By Brice Burge
Head of Management
Old habits die hard, especially when you're bringing back a team from the grave.
Usually those old pitfalls would be why the team went extinct to begin with, but for the Orlando Predators, some things the team absolutely has to bring back for the history and the fans. For example, calling their field “the jungle”.
Problem is another franchise in the National Arena League already calls their home field that.
The Columbus Lions, a stable and consistent organization that has climbed up the ranks of indoor football to one of the more prolific leagues in the country, calls their arena “the jungle” too. The perfect place for a pride of lions, Columbus is the smallest market in the league. That hasn't stopped them from making last year's NAL championship game.
In a dilemma that would make Guns N Roses fans feel right at home, the opportunity to raise the stakes was taken by ownership, resulting in the Jungle War rivalry.
”We were in a Lions staff meeting going back and forth about the two jungles,” said Joshua Blair, owner of the Lions. “Then we came up with the idea of having a trophy that determined bragging rights for the jungle.”
For the Predators, they had to take the chance to defend their namesake.
“We were all for it,” said Purvis Adamson, Director of Multimedia and Assistant General Manager. “Everyone in arena football, they know the Orlando Predators have the jungle.”
In the first meeting between the two teams, it was the Predators that came out on top in a 42-40 victory in Orlando. It was the closest game in the NAL this season and the first game back since the original Predators folded.
“It was a historical moment. First year back, first year in the NAL and just to play the Columbus Lions made it more historical,” Adamson said.
To celebrate the victory, the Predators brought home the Schwarzenegger Knife, a wooden recreation of the large knife used by his character in the movie Predator. It was presented to the team by NAL Commissioner Chris Siegfried after the game.The idea to use the knife design as the rivalry trophy came from the Lions' front office staff. Social media coordinator Hayley Dukes suggested the design while manager Jared Goertzen hand carved the trophy.
The rivalry trophy is the only one currently in the NAL, but it does have people on both sides wanting to keep it in their own jungle.
“Now we get a chance to play them in our home, the real jungle,” said Lions defensive back Shattle Fenteng. “I'm excited about this matchup. The fans are going to see an exciting game and our defense is going to bring it.”
For Orlando though, they have no long term plans of giving up the knife.
“I don't think were going to lose it,” Adamson said. “We look forward to keeping it, if we lose it one game no big deal, because we’ll get it back and at the end of the season keep it.”
The Predators and Lions will face off Saturday, May 4 at 7 p.m. in Columbus. The game will be broadcasted on the NAL YouTube page.
Courtesy of Azari Images By Rob Disario
And just like that, the Massachusetts Pirates are back on their A-game. With the aid of last minute pickups: Lashard Durr, Jokobi Smith and Ishmael Zamora, Coach Payton and his previously shipwrecked buccaneers topped the expansion Orlando Predators. The highlight of Saturday's match-up was the Pirate defense who left the Florida team scoreless after the first half. Predator offensive line couldn't hold back the onslaught of pressure and quarterback Kyle Israel spent the game either on his back or on the run.
In an exclusive AFT interview, I asked Mass Pirates head coach Anthony Payton what he did differently to prepare for tonight's win. “You have to understand,” he said. “Carolina is the best team in the league…I have 18 new guys, coming from the outdoor game, they needed to adjust.” Payton went on to say the return of snapper Thomas Claiborne made a big difference in the pass protection.
I asked Coach Payton about Devonn Brown not playing tonight, “He’s banged up” he offered. “They ran him at the CFL tryout and he came back all banged up!” When asked whether Brown would dress for next week’s match-up against the sharks he said, “I don’t know…we’ll see how he does at practice.”
Coach Payton took his share of digital hits this week after two painful losses to the Cobras. But in extraordinary fashion, he kept himself and his players focused to not only finish with a win, but outscore the Predators four to one. The Jacksonville Sharks visit Worcester for week 4 match-up on Saturday, May 4 kickoff at 8:20pm.
By Rob Disario
Three former Mass Pirates have joined forces on the AFL expansion team Atlantic City Blackjacks. In an age of expanding arena football leagues and teams it’s difficult to keep track of our favorite players. When the 2019 Mass Pirates roster was released I noted three of my top picks were suspiciously absent. I began my search and found Nick Haag, Cornelius Lewis and Kiante Northington in New Jersey. It’s unclear why they moved to the Garden State AFL team, but one may surmise its a bigger opportunity to play.
