Inside Stories

Pirates Look for Sweep of Sharks

by Mick Moninghoff

LOWELL – The Massachusetts Pirates will travel to Jacksonville, FL on Saturday night with the hopes of going 2-0 against the Sharks this season.

The Pirates (6-6) will look to stop a three-game losing streak. Jacksonville enters the game with a 2-9 record. Kickoff is set for 7:05 eastern time at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena,

The Series: This will be the second meeting between Massachusetts and Jacksonville in the Indoor Football League.

All-time the Sharks hold a 5-2 record vs. Massachusetts. The Sharks moved to the IFL after winning the title in the National Arena League last season. The Pirates and Sharks met six times from 2018-2019 when Massachusetts played in the NAL.

The Last Meeting (3/23/2024) Massachusetts 26 – Jacksonville 21: The Pirates found themselves tied at 14 coming out of the locker room in their first ever game at the Tsongas Center.

In the third quarter a 25-yard pass from Alejandro Bennifield to Teo Redding gave the Pirates the lead and running back Jimmie Robinson’s six-yard TD reception in the final quarter proved to be enough as the Massachusetts defense allowed just 12 points in the second half. Bennifield finished the game 10 of 21 passing for 141 yards and four scores against one interception. Robinson was the game’s top rusher with 70 yards on 16 carries. He was also the Pirates top receiver with three catches for 43 yards and a score. Robinson compiled 174 all-purpose yards as he returned three kickoffs for 61 yards.

Sharks quarterback Conor Blount was 16 of 26 for 138 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Running back Logan Wright was held to 26 yards on four carries with a touchdown and Marquis McClain pulled in seven passes for 45 yards and a touchdown.

Matt Elam led the Pirates defense with eight tackles, including two for a loss and a pass broken up. Eugene Ford and Darrius Williams each had interceptions for the winners. Harrison Poole led all tacklers with 11 stops with two for a loss for Jacksonville while Biron Murray had a “pick six” for the Sharks.

The Last Time Out: The Pirates held a 51-44 lead in the fourth quarter, but San Antonio scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion with 15 seconds to play to defeat Massachusetts 52-51 at the Tsongas Center on Saturday.

Pirates’ running back Jimmie Robinson started the game by taking the opening kickoff 53 to the end zone for a touchdown. Gunslingers’ quarterback Sam Castronova tied the game with a 25-yard TD pass to Nyquan Murray, but from that point the Pirates took over. Robinson added three rushing touchdowns as Massachusetts held a 38-28 lead after three quarters. San Antonio tied the game in the fourth quarter as Murray pulled in a 26-yard strike. With the game tied at 44 all, Pirates’ quarterback Alejandro Bennifield connected with Thomas Owens with a 24-yard pass to give Massachusetts a 51-44 advantage with 2:37 remaining.

Castronova then led the Gunslingers on a six-play, 43-yard drive that culminated with his third touchdown pass of the game to Murray. The 14-yard toss left his team down by a point. He then found Keyshawn Harper with a two-point conversion pass for a 52-51 lead. The Pirates had one last chance but a 39-yard field goal attempt by Calum Sutherland was no good as time expired.

Bennifield had three touchdown passes in a losing effort with two going to Owens and another to Teo Redding. Castronova finished with five TD passes with three to Murray and a pair to DJ Meyers. Kali Rashaad added two rushing touchdowns for the victors.

Last Friday night, the Jacksonville Sharks were handed their ninth loss of the season by the Green Bay Blizzard, 63-35 on the road at the Resch Center. Blizzard quarterback Max Meylor threw four touchdown passes and ran for two more in the win.

Sharks quarterback Fred Payton Jr. was 11 of 17 passing for 124 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for 51 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown. Wideout DJ Stubbs was his top receiver with four catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns. Jabari Gorman led the Sharks defense with eight tackles.

Team Stats (IFL Ranking Included): The Pirates are scoring 45.3 points per game which is ninth in the IFL, while their defense is allowing 44.7, which is also ninth. The Sharks are 15th in the league in both offense and defense as they score 35.5 points per game while giving up 50.9 per contest.

Players to Watch (includes IFL Rankings): This game features quarterbacks who have thrown over 20 touchdown passes and for over a thousand yards this season.

Photo courtesy James Thomas Photography

Alejandro Bennifield of the Pirates has 24 TD passes heading into Saturday’s game which is seventh in the IFL. He is 124 (5th) of 191 (5th) for a completion percentage of 64.9 (8th). Bennifield has thrown for 1,336 yards (5th) and 133.6 yards per game (10th) with an efficiency rating of 161.0.

Fred Payton Jr. of the Sharks is 101 (9th) of 155 (9th) for 1,931 yards with 21 touchdowns (9th). He passes for 147.3 yards per game (8th) and completes 65.2 percent of his passes (6th). His rating is 156.7. Payton is also Jacksonville’s leading rusher with 71 carries for 331 yards and nine touchdowns. He is third in the IFL with an average of 194.5 total yards per game.

Photo courtesy James Thomas Photography

Pirates’ running back Jimmie Robinson leads the IFL in rushing yards. He is the only back in the league with over 500 yards rushing. His 19 rushing touchdowns rank fourth in the IFL and his 22 total touchdowns (two receiving and one kick return) are tied for second. Robinson is also tied for third as he averages 13.2 points per game. The league’s top back for the last two seasons also leads the IFL with over 145 all-purpose yards per game.

When it comes to receivers Teo Redding and Thomas Owens of the Pirates are sharing the load. Redding leads the team with 42 receptions and 469 yards. Owens is right behind with 37 catches and 430 receiving yards. Owens tops Massachusetts with 11 touchdown grabs while Redding has 10.

Defensively for the Pirates, Guy Thomas is tied for seventh in the league with 11 tackles for a loss, while teammate Calvin Bundage leads the team with 56.5 total tackles. For the Sharks Ulric Jones is seventh in the league with nine passes broken up and Jabari Gorman is seventh in the IFL with 63 tackles.

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 6-6 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 3-4 coaching against the Pirates.

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