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.
copyright Azari Images By Rob Disario
An all-new episode of AFT Buzz hits the airwaves this week with two star players appearing on the show.
Columbus Lions' star wideout Bones Bagaunte comes on the show to discuss his impressive opening week with the team, why he decided to play in Columbus this season and how the team is evolving every moment into a tougher opponent, especially when they host the Jacksonville Sharks this weekend.
West Michigan Ironmen defensive end/linebacker Nick DeKraker also joins the show before their big matchup with the West Virginia Roughriders. DeKraker talks about what it was like to play football again after his hiatus, the buildup for the game this weekend and what it will take to win.
Host Brice Burge also discusses why Oakland is a risky location for IFL expansion, the familiar face that will be Omaha Beef's new quarterback and regular segments like the Pick6 and Facebook Question of the Week.
AFT Buzz is available on multiple networks and available as a podcast after initial broadcast.
Where to listen:
920 WON The Apple: Fridays, 7 p.m. Eastern https://live365.com/station/920-WON–The-Apple-a09178
Action VR Network: Saturdays, 3 p.m. Eastern http://mixlr.com/action-vr-network/
Western Reserve Radio: Wednesdays, 6 p.m. http://edge1-a.exa.live365.net/a60106
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.
Fan Favorite Thomas Claiborne By Rob Disario- We all remember how the 2018 Massachusetts Pirates season ended: NAL MVP quarterback Sean Brackett injured in week 15 essentially ending the teams’ inaugural season championship dream. It appears Pirate ownership learned a valuable lesson and signed all-conference QB Alejandro Bennifield. After finishing his 2016 collegiate season with the second most single season touchdown passes in Tennessee-Chattanooga history, Bennifield attended mini-camp with the New Orleans Saints before signing with the Memphis Express of the now defunct AAF. It appears Bennifield will fill a much needed vacancy in the swashbuckling offense.
In an exclusive AFT interview, Pirates owner, Jawad Yatim was excited to talk about his recent quarterback add: “Having Alejandro here in Mass. is a big plus for our organization. The security of having 2 QB's on the roster that you fully believe in is an ideal component of a championship team. We still have to go out there and execute week in and week out, but we feel great about where our QB situation is at the moment.”
On the other side of the ball, team management has gone out of their way to assure their defensive roster dominates the NAL. They signed explosive players such as Georgia Tech DB Lawrence Austin, former New England Patriot defensive lineman Joshua Augusta and Massachusetts local DB Jason Matovu. This defensive roster is sure to keep opposing teams points at a minimum.
Check out the Pirates v. Cobras opener on Saturday, April 13, 2019 at the DCU Center in Worcester, MA or streaming 7pm on Youtube Live.
By Brice Burge
Head of Management
Editor's Note: This is a weekly column regarding the sport, written by AFT's Head of Management and Host of AFT Buzz, Brice Burge. Columns come out Wednesdays. If you haven't had a chance to watch last week's game between the Quad Cities Steamwheelers and the Green Bay Blizzard, you need to it. It was an instant classic, down to the wire, filled with excitement, wackiness and all you could ever dream of from an indoor game.It was also kids day at the Resch Center and the first opportunity for a number of kids to really understand what indoor football means. Getting close to the wall and maybe getting a souvenir from a player, hearing the pads crunch in the tackles, being a part of that crowd going nuts when the Blizzard took the lead; all aspects of the sensory aspects of live sports that can be difficult to put into words.
And it was a great crowd too. Many of the fans weren't sure what to expect from Green Bay as they've won three close games with late scores or lost in absolute blowouts. But they won the week before in Quad Cities and had a chance to be 4-2 for the first time since 2005.
Those fans were treated to one of the most electric IFL games of the season, with big returns, huge sacks and both teams taking the lead in the final minute. Some of the plays were a little absurd and there was some extracurriculars happening in the first half, but for hockey-friendly Wisconsinites, it wasn't anything that would detract from the good.
The parents there also had so many great opportunities. Some of them remember the old AF2 rivalry being renewed after a long ten years. Others were happy to have a family event where the ticket prices weren't going to break the bank to bring the kids along. Even more got a chance to share the rich football tradition of the area in a new way to improve the cultural bond between generations. All knew how important a good memory like that could mean for fostering the relationship between parent and child.
If you weren't there and watched the online feed, the commentators did a great job of pushing forward the ambiance of the arena. It was a call that was honest and one that showed they were true fans of the game without being a homer. Between the late-game heroics and the play by play getting strained under all the excitement, it provided the perfect complement to what was on the field. The only negative is that watchers saw the post-game laser light show advertised and didn't get a chance to see it.