After the inaugural 2018 season, Pirate linebacker Nick Haag made a brief, off-season stop at the Carolina Cobras before signing with Atlantic City. Unfortunately for the Cobras, star wide receiver Tyron Laughinghouse also made the move to the Blackjacks.
Defensive Back Kiante Northington, who wore number 13 for the Pirates was the defensive lucky charm in 2018 with 12 interceptions for 136 yards with one resulting in a pick-six. The DB lead the team with 55 unassisted tackles and 17 assisted. Just a phenomenal all around defensive player.
Cornelius Lewis was a force on the front line. The loss of the veteran offensive lineman was felt in the Pirates first two games where QB Sean Brackett suffered from a lack of protection being forced out of the pocket on most plays against the Cobras. During the 2018 season, Cornelius Lewis played in 11 games with one reception for 17 yards and a touchdown. Not too shabby.
Many would contend playing in the once defunct AFL is a step in the right direction for these three former Pirates. Others would argue the money hemorrhaging AFL is one bad season away from closing its doors (…again). But, I think we’d all agree football fans are rooting for Haag, Lewis, Northington and the sport in general to succeed.
The Atlantic City Blackjacks are the latest in expansion teams of the Arena Football League. Their 2019 season is due to kick off Saturday April 27, 2019 in Philadelphia while the NAL Pirates play their third game at home against the former AFL team, Orlando Predators.
By RJ Ciancio
Director of NAL Coverage
With the New York Streets standing at two wins on zero losses after they demolished the Orlando Predators the main talk about the team is venue choice. In lieu of a lopsided game summary I figured now would be a good time to give my top five options for where I think the Streets could play in a personal worst to the best list. I don’t know about the team finances but, nevertheless here are my top five venues the New York Streets could play at.
At number five we have the Barclays Center. Currently the arena holds around 15,795 for hockey games and 17,732 for basketball. With the New York Islanders, Brooklyn Nets and the Long Island University Blackbirds (who use this as an alternate venue) as tenants it’s clear to say that this relatively new venue is a popular one. With the Streets practice facility in Brooklyn, some people would advocate for this to be higher on the list. I think that since the facility has no past of hosting an arena football team before combined with the fact the Streets don’t have a deal with them and the large capacity that could plunge the team into debt if they don’t draw well is reason enough to not play at the venue for a bit.
For number four we have the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a very well respected venue in the arena football world. The venue hosted the New York Dragons from 2001-2008 and currently hosts the New York Islanders, Long Island Nets, New York Open tennis tournament and will start playing host to the New York Riptide of the National Lacrosse League (NLL) next season. With around 16,170 seats for hockey the venue might be to big for the Streets for now.
Number three is a true oddball as I’ve chosen the Staten Island Pavilion. The Pavillion hosted the Staten Island Xtreme of the National Indoor Football league in 2004, giving and example of a past team playing arena ball in the facility. With 3,000 seats (around the same amount the Westchester County Center currently has for team games) this could be a nice stepping stone venue so the team can get acclimated to playing in the Big Apple.
At number two we have the granddaddy of all sports arenas in the world, Madison Square Garden (MSG). The venue holds approximately 18,006 seats (for hockey) and is the current home to the New York Knicks, New York Rangers and St John’s Red Storm. With the team already agreeing to play multiple games in MSG this season and with MSG Network covering the games the Garden seems like a natural fit. The big question is will the Streets be able to afford the venue full-time? Maybe if they draw well when they play there this year we will have a better idea of how it all works.
My top pick for where the New York Streets should play their home games is the Westchester County Center. I imagine some people aren’t happy about this pick. My big question is why would the team switch venues so quickly. They are already playing in MSG this season and they are under contract to play In Westchester. Unless there is a buy out clause (and we don’t know how much that would cost) why not let it be for a bit as the team grows? I imagine we all want them in the Big Apple but patience is key when running a business and that’s what we need to have with the Streets.
copyright Azari Images By Rob Disario
The return of Massachusetts WR Devonn Brown coupled with the loss of Carolina WR Fabian Guerra made no impact on Saturday’s nightmare in Greensboro. How could that be? you might ask. Unfortunately, Pirate QB Sean Brackett failed to connect to Brown with DB Michael Green breathing down his neck. Add Brackett’s overthrows, missed snaps, interceptions and flags for false starts, the Pirate offense continues its abysmal course into obscurity. One offensive highlight where performances by WR’s Thomas Owens, Mardy Gilyard (2TD) and Lavon Pearson (1TD) who made the game somewhat watchable.
