by Jose Bahena
Saturday May 19th, the Carolina Cobras hosted the top ranked Massachusetts Pirates for the second time this season in the National Arena League and hoped for a repeat of the last meeting of two teams. It was Star Wars night and after an away loss the week before in Columbus, Ga against the Lions, the Cobras were hoping to bounce back using the Force.
The Cobras were first with the ball but unable to come away with points as they were held to a long field goal attempt by Craig Peterson, which came up short and was returned deep by the Pirates to give them great field position. Pirates quarterback Sean Brackett was able to sneak a pass by the Cobras secondary and put the ball in the end zone for the first touchdown of the game for a 7-0 lead. On the next offensive possession by the Cobras, they once against had difficulties gaining positive yardage against the defensive squad of the Pirates. Backed up on a 4th and 15, Peterson would have another field goal attempt fail to find the goal posts and be returned out by the Pirates. The Cobras defense wasn’t going to make the night easy for the visiting Pirates as a combination of defensive pressure and penalty flags backed the Pirates up to their own four yard line, forcing Massachusetts to attempt a field goal that went wide of the uprights. Carolina’s Cedric Poole was able to find just enough holes in the kick return coverage to skate down to the 14 yard line to set up a Cobras touchdown from Charles McCullum to Jordan Jolly. Peterson’s point after was good to tie the game 7-7.
The next possession for the Pirates would see Poole step up again and snag the first interception of the night back to the six yard line to set up the McCullum to Tyron Laughinghouse touchdown connection, making the score 14-7 after Peterson’s successful PAT. Massachusetts refused to fall behind and proved it with a one play drive to the end zone, the point after was no good and put the Pirates back in the game at 13-14. The Cobras offensive was upset on the following drive as a Pirates defender cut into the passing lane for a Massachusetts interception. The Pirates capitalized on the mistake by scoring another touchdown, again with an awkward point after attempt that missed but still ticked the score up to 19-14. The Cobras were under pressure and found the ball once more going to a visiting player for the second interception of McCullum. Looking to shave some time off the game clock, the Pirates marched down the field to find an open receiver with just 43 seconds left in the half.
Massachusetts Head Coach Ameer Ismail opted to try for a two point conversion, but the Cobras defense stiffed enough to cover the end zone and leave the game at 25-14. The Cobras used the moment to drive the ball down with 29 seconds left before halftime to have Laughinghouse hold tight for a falling catch in the end zone to close the gap to 21-25. The excitement was short-lived as Massachusetts fired back with another last-minute touchdown to pull away to 32-21 after the positive PAT. Only 20 seconds remained but the Cobras were determined to make the most of it by getting Phillip Barnett open on the drive to hit the end zone again. Unfortunately Charles McCullum took a fall backwards and landed on his hand awkwardly resulting in an injury timeout. Pulling out all the stops, Peterson was able to hit the first kickoff deuce for two extra Carolina points to pull within two points at 30-32. The Pirates had just 8 seconds to work with as the Hail Mary pass was over the intended targets and caught for an interception by Poole for his second interception of the half.
The Pirates opened the second half with the same intensity as they showed in the first, taking the ball down and scoring again to widen the point gap to 39-30. McCullum was back under center despite having a minor issue with his throwing hand, which exposed itself when his pass was underthrown to a Pirates defensive player and ran back to the five yard line. The fullback for Massachusetts was able to bowl in over the goal line for a touchdown, but the point after would be missed leaving the scoreboard at 45-30 with the visitors leading. Laughinghouse was able to dive over the wall in an incredible effort to land the touchdown on the next drive for Carolina. Peterson not only cleared the Point after, but also nailed another deuce on the kickoff to reel the score back in to 39-45. Ismail’s Pirates took to the field and again let the drive end with a rushing touchdown by the fullback, edging out ahead 56-39. Mccullum’s nagging injury made for a slow drive for Carolina, again with disastrous results for the home team as a pass was intercepted again by the Pirates. This time the Pirates wanted to drive the mistake home by taking it all the way for a touchdown, burying the Cobras in a deficit to the tune of 20 points at 59-39.
Down big with just one-quarter remaining, the Cobras offensive went nose to the grind, and Laughinghouse ran himself open for a fourth touchdown of the contest. Peterson once again answered the call by hitting the point after and a third kickoff deuce to shave the Pirates lead down making it a more manageable 59-48. Pinned on their own five yard line Massachusetts felt the full force of the Cobras defensive unit as Brackett’s handoff was knocked away and Cobras linebacker Jermaine Jones was able to dive onto the ball for a forced fumble touchdown recovery. The costly mistake by Brackett cut the Pirates lead to just four points, and the clearly rattled Pirates saw the next drive cut short by a familiar #3 cobra Cedric Poole. The Cobras interception kick started a chain of events, as the Cobras next drive was also intercepted, and from there Keith Lewis returned the favor and intercepted the Pirates right back.On the offense, the Cobras were in dire need of points, and McCullum was able to deliver on a pass to a reaching Barnett. Living up to his nickname of “Craig The Leg” Peterson put three more points on the Pirates between the PAT and a fourth kickoff deuce, bailing the Cobras out of the slump and leading 62-59 with exactly one minute remaining.
The Pirates weren’t going down with a fight as Brackett fired from the 5 yard line to hit the deep man to the end zone on a single play. Pressure abound, the Pirates went for a 2 point conversion to get any edge they could, Conversion failed and put the Cobras offense back on the field down 65-64. Do or die for Carolina, the first snap of the drive was fumbled and left the game clock running down. The next two shots to the end zone were knocked away and left all 3,756 fans on their feet. Just 12 seconds were left when McCullum, undaunted by the incomplete passes found Laughinghouse open to make Carolina Cobras history by catching his 5th touchdown of the night. Carolina’s Head Coach Billy Back decided for the two point conversion, and McCullum’s quarterback keeper broke the plane to give them a 72-65 lead with 10 seconds left for the Pirates to play. The Pirates connected on the first play of the drive only to be stopped and forced a timeout with 3.2 seconds left. The roar of the Greensboro crowd was deafening as the passing pocket collapsed with Cobras defensive pressure and Brackett was sacked as the clock hit all zeros with the Cobras on top to defend their home turf once more.
The win brings the Carolina Cobras to 5-2 on the season, the same record as the Massachusetts. The Cobras are also undefeated on the season by the Pirates as they are 2-0 with one remaining game between the teams later this season in Worcester, MA. The Carolina Cobras will enter their bye week on a high note, and return to play in Allentown, PA to take on the winless Lehigh Valley Steelhawks on June 2nd. The game will be streamed via the National Arena Leagues Youtube Live streaming services.