I'm not saying that the other franchises and other leagues don't have these opportunities and connections. Since starting to cover indoor football, I've had a chance to add a number of front office members and players on social media. They all respect and even cherish the times they read at local elementary schools and interact with kids at events. But when you pair this mentality with good arena staff and stellar gameday operations crews, it creates an environment where everyone can be a kid again.
This time I actually had a friend and his eight-year-old son attend this game. My friend is a blue-collar man and his wife served in the military. They have three children, but the youngest two stayed home with their mother this time.
It was both of their first experience's with the sport, and had already bought tickets for the matchup. Then he won front row tickets through a local business and got upgraded to the 15 yard line. Before the game they got to speak with some of the players in warmups and his son got a hug from BJ Hill. Another player told them about how close everyone got and how important it was for the game. Other players were just as happy to have them as the fans were to be there.
You pair that direct contact with a game like that and you create permanent, positive memories. They're memories that can remind you of big moments of your childhood, like that time your dad took you to see Jim Abbott pitch against the White Sox on your eighth birthday. Or it could give you the warm fuzzies when things aren't so good, reminding you about the love and care fostered by an experience like this.
If you think this might be reading a little too into this, I asked my friend how his son enjoyed the experience. This is what he said:
“(My son) was reserved at first, then followed my lead and got all into slamming pads and screaming. He was so pumped with that finish. As a dad that was the best part. Got a big hug and a thank you afterwards. That's all you can ask for.”
All around, I'm pretty proud that I get a chance to cover, and therefore promote, this sport. It's a real opportunity for all to get out there and keep striving towards loftier goals, whether that is professionally or personally. Thanks Green Bay and Quad Cities for letting us feel like kids again.
By RJ Ciancio
Director of NAL Coverage
With the Arena Football League having just launched a new set of uniforms I decided to go over my personal top five favorite.
Albany Empire (5)
At the number five slot we have the newest uniform on the list. Something about the neon orange against the navy blue is exciting yet soothing. The Arena Football League (AFL) made a wise choice as the flashy uniform compliments the league’s style of play. It was exciting, memorable and full of exuberance, just like the AFL’s mission.
Dallas Desperados (4)
The only away uniform on this list belongs to the Dallas Desperados. The color scheme is simple, royal blue and white. Dallas’ uniform wouldn’t be that memorable if it didn’t have the top half of the jersey in an elegant royal blue. The white lettering is a nice contrast and the same goes for the blue numbering on the white. Overall, this a solid and simple uniform.
Portland Thunder (3)
The Portland Thunder had a complex yet elegant uniform. The pants are you standed white complimented by royal blue socks. As far of the tops go they are a traditional royal blue with white numbering. However, it is the helmet that truly make the uniform memorable. The fat royal blue stripe divides the helmet well, giving two distinct areas for the grey to surround the powerful Thunder logo. This is the best uniform the revived AFL has put out so far.
Milwaukee Mustangs (2)
The original Milwaukee Mustangs are the only team that I can recall that have made turquoise, white and royal purple work as a color scheme. Royal purple is a great base for a uniform and turquoise trimming provide a smooth transition to the white numbers. The helmet, however, is what makes the look memorable. WIth a turquoise stripe down the middle of a royal purple shell with a mustang speeding along in front of an M it’s clear that much time and effort was put into this design.
New York Dragons (1)
Up to this point we have gone over bold, flashy, and clean uniforms, but none of them are quite as classic as the Aaron Garcia era New York Dragons home uniform. The fire red helmet goes perfectly with the menacing and sharp black dragon. New York was smart to make the lettering and number trim yellow, so to not overwhelm us with fire red. The black uniform has a dark and menacing look installing (as much) fear (as a uniform can) into the opposing fans and players. When you and the small red and yellow flames on the shoulders the uniform becomes a classic.
Photo courtesy of Wichita Force By James Chambers Contributing Writer
The Wichita Force improved their game in week 2 against the Texas Revolution. Even though the team gave the Revolution multiple first downs that came on fourth down attempts, fans seen a drastic improvement over week one. The first score of the game went to the Revolution, when Robert Kent Jr. threw a four-yard strike against the Force. That play defined the rest of the game.
However, the Force did make it a competition by only losing by 10 points by game end. Aside from the defensive penalties, the Force managed to improve as a team after a 50 point loss to the Duke City Gladiators. Joe Hubener finished the game with 197 yards and four touchdown passes. Eventually, the Force would end the game trailing by ten with a final score of 47 – 37.
Week three the Force played the Flying Aces in Enid, Oklahoma. The Force received the first kickoff. They would hold on the ball for an unprecedented six minutes before running back Jack Tomlinson rushed in with a five-yard scamper into the end zone.