What confused this analyst, was the fact the Pirates made no attempt to alter their offensive approach after a painful first quarter. Albert Einstein once said “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the very definition of insanity.” The Pirate play-callers repeatedly tried the “2018 Brackett-to-Brown” long bomb when their focus should have pivoted to their short game. By the third quarter they seemed to learn this, hitting Owens, Gilyard and Brown along the boards for short gains. Quayvon Hicks' running game was again deployed helping keep Cobra defense in check. But at this point it was too late.
Massachusetts’ frustration was clearly visible when OL Mitchell Bell was ejected in the third quarter for a penalty saved for a high school, JV team. The last thing anybody needs is stupid penalties created by frustrated linemen. Alas, the Pirates drop to 0-2 and return home on April 27 to face the 1-1 NAL expansion Orlando Predators. Only time will tell whether the Cobras are really that good, or if the Pirates are really that bad.
By RJ Ciancio
Director of NAL Coverage
Arena Football returned to the Amway Center for the first time since August 6th, 2016 as the Orlando Predators hosted the Columbus Lions in the Predators first National Arena League (NAL) game.
The Orlando kickoff bounced out of the endzone as the Columbus Lions got the ball at their own five. On The first play of the season Luke Collis was intercepted for a touchdown by Robert Brown Jr! With the extra point Orlando lead seven to zero .
Looking to redeem themselves Collis began his second drive but the Predators were not going to make it easy for the ground game. With that in mind Collis targeted Bones Bagunte multiple times as the Lions beacon prowling down the field. Orlando defensive back Dallas Jackson broke up a sure touchdown putting pressure on the Lions they committed multiple delay of game penalties on the drive. The Lions began showing how vital Mason Espinoza was last season as Collis couldn’t lead the team inside the redzone.
Orlando took their first offensive drive and began a slow attempt at a drive. Instead of settling for a field goal attempt the Predators went for a kill. It succeeded as Kyle Israel found LJ Castle for the first down. A deep pass drew a flag in the endzone giving Orlando a first down. Israel was called for an umpire pick, negating a touchdown. On first and goal a screen pass to John Brown got them within the ten. One a crucial third and goal from the one the Lions stuffed Israel shot of the endzone. Going for it on fourth and goal was a gutsy move for Orlando and it backfired as the pass fell incomplete.
Columbus began its second drive right before the end of the first quarter. Once again the Lions struggled as it took them until fourth down to get yardage. With the first down the Lions had some breathing room as Collis once again found Bones Bagunte, this time for the Columbus score from 16 yards out. The Lions made the two point conversion making it eight to seven with the Lions in the lead.
The Predators offense needed to make something happen as the offense was yet to score. This was helped out by Edward Victorian who returned to ball in to Lion territory. Orlando was giving a gift with a Lion penalty resulting in a first down. Kyle Israel was dropped for a loss as the Predators were forced to use their second time out. All of a sudden the once red hot Predators looked frozen as they were forced into a fourth down. The Predators once again turned the ball over on downs.
Things looked better for the lions as Collis began finding Bones all over the field. A pass interference flag move the Lions deeper into Predator territory. Orlando was cut a break after the Lions were caught on illegal formation. Collis continued his game by once again finding Bones Bagunte for the score. Feeling confident, the Lions once again went for two but were stuffed on a run attempted. With the failed conversion the Lions lead 14 to seven.
With 3:01 left in the second quarter the Predators had time to make something happen. With the ball starting at their own 20 due to an out of bounds kick. Kyle Israel continued to target LJ Castle as the two continued to build chemistry. On second and goal Orlando found the endzone. With the extra point the game was tied at 14.
Bones returned the ensuing kickoff to their own seven. The Predators began forcing the Lions to settle for the little yardage given to them. Dallas Jackson intercepted Luke Collis on the next play swaying the momentum even more.
LJ Castle continued to be Kyle Israel’s big target getting the first two passes of the dive being thrown his way. A third and short became a third and medium due to a false start. A bad pass lead to the Lions getting the ball back via an interception with 13 seconds left in the half.
