WORCESTER — The Massachusetts Pirates trailed the Columbus Lions by 15 points early in the third quarter of their National Arena League marquee matchup Sunday when quarterback Sean Brackett threw his second interception.
As Brackett jogged off the field at the DCU Center, he reminded himself to focus on the future because having a short memory in indoor football is a valuable asset. Then he did what he always does before reaching the bench, implore his defense to get him the ball back.
“That’s how you win games and are successful,” Brackett said. “You get stops and go in and score.”
The defense took the field and proceeded to make the first of three straight stops, all of which the offense turned into touchdowns as the Pirates outscored the Lions, 29-7, over the final 25 minutes to post a 44-37, last-second victory.
“We started out slow, picked it up and brought home a victory,” defensive end Kaelin Burnett said. “That’s title-town right there.”
The Pirates are 4-1 and tied with the Carolina Cobras for first place with the Maine Mammoths due in for a visit here Saturday night. The Georgia-based Lions are 2-1.
While it’s still early in the season, the game had a passionate, playoff-like feel to it from the outset with non-stop chatter and frequent unsportsmanlike penalties by both sides.
“Obviously, the intensity was there,” linebacker Nick Haag of Worcester said. “I couldn’t be prouder of these guys. It was a complete team win.”
The game took a change for the worse for Columbus when receiver Jarmon Forston extended the ball in search of the first-down marker deep in Massachusetts territory following Brackett’s second interception. It appeared defensive back Kiante Northington knocked loose a ball that was definitely recovered by Haag.
“We were hustling to the ball and that’s something I harp on all the time with this team — eight guys to the ball at all times and that’s what happened,” Haag said. “We ran to the corner, a guy is hitting someone so, boom, you have to dive and make a play.”
The Pirates scored five plays later, receiver Lavon Pearson pulling in a 10-yard touchdown pass and Ali Mourtada kicking the extra point to cut the deficit to 30-22 with 3:24 left in the third.
Mourtada finished six of seven on extra points, scored on a “deuce” when he sent a kickoff through the goal posts and helped net another point that made it 30-23 when the Lions were unable to return a kickoff out of the end zone.
All told the Pirates would score on their final four possessions to complete their crazy comeback.
The defense continued to fuel the surge as John Hardy-Tuliau’s tight coverage in the end zone resulted in a fourth-down incompletion before Burnett intercepted Columbus QB Mason Espinosa (25 for 34, 209 yards, 5 TDs) on first and goal at the 8 early in the fourth quarter.
“That was a momentum changer right there,” the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Burnett said of his first professional pick.
The offense countered with receiver London Crawford scoring on a 9-yard sweep — one of just two runs by the Pirates all game — to tie it and an acrobatic, 9-yard touchdown catch by receiver Mardy Gilyard that gave the Pirates their first lead, 37-30, with less than four minutes to play.
After the Lions tied it with 1:27 to play, the Pirates went to work. They were back on top four plays later when Brackett zinged a ball to Pearson in the left corner of the end zone that the 6-3, 185-pound Tennessee alum went up and high-pointed for his second TD.
“I just wanted it — we just wanted it — so I had to go get it,” Pearson said.
“We really wanted to single up Mardy out there, but they helped with the middle safety so we had two-on-one backside,” Brackett said. “I had a little bit of a window and put it only outside where Von could get it and he went up and made a great play. That’s the name of the right there.”
Brackett finished 24 of 34 for 191 yards and five touchdowns while Gilyard had seven catches for 83 yards and three touchdowns.