The Aces looked like they switched places with the Force starting the game out with mis-snaps making it difficult for quarterback Joshua Floyd to handle the ball. After throwing an initial 15-yard pass to Joshua Steward Floyd fumbled the snap with the Force recovering. The Aces defense initially held the Force to a three and done possession, forcing a field goal attempt that was blocked by the Aces defense. Consequently the Force recovered the blocked football ten yards up the field yielding a first down. Additionally the Aces defense came up strong, making the Force settle for a 22-yard field goal attempt giving the Force a 10 – 0 lead.
The second quarter was time for the Aces to start their comeback attempt. The Aces put together a ten play offensive escapade that led to a touchdown with help from three penalties on the Force defense. The Aces went into the locker room at half time with a 20 – 13 lead.
The start of the second half the Aces received the first kickoff. Floyd again fumbled the throw and Wichita recovered fumble the ball again and recovering in the end zone for the tying score. Aces offensive line was flagged for a holding call on their next possession, causing their next possession to be cut short and missing a field goal attempt. Joe Hubener would help lead the Force offense down the field and throw a 19-yard toss to make the score 27 – 20.
The Aces next possession would eventually land them on the two-yard line where Floyd scored the touchdown on a quarterback keeper to close the gap just before the third quarter came to a close. The Aces missed the extra point, leaving the Force a one-point lead.
The Force answered the touchdown with a field goal giving them a four-point lead to start the fourth quarter. Floyd, determined to score selected the quarterback keeper to score another two-yard touchdown to put the Aces up by two points. Wichita’s offense proved to be too much to handle for the Aces defense. Wichita went on to score three consecutive times against the Aces. Winning the game with a score of 42 – 32. A Marcus Carter interception put the game at rest and allowed the Force the ability to seal the victory.
Next up for the Force they travel to take on the Omaha Beef who currently holds a similar one and two records. This game will be one to watch with both teams fighting for second place in their respective divisions.
By Marcelo Metzelar, Contributing Writer
The series of plays that led to this week’s AFT Network’s Play of the Week began when the Green Bay Blizzard got the go-ahead touchdown vs Sioux Falls. With twenty seconds to go in the game, Green Bay’s Lenorris Footman found Kezlow Smith for the game winner.
The play call took advantage of Sioux Falls’ Cover 2 Sky Coverage. Formationally, the Blizzard stretched the field as much vertically as they did horizontally. The rules clearly that there must be four men on the line of scrimmage (LOS). The LOS is the imaginary line from the back tip of the football and extends from sideline to sideline. In the figure below, X is the fourth man on the line with the three down linemen. The right lineman is an eligible receiver but is kept home to block on most situations. This is why the linebacker is aligned over the right side.
Both motion men were aligned on the right side which is the wide side of the field. This makes contact at the snap difficult because the receivers have the space to avoid the block.
The pass concept is a 15 yard “In” route by X, “post” by Y, and a “go” route by Z. This is a classic concept that is geared to take advantage of Cover 2 Sky coverages. The Cover 2 concept means that there are two man covering the deep routes. In an ideal world, this means the free safety has from the middle of the field to the left sideline, and the cornerback has the middle of the field to the right sideline. See the figure below:
Z’s go route forces the CB to play more to the right of his zone. As Y heads toward the middle, the free safety’s responsibility is to cover the middle and to not get beat deep because he has no help behind him. The routes run by Y and Z stretch the defense vertically, leaving larger seams between the zones covered by linebackers and safeties. The 15-yd in by X “high-lows” the free safety as he becomes the quarterback’s read. Cover Y deep, and the 15-yard in opens up. Cover the X; and Y beats him deep.
As with last week’s column about Jimmy and Joe, a great individual effort by Smith helped make the score happen and led to the eventual game winner. Prime time players will make prime time plays. Included with the play of the week this week are two additional fantastic plays that made the win possible.
A great onside kick recovery and a great passed defensed made the win possible. Many can say it was a lucky onside recovery, but luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. The onside kick recovery was a prepared and practiced play, as evidenced by its peculiarity. Rather than kicking the ball the traditional ten yards to make the ball accessible to the kick off team’s fastest players; the ball was kick thirty yards downfield!
Onside kicks do not happen by telling the team, “Go downfield and recover the ball!” It’s a part of the weekly game plan. The kicker needs to know where to kick the ball. The kick off team needs to know where the kicker is kicking it. Every player has an assignment, between knocking receiving team’s players off the ball, to the actual recovery. Far too often, I will see a coach berating his players for not watching enough football. I can watch a movie, but that doesn’t make me a screen writer. Kudos must be given to the Blizzard coaching staff for preparing their team for this situation, and of course, the win.