five receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown, Isaac Zico with five catches for 33 yards and two scores and Jimmie Robinson, who had three grabs for 38 yards. Robinson added six carries for 26 yards and four kickoff returns for 87 yards for a total of 201 yards of total offense.

Defensively, the Pirates were led by Devin Hafford who had 5.5 tackles, two for a loss, and a two-point defensive score returning a fumbled extra point attempt. Matt Elam recorded five tackles, one for a loss and added an interception. Julius Turner also recorded two tackles for a loss.

Team Stats: (includes IFL Rankings)
The Pirates are second in the IFL scoring 44 points per game while their defense is tied for first with Arizona allowing 40 points per contest. Offensively Massachusetts rushes for 99 yards per game (1st) and passes for 111 (3rd) for an average of 210 yards which is second in the IFL. The Pirates have allowed the fewest rushing yards (41) and the most passing yards (143) ranking them second overall with 143 yards given up per contest.

Massachusetts has the third most efficient offense (125.9) defense (145.8), The Pirates offense is number one on fourth down converting at a rate of 40%, while the defense has not allowed an opponent to convert on fourth down. The Pirates rank second in red zone offense converting at a rate of 83.3% while the defense is third at 71.4%.

Players to Watch: (includes IFL Rankings)
Pirates running back Jimmie Robinson leads the IFL in all categories, except touchdowns. He has rushed 15 times for 76 yards for an average of 5.1 per carry. He has the longest rush of the season at 20 yards. Quarterback Alejandro Bennifield is tied for the league lead with three rushing touchdowns as he has gained 26 yards on six carries. Robinson leads the IFL with 201 all-purpose yards per game and is also second in the league in kick return average at 21.8.

As for passing, Bennifield is 13 (2nd) of 24 (1st) for 111 yards (3rd) while completing 54.2% of his passes (2nd). He has one interception and three touchdowns (2nd). His efficiency rating is 125.9 (3rd). He is second in total yards averaging 137.0 per game.

The Pirates have three receivers in the IFL’s top ten when it comes to yards per game. Teo Redding is fifth at 40.0 yards per contest while Jimmie Robinson is sixth (38.0) and Isaac Zico ranks eighth with 33.0. Zico and Redding are tied for second with five receptions. Zico is also tied for the IFL lead with two touchdown receptions. Robinson ranks sixth averaging 12.7 yards per catch.

Bennifield is tied for first in scoring with three touchdowns and 18 points per game. Zico is fifth with two TD’s and a conversion for 14 points and Redding is tenth with eight points on a touchdown and a conversion.

Pirates defensive back Devin Hafford ranks fourth with 5.5 tackles per game while teammates Matt Elam is eighth at 5.0 and Eugene Ford is ninth at 4.0. Hafford and Julius Turner are tied for the league lead with 2.0 tackles for a loss while Elam is tied with several others with one. Elam is tied for the IFL lead with one interception.

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 will also be the Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach. He is 1-0 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.

Jacksonville Head Coach Jason Gibson led the Sharks in his first season to a 12-3 record and fourth championship in the team’s history. Prior to arriving in Jacksonville, Gibson spent 16 seasons with the Columbus Lions, amassing a 131-73 record as the team’s head coach and general manager. Gibson won three league championships between the Southern Indoor Football League (SIFL), Professional Indoor Football League (PIFL), and American Indoor Football League (AIF). Gibson has an all-time record of 3-3 coaching against the Pirates.

About the Massachusetts Pirates
The 2021 United Bowl Champions; Massachusetts Pirates are members of the Indoor Football League (IFL) and play their home games at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell. For more information on the Massachusetts Pirates please call (508)452-MASS (6277), email or visit Follow the Pirates on Facebook via, Instagram @mass.pirates, and Twitter @mass_pirates.

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