SAGINAW, MI — The Saginaw Sting started off slow in the opening weeks of the season, but they've surged down the stretch to secure a home playoff berth.
Saginaw went on the road and beat Buffalo 79-30 on Saturday, May 16 for its fifth straight win on the field, but the Sting are receiving a forfeit win for their regular season finale against Atlanta.
With the forfeit, the Sting improve to 6-2 overall on the season and earn the No. 2 seed for the American Indoor Football League playoffs. Saginaw is scheduled to host No. 3-seed Chicago the weekend of May 29-31. Date and time for the game haven't been determined.
"We're right where we want to be," Sting coach and co-owner Stuart Schweigert said. "We have a home playoff game."
No. 1-seeded York hosts No. 4-seed ASI Reading in the other half of the bracket.
Saginaw has done a complete turnaround after struggling to a pair of season-opening losses against Reading and York.
The Sting have scored 70 points on offensive in three of their five wins averaging 68.8 points a game during that time, while holding the opposition to 27.2 points a game.
"We're doing the things offensively that I wanted to do," Schweigert said. "We're establishing the run. I think DeShawn Hayes has 12 or 13 touchdowns in the last three games. We're putting points on the board.
"We're holding them defensively. We're creating chances and forcing turnovers."
Saginaw has played Chicago twice already this season. The Sting came from behind for a 55-40 win in the first game in Saginaw and defeated the Blitz on the road 57-23.
"We need the fans to come out," Schweigert said of the playoff game. "This is what you play football for. This is playoff football, this is fun. It's hard to beat teams back-to-back let alone back-to-back-to-back."
SAGINAW, MI — For Bay City Western fans, it has been a