The Massachusetts Pirates could not capitalize on opportunities in the red zone as they suffered their first home loss of the season at the hands of the Jacksonville Sharks 47-42 Saturday night at the DCU Center in Worcester.
The Pirates (5-3) got off to a quick start as quarterback Sean Brackett hit Mardy Gilyard with a 32 scoring pass on the game’s first play from scrimmage. With an extra point and a “Duce” by Ali Mourtada, the Pirates had a 9-0 lead before the Sharks (5-3) had taken a snap. It looked as if the Pirates would widen that lead as on second and ten from the Pirates 12 yard line, J.D. Griggs tipped an Adrian McPherson pass which was caught by Cheatham Norrils for his fourth interception of the season and Massachusetts was back in business. The ensuing drive saw the Pirates turn the ball over on downs which set the tone for the evening.
Three plays later McPherson found Antonio Vaughn with a four yard pass in the end zone and the Sharks trailed 9 -7 as the first quarter came to a close.
The start of the second quarter saw the Pirates driving deep into Jacksonville territory. On third and goal from the two Brackett sprinted to the end zone and dove along the wall in an effort to break the plane. As he went airborne the ball came lose and it the wall. It was initially ruled a touchdown but a review overturned the call, ruling it a fumble and touchback. Two plays later Tom Gilson was pulling in a 22 yard TD pass and the Sharks held a 14-9 lead.
From there the pace quickened as the teams traded scores on the next five possessions. The Pirates recaptured the lead as Brackett connected with Bones Bagaunte from 12 yards out for a 16-14 advantage.
Vaughn caught his second “six” on a 10 yard strike with 3:25 remaining in the half but Gilyard answered with a 10 yard score of his own and the Pirates led 23-20. Gilyard led the Pirates in receiving yards for the game with 87 on five receptions and two touchdowns. The Sharks needed only four plays to march back down the field with the final 17 yards covered by Vaughn’s third TD grab of the half, giving the Sharks a 27-23 edge with 22 seconds remaining.
There was more to come as Bagaunte and Brackett hooked up again, this time from 11 yards out. For Bagaunte it was his second score of the game as he finished with eight catches for 73 yards. With just one tenth of a second left in the half Nicholas Belcher missed a 50 yard field goal and the Pirates led at halftime 30-27.
In the third quarter the Sharks had an extended drive that covered 30 yards in six plays with McPherson going up top to Gilson for a 33-30 lead. Gilson finished the night with five receptions for 87 yards and two scores. The Sharks had a chance to expand the lead as Brandon Roe intercepted Brackett in the red zone. Just three plays later Pasqual Vacchio returned the favor with an interception of his own. Vacchio raced 21 yards into the end zone for his second ”pick six” of the season and the Pirates led 36-33 with 5:11 remaining in the quarter.
The Sharks completed the scoring in the third as tight end Glenn Haisley caught a short pass and turned the play into a 25 yard touchdown dragging a defender into the end zone, giving Jacksonville a 40-36 lead.
The Pirates had their chances to remain undefeated on their home turf as on the first play of the final frame, Brackett scrambled to his right under pressure and threw back to the left to find Lavon Pearson for 20 yards and a touchdown. It would be the Pirates last lead of the game. The Massachusetts defense gave the ball back to the offense on their own 21 as they forced the Sharks to turn the ball over on downs. Brackett drove his team down the field, highlighted by a 26 yard pass to Bagaunte. On third and goal Brackett attempted to jump and dive over the goal line from the one, but the ball was stripped and recovered by Seth Ellis at the two. Ellis returned the fumble to the 11 which set up the winning drive for Jacksonville. After two completions to Chris Gilchrist, McPherson found Vaughn for his fourth TD reception of the night to give the Sharks a 47-42 lead with 3:05 to play. Vaughn was the receiving star as he pulled in seven balls for 78 yards and four scores.
The Pirates had one final drive. On second and eight from their own 22, Brackett hit Pearson with a deep ball down to the Jacksonville one, but a holding call wiped out the play and the Pirates never recovered. Three straight incompletions enabled the Sharks to take over on downs and run out the clock for their fourth consecutive victory.
Brackett finished the game going 19 of 31 for 246 yards with one interception and five touchdowns while McPherson was 20 of 35 for 241 yards, two interceptions and seven scores.
The Pirates will look to get back on track this week when they take to the road Saturday night when they face the Maine Mammoths.
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