Now it was the Lions turn to make something happen. With four seconds left on third down a long pass was broken up in the endzone with the score 14-14 as the team returned to their locker rooms.
The kickoff from the Lions went out of bounds ging the Predators the ball at their own 20. LJ Castle and Kyle Israel continued what looked a game of catch in the front yard as the Predators once again found the endzone. With the extra point the Predators lead 21-14. Orlando followed that up with a deuce making it 23-14 and a two score game.
On first and 10 from their own five Collis began looking for anybody to get the team some breathing room. A man who could help with that was the Lions top target, Bones Bagunte for the first down. Chris Sanders Mccollum got a few balls thrown his way as the Lions got into the red zone. Collis dove in from one yard out giving the Lions a score himself a headache. The two point conversion was broken up as Orlando lead 23-20.
The Predators set themselves up at their own 10 as they began their drive but the Lions defense was beginning to bring some heat as Kyle Israel was forced out of the pocket multiple times. A fourth down pass was dropped by Castele giving the Lion..
By Rob Disario-The 2019 NAL season started just as the Carolina Cobras planned in Worcester, Massachusetts. During the off-season, Cobra management worked diligently to acquire new talent and retain last seasons playmakers. NAL champion quarterback Charles McCullum and wide receiver Fabian Guerra returned to put the hurt on the Mass Pirates to begin the season.
The game started as many expected with the well orchestrated, well staffed Pirate defense at the top of their game. After making a goal line stand, the Cobras got a second chance after a defensive “out of the box” penalty. Nevertheless, the new Pirates defensive line was poised to make a bold statement. But that was not to be.
NAL MVP Sean Brackett had a solid start, picking up where he left last season. On first down of their second possession, the skeleton crew breathed a collective sigh of relief when Brackett launched a thirty yard, end zone bomb to Mardy Gilyard. Thus, the “Brackett to..” story began….or so we thought.
The two offenses traded first half touchdowns and the contest remained competitive. The turning point in the game came late in the second quarter when Cobras defensive back Michael Green intercepted Brackett. This set up Carolina to improve their lead by two touchdowns. The half ended with Brackett unable to connect from the five yard line and turning the ball over on downs. The teams went back to the locker room with the Cobras on top 27-14.
For Pirate fans, the second half was like having Captain Hook perform a prostate exam. Fundamental mistakes by the Mass Pirates gave Carolina the easy win. Brackett had no protection in the pocket, being knocked down more times in the second half than all of last season combined. Add the missed snaps and fumbled balls, Sean Brackett didn’t have a chance to launch one down the field. Meanwhile, Carolina Cobras struck blow after blow essentially ending the game in an “OMG, shut-the-scoreboard-off” Cobra 54-22 win.
So, hats off to Billy Back and his Cobras. A win well deserved to set a new standard in the National Arena League.
By Scott Mulis
Arena Football is Back at the Arena in Jacksonville here in the River City. It is reminiscent to a party and a football game rolled into one. The New York Streets came into Jacksonville, FL to battle the Jacksonville Sharks. When the Game started it looked like the Sharks were going to roll as Jacksonville's New QB John Bane hit WR Jarmon Fortson for a 12 yard Touchdown pass to start the scoring to give the Sharks and early seven to nothing lead. QB John Bane played well most of the night with his trio of receivers all catching Touchdowns including Receivers Fortson, Gilchrist and Devin Wilson. I believe Bane has good magic or chemistry with WR Devin Wilson. A nice crowd saw the opener in Jacksonville. However, the other side of the story was the New York Streets offense which proved to be more consistent with scoring, making the most of their opportunities. The New York Streets also scored a couple of deuces on safeties if you will on Kickoffs by tackling Shark kickoff returners in the End Zone as the Streets kicker was working the Nets. The Biggest key to the Game in my mind even though, there was some good tackling by Sharks Linebacker Cody Saul at times, but the Sharks could not hold up on all 4 downs on 2 different goal line stands where the Sharks could not hold up Defensively. The bottomline is The New York Streets were more consistent offensively than the Sharks as New York outscored the Jacksonville Sharks 52 to 41 in a hard hitting National Arena League game. This was a big win for the very competitive first year New York Streets. The Sharks will attempt to rebound in game number two in Columbus, Georgia against the Lions next week. The Streets will go for two in a row against Orlando next week in the Streets home opener. Despite their Generic looking uniforms, New York played pretty well for an inaugural Game.