Inside Stories

Pirates Playoff Position on the Line

by Ben Gottschalk

LOWELL — The Massachusetts Pirates are gearing up for their last home game this season on Monday night. They aim to avoid a season sweep against the Quad City Steamwheelers. With a record of 7-6, the Pirates will face off against the 6-6 Steamwheelers at 7:05 PM at the Tsongas Center.

The Series: Massachusetts and Quad City are meeting for the second time this season. Historically, the Steamwheelers hold a 3-2 advantage over Massachusetts. With Quad City trailing the Pirates by just one game in the standings, this matchup is pivotal in the playoff race.

The Last Meeting (4/20/2024): Massachusetts 43 – Quad City 54
The Pirates faced an early deficit, trailing 14-0 after the first quarter. They rallied in the second quarter with Alejandro Bennifield connecting with Thomas Owens for their first touchdown. Eugene Ford’s interception of Quad City’s Judd Erikson set up Bennifield’s two-yard rushing touchdown shortly after.

Despite Josh Gable’s 21-yard field goal before halftime, the Pirates still trailed 23-16. Massachusetts tied the game at 23 in the third quarter, but both teams exchanged scores, with the Pirates trailing 37-30 entering the fourth. Quad City extended their lead with an Edward Vander 41-yard rushing touchdown. Massachusetts responded with a long drive ending in Tavion Thomas’ one-yard rushing touchdown. However, Quad City scored again on an 11-yard pass to Ka’Ron Ashley. Bennifield found Teo Redding for a 17-yard touchdown, but a failed two-point conversion left the Pirates down 51-43. Quad City sealed the win with a 28-yard field goal, finalizing the score at 54-43.

Bennifield had a standout night, throwing for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 14 of 23 attempts. Meanwhile, Judd Erikson also had an efficient game passing, amassing 87 yards and three touchdowns on 8 of 12 attempts. The game’s leading receiver was Thomas Owens, who caught six passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. On the ground, Steamwheelers running back Edward Vander was a force, rushing for 93 yards and three touchdowns on just ten carries.

Eugene Ford stood out on defense, recording five tackles, two pass breakups, and an interception. Calvin Bundage led the team in tackles with eight, including a tackle for a loss of four yards. Bikembe Kearney of Quad City topped all tacklers in the game with nine tackles.

The Last Time Out: On Saturday night, the Massachusetts Pirates claimed a decisive 44-30 victory over the Jacksonville Sharks at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena.

They started strong with a 21-yard field goal on their opening drive, countered by a seven-yard rushing touchdown from Jacksonville’s Joshua Mack. Massachusetts surged ahead when Alejandro Bennifield connected with Teo Redding for a 16-yard touchdown, establishing a lead they never relinquished.

In the second quarter, the Pirates outscored the Sharks 14-6, buoyed by a key fourth-down stop and a six-yard rushing touchdown by Jimmie Robinson. The Pirates’ defense held Jacksonville to two field goals in the quarter.

The momentum continued into the third quarter, where Massachusetts dominated, outscoring Jacksonville 13-7. Robinson’s 62-yard return of a missed field goal set up Bennifield’s rushing touchdown, followed by Cyrus Fagan’s interception, leading to a four-yard touchdown pass from Bennifield to Robinson, extending the lead to 37-21 by the end of the third.

Jacksonville opened the fourth quarter with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Fred Payton Jr. to Jaedon Stoshak, but Massachusetts responded with Bennifield’s two-yard rushing touchdown, securing the final score of 44-30. The win snapped Massachusetts three-game losing streak and marked a convincing victory over the Sharks by two scores.

Jimmie Robinson showcased his dominance with an impressive performance, amassing 109 rushing yards, catching four passes for 36 yards, and scoring two touchdowns. Bennifield contributed 113 passing yards and three touchdowns, along with 15 rushing yards and two scores. Teo Redding led the receiving corps with three catches for 47 yards and a touchdown.

