The Jacksonville defense caused six Massachusetts turnovers and three touchdown receptions by Tom Gilson enable the Sharks to defeat the Pirates 45-36 and move into first place in the National Arena League Saturday night at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville.
Marvin Ross accounted for three interceptions as the Sharks (10-5) held the Pirates (10-5) to their lowest point total of the year and scoreless in the fourth quarter for the first time this season as they won the season series from Massachusetts.
It was the Pirates who started quickly as quarterback Sean Brackett hit Lavon Pearson just four plays into the game. Ali Mourtada followed with a PAT and a “Duce” for a 9-0 lead. After stopping the Sharks first drive Brackett connected with Mardy Gilyard to put the Pirates out front 15-0. The Sharks scored the final points of the quarter as quarterback Patrick McCain found Gilson from four yards out to make the score 15-7 Massachusetts.
The Pirates were driving to start the second quarter but backup quarterback Darron Thomas was intercepted in the red zone by Ross. The Pirates defense answered with a stop and the team was driving when on second and six at the Jacksonville 14, Bracket was injured when Sharks defensive lineman Jermiah Price landed on the quarterback, injuring Brackett’s leg. Brackett had to be helped from the field and did not return. After the game Pirates team officials said preliminary reports called the injury an ankle sprain which would be evaluated further when the team returns to Worcester. On the next play Thomas threw a 13 TD pass to Devonn Brown and the Pirates led 21-15 with 6:38 to play in the half.
The Sharks answered quickly with Gilson grabbing his second score of the night to close the score to 21-14 and then the Jacksonville defense notched its second interception of the night as Thomas saw a pass attempt slip from his had with the ball landing in the arms of the Sharks Damien Jacobs. Three plays later McCain fired a nine yard strike to Chris Gilchrist and Brandon Behr’s extra point tied the score at 21. The Pirates did score on the last play of the half on a ten yard run by Thomas and they led 28-21 at the half.
In the third quarter the Sharks tied the contest at 28 as McCain led Jacksonville on a six play drive that culminated in a Cody Saul eight yard touchdown run. The Pirates did not flinch as Gilyard caught his second TD pass of the game. The PAT was blocked by Price but Mourtada added a “Duce” and the Pirate lead was 36-28.
It looked as if the Pirates might pull away as Kiante Northington got the ball back with his league leading 11th interception of the season, but on the very next play the Sharks Silveryberry Mouhon caused Thomas to fumble and Price recovered for Jacksonville. Seconds later on first and goal at the eight, Derrick Ross scored on an eight yard run and the quarter ended with the Pirates ahead 36-35.
The fourth quarter was all Jacksonville. After forcing the Pirates to turn the ball over on downs, Gilson and McCain hooked up for the third time on the night. The 23 yard touchdown reception gave the Sharks their first lead of the game, 42-36, with 13:19 remaining. They would never trail again. Gilson finished as the game’s leading receiver with 10 receptions for 110 yards and three scores.
The teams traded the next two possessions as Marvin Ross intercepted for the Sharks and a sack by Roosevelt Roberts on fourth down gave the Pirates a possession starting at the Jacksonville 15 with 6:52 to play. On fourth and 12 from the 18 Thomas saw his pass in the end zone intercepted by Dallas Jackson. The Sharks then went on a 43 yard drive that took 3:32 off the clock. Behr made a 17 yard field goal for the games’ final points as the Sharks led 45-36 with 39 seconds to play. Any hopes of a Pirates comeback ended on the next offensive play as Thomas was intercepted for the fifth time in the game. Marvin Ross’ third pick of the game sealed the victory.
Brackett numbers were impressive before leaving with the injury as he was 8 of 12 for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas ended the night 7 of 18 for 73 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions. The Pirates leading receiver was Lavon Pearson who had eight receptions for 83 yards and a score. For the Sharks McCain was 17 of 37 for 175 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.
The Pirates return home for their final regular season contest at the DCU Center in Worcester, Saturday August 4 at 7 pm when they face the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks. A win would secure a first round playoff game at home for the Pirates.
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