Mass Phoenix Hunt For Playoff Spot
By Michael James LeClair
LEOMINSTER – With three weeks left in the regular season, the expansion Massachusetts Phoenix football team finds itself in the hunt for a playoff spot.
The Phoenix entered Saturday’s home tilt with the Rhode Island Cowboys at 4-2 and in second place of the East Coast Football League’s Northern Conference. Needing a win to keep the pressure on first place Marshfield, the Phoenix was focused on taking care of business on Saturday. With heavy rain pouring down for most of the night, putting points on the scoreboard was a challenge all evening long. The Phoenix and Cowboys needed overtime to try and settle this one, however, the extra session didn’t produce a winner. The two teams left Doyle Field Saturday with a 7-7 tie. The tie puts the Phoenix at 4-2-1 on the campaign while the Cowboys, who play out of the Southern Conference of the ECFL, are also 4-2-1 overall.
“The weather made it extremely difficult. Rhode Island has a good team and they played really well defensively. Give them credit for keeping us out of the end zone,” said Phoenix associate head coach Bill Nash after the game. “I thought both defenses played well. Our defense made some big stops to keep us in the game.”
The Phoenix has two games left on the regular season slate. They travel to West Roxbury for a makeup game with the Massachusetts Gators next Sunday, August 19 before finishing with a home game back at Doyle Field on August 25 against the South Coast Outlaws.
“We have to keep working. Now we go back to practice and get ready for our next game,” said Nash. “These last two games are huge for us. We need to bounce back and answer with a pair of wins heading into the playoffs.”
The top two teams from both divisions qualify for the postseason and while the Phoenix would have liked to come away with a victory on Saturday, a tie keeps them on the inside of the playoff picture.Neither team could mount much offense throughout the first half as the two squads combined for five first punts. The contest remained scoreless after 30 minutes of action.
In the second half, the Phoenix defense remained strong and made a play that looked like at the time might be the difference in the ballgame.
Late in the third quarter, Phoenix defensive back Angel Biegan stepped up and made a big interception at the 25-yard line. Biegan collected himself and was off to the races as he scampered 75-yards down the left sideline for a pick-six touchdown and a 6-0 Phoenix lead.
Phoenix kicker Chris Bruno added the point after kick to make it 7-0.
“That was a big play by Angel to step up and make that pick,” said Nash. “We had chances to put the game away in the second half but the weather made it tough for our passing game and forced us to run the ball. That allowed Rhode Island to stack the box and keep blitzing.”
With the score still 7-0 after three quarters and the Phoenix in possession of the football inside the Cowboys 20-yard line thanks to a blocked punt, the hosts looked to be in business. However, turnover three plays into the possession on a fumbled handoff prevented the Phoenix from adding to their lead.
The hosts held strong again as the defense forced a fourth and long on the Cowboys next offensive touch. On the Rhode Island punt attempt, a Phoenix player got his hand on the football for another blocked punt as the home team recovered on the 20-yard line. Four plays later Bruno came on to attempt a 36-yard field goal to try and make it a two-possession game. Bruno’s kick was blocked and it stayed a 7-0 advantage.
Rhode Island finally solved the Phoenix defense with a 14-play, 68-yard drive inside the final three minutes of the fourth quarter. The drive was capped by a three-yard touchdown run and a successful extra point kick to tie the score at seven.
That’s the way it stayed as neither team could muster any points during the extra session as both squads left the field with a tie.
Nash wanted to throw praise in the direction of his entire defense but in particular, he raved about the play of Jamal Cunningham, Mattison Darton, Chris Akins, Eli Williams and Jahvon Jones.