Garrett Hartley kicked a game winning 31-yard field goal in overtime as the Massachusetts Pirates defeated the Arizona Rattlers 37-34 to win the United Bowl claiming the 2021 Indoor Football League Championship at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona on Sunday evening.
Pirates quarterback Alejandro Bennifield was the game’s Most Valuable Player as he was 10 of 23 passing for 83 yards and a touchdown (with two interceptions) and he was also the Pirates’ leading rusher with 56 yards on ten carries with two scores.
Second seeded Massachusetts ended the season on an 11-game winning streak with a final overall record of 14-3. Both totals are franchise records. Arizona, which was the top seed, also finished 14-3.
The Pirates entered the game with the fewest points allowed per game (33.1) and it was their defense that got them started. On the second play of the game, defensive back Aarion Maxey-Penton deflected a pass by Rattlers’ quarterback Drew Powell. The ball was intercepted by Santos Ramirez and the Pirates cashed in. Bennifield led the team on an eight-play, 45-yard march. Justin Stockton carried the ball the final two yards for a touchdown. Hartley added the point after and Massachusetts led 7-0.
The Rattlers would return the favor with 1:56 to play in the quarter. Arizona defensive back Dillion Winfrey, the IFL Defensive Player of the Year, intercepted Bennifield. Powell, the IFL MVP for 2021 engineered a 6-play, 45-yard drive that culminated with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Braxton Haley. The extra point attempt by Ernesto Lacayo was no good and the quarter ended with Massachusetts leading 7-6.
Both quarterbacks threw interceptions early in the second quarter with Winfrey picking off his second of the game for the Rattlers and Maxey-Penton grabbing on the Pirates. Once again Massachusetts converted the turnover into points as Thomas Owens was on the receiving end of a Bennifield 12-yard pass for a touchdown and the Pirates led 14-6 with 3:42 remaining in the half. The Rattlers answered on their next possession driving 21 yards in five plays with Powell scoring on a one-yard run. Arizona would tie the game on a two-point conversion that was reminiscent of the Philly Special that the Eagles used in Super Bowl LII against New England. Powell took the snap, handed off to Nick LaSane who then handed off to Haley, who passed to a wide-open Powell in the end zone.
The Pirates shook it off and on the last play of the half, Hartley kicked a 31-yard field goal and went to the locker room leading 17-14.
In the third quarter the Pirates kept the Rattlers at arms-length, scoring on their opening drive of the half. Bennifield involved three receivers on a nine-play, 37-yard drive and scored his first rushing TD of the game from six-yards out for a 24-14 advantage. The Rattlers used just one play to keep things close as Powell went deep, 38-yards to Jamal Miles for six, and Arizona was down by just three points at 24-21. Hartley added his second field goal of the night, a 25-yarder and Massachusetts led 27-21 after three quarters.
Arizona would tie the game in the final quarter as Powell took his team down the field and closed out a seven-play, 47-yard drive with a touchdown run of three yards. The point after however was no good leaving the game knotted at 27 with 9:43 to play.
One of the biggest plays of the game for the Pirates occurred on the ensuing kickoff as Laquvionte Gonzalez returned the kick 32 yards to the Arizona 22. Gonzalez finished the game with five returns for 102 yards. After an incomplete pass, Bennifield ran for 20 yards and then two more for a touchdown. Massachusetts was out front 34-27 with 6:31 to play. The Rattlers turned the ball over on downs and things looked great for the Pirates, just 58 seconds from their first ever championship.
As the Massachusetts drive stalled, Hartley came on to attempt a 36-yard field goal with 19 seconds left. The kick was blocked by Lamar Mady and returned by Nick D’Avonzo to the Pirates three-yard line. Two plays later Powell was into the endzone from three yards out and with the point after the game was tied at 34 with ten seconds to play. The Pirates had one more chance to win it in regulation but a 42-yard field goal try by Hartley was no go and the game headed to overtime.
The Rattlers had the ball first and drove to the Pirates two. On second and goal Khalid Wooten forced Powell to fumble into the endzone where Maxey-Penton recovered.
After the Pirates failed to advance past the Arizona 17, they called on Hartley once again. The former Super Bowl Champion with the New Orleans Saints became an IFL Champ along with the rest of his teammates as his 31-yard attempt sailed through the uprights for the victory.
The Pirates, considered to be more of a passing team, out gained the leagues’ top rushing offense, running for 111 yards on 26 attempts with three rushing touchdowns. Arizona actually out-passed the Pirates as Powell was nine of 16 for 136 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Powell was also the games leading rusher with 74 yards on 18 carries with three scores.
For Massachusetts, Owens was the leading receiver with three receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown. Dontez Byrd had three catches for 23 yards and Gonzalez had three for 15 yards.
Defensively, Pirates linebacker Martrell Spaight had six tackles, Ramirez had five with and interception and Maxey-Penton had four stops with a tipped pass, an interception and a fumble recovery.
The Rattlers Jamal Miles was the top receiver in the game with seven receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown and Haley had two catches for 33 yards and a score.
For Arizona linebacker Ricky Wyatt Jr. led all players with eight tackles with one for a loss. Devin Cockrell had seven tackles with one for a loss, D’Avanzo had seven stops and Winfrey added two interceptions.
The Massachusetts Pirates are members of the Indoor Football League (IFL). The Pirates play all home games at Phoenix Field at the DCU Center located at 50 Foster St. Worcester, MA, 01608. For more information on the Massachusetts Pirates please call (508)452-MASS (6277), email email@example.com or visit http://www.masspiratesfootball.com. Single game tickets are available now at ticketmaster.com or the DCU Center Box Office. For 2022 season, half-season, luxury, or group ticket packages please call 508-452-MASS (6277). Follow the Pirates on Facebook via Facebook.com/MAPirates, Instagram @mass.pirates, and Twitter @mass_pirates. #GetHooked #AllAboard