Jacksonville’s quarterback Fred Payton Jr. accumulated 158 passing yards, threw two touchdowns, and had one interception, in addition to gaining 47 yards rushing. The game’s leading receiver was Stoshak, who caught six passes for 65 yards and a touchdown.

On the defensive side for the Pirates, Cyrus Fagan stood out with a game-high six tackles, including a tackle for a loss of two yards, an interception, and two pass breakups. Adam Plant Jr. and CJ Holmes contributed two additional pass breakups for Massachusetts.

Last Saturday night, the Quad City Steamwheelers dealt the Eastern Conference’s top-ranked Green Bay Blizzard their third loss of the season with a 37-27 victory at Vibrant Arena. Steamwheeler quarterback Judd Erikson threw for 134 yards and three touchdowns, connecting with Ka’Ron Ashley on four receptions for 56 yards and three scores. Leading Quad City’s defense, linebacker Bubba Arslanien recorded a game-high 13 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, and a pass breakup. Defensive back Brian Hughes contributed 6.5 tackles and three pass breakups.

Green Bay quarterback Max Meylor accumulated 227 passing yards and added 38 rushing yards with a touchdown. Leading the receiving corps was Harry Ballard, who caught seven passes for 111 yards.

Team Stats (IFL Ranking Included): The Pirates score 40.9 points per game, which is twelfth in the IFL, while their defense allows 38.4, which is third. The Steamwheelers score the ninth most points per game this season with 44.2 while giving up the eleventh most points per contest with 46.8.

Players to Watch (includes IFL Rankings): This matchup highlights two standout running backs who rank among the league’s best in rushing yards and touchdowns this season. Jimmie Robinson of the Pirates enters Monday’s game with 20 rushing touchdowns, placing him fifth in the league. Robinson leads the league with 163 carries for 746 yards. On the other side, Edward Vander of Quad City has scored 17 rushing touchdowns, ranking him eighth in the league. Vander’s 100 carries and 424 rushing yards also place him eighth and ninth, respectively, in the league standings.

Alejandro Bennifield of the Pirates enters Monday’s game with 27 touchdown passes, ranking seventh in the IFL. He has completed 136 of 210 passes for a 64.8% completion rate (eighth in the league). Bennifield has thrown for 1,449 yards (sixth) and averages 131.7 yards per game (12th), boasting an efficiency rating of 161.3 (11th). Judd Erikson of the Steamwheelers has completed 118 of 209 passes (sixth in attempts) for 1,267 yards (eighth) and 22 touchdowns (10th). He averages 126.7 passing yards per game (11th) and holds a 65.2% completion rate (sixth).

Regarding the Pirates receiving corps, Teo Redding and Thomas Owens are carrying the load. Redding leads the team with 45 receptions for 516 yards, while Owens closely follows with 39 catches for 437 yards. Owens leads Massachusetts with 12 touchdown receptions, while Redding has secured 11 touchdowns.

On the defensive side for the Pirates, Guy Thomas ranks third in the league with 14 tackles for loss, while Calvin Bundage leads the team with 59.5 total tackles. For Quad City, KeShaun Moore is second in the league with 14.5 tackles for loss and ranks fourth in sacks with five. Defensive back Trey Smith leads the team with three interceptions.

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 7-6 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.

Quad City head coach Cory Ross has been the Head Coach of the Steamwheelers ever since the franchise returned to Quad City in 2018. During that time, he has helped lead the team to the postseason in two different leagues (CIF and IFL). In 2022, the Steamwheelers defeated the defending IFL Champion Massachusetts Pirates in the first round of the playoffs before upsetting the No. 1 seed Frisco Fighters to win the Eastern Conference Championship and earn a berth in the IFL National Championship game. In 2021, when the Steamwheelers entered a state of dormancy due to the pandemic, Coach Ross served the Bismarck Bucks as the team’s Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator, helping to lead the Bucks to their first IFL postseason berth in franchise history. From 2015-2017, Ross served as the Head Coach of the Omaha Beef, recording back-to-back 7-5 seasons and earning a birth in the 2017 CIF League Championship Game.

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