By Tiffany Williams –
The 11-3 Massachusetts Pirates departed Thursday for the IFL United Bowl in Arizona. The Pirates, who have won eleven straight games, on their journey to the United Bowl have beaten some of the toughest teams in the IFL.
While some things about this team have played out as expected, not many of us, with COVID-19, anticipated that this team would be 11-3 and heading to the league championship game.
However there were some of us who after watching the Pirates beat Louisville 49-18 in week one, saw the writing on the wall that this team was gonna turn this season into a victory.
The Pirates are only three days from the United Bowl and now is as good as any time to look at what we’ve learned about this team.
First, there isn’t just any one player on this team that stood out more than any other player. Coach Kizer said it best as I spoke with him before the team departed. He said that they had a great team, “I knew that when Jawad was bringing in all this talent, we just had to coach them up, teach them the indoor game and now they finally caught on to it.”
Indeed this team has caught on to it and you can see that from the start of this season right up to these last eleven straight wins. This team worked as a unit together, that’s why there is not one player that stands out more than any other player. The coaching staff for the Pirates have done an absolutely phenomenal job at coaching up and truly developing this team into a championship team.
Second, this team is not the same team that we saw in seasons one and two. This team has a much stronger defensive unit that plays tougher, smarter and in rhythm with each other. To win this weekend, I talked with Chucky Williams, JD Griggs and Khalid Wooten before they departed for their flight and they each said what we all always say and that is that defense wins championships.
If the Pirates D unit can play this Sunday like they have been all season, they should see some solid plays. The other great thing about the Pirates D unit this season, that will help them this weekend, is their attention to detail. Their ability to look for the mistakes of their opponents and turn those mistakes into scoring opportunities. Some great examples would be week 19 when Maxey-Penton had a 30 yard interception return, the week before, week 18 is when Santos Ramirez had a 12 yard fumble recovery and the week before that Maxey-Penton had a 50 yard interception. I would be doing a great misjustice by failing to mention the amazing 98 yard PAT return by JD Griggs in week 16.
What is the game plan for this weekend? I asked Coach Kizer and he said, “Stick to the game plan, execute the game plan, trust each other, communicate, get the job done and stop them on defense.”
JD Griggs said it best, “If defense can execute we’ll win the game.”
Alejandro Bennifield, has really stepped it up this season but let me first just say that if you watch how Dro has played this season, it’s kind of a flashback to how he played in his Junior year at Chattanooga. The same grit and toughness you saw in him then, you saw it in him this season. I think Dro has handled himself pretty well this season. He’s a very intelligent football player. When you take his intelligence of the game and combine that with the intelligence of Coach Bagaunte and Sean Brackett who assisted this season when he wasn’t playing, the offensive unit had a tight package that they executed very well. Not only did we see the ability of Dro to make some good rushing touchdowns but I thought he showed his arm talent really well.
There is no room for error on offense in a championship game and that means every play has gotta be smartly executed on Sunday. Situationally and operationally whatever offensive system the Pirates have had all season, they can’t come with that on Sunday. Knowing Bagaunte and Orell, they have probably been working all week with the O unit and will execute a new but not so new system on Sunday.
Whether Dro is hitting Justin on slants, crossers, corners and digs, finding Laquvionte on various intermediate routes between the hashes or connecting with Thomas on a home-run shot down the boundary, he has to put the ball in the hands of his top three targets.
In ending, I just wanna say that Laquvionte, I think will be a very dynamic playmaker for the Pirates this Sunday considering his speed, quickness and burst. He has the ability to drive and not hit any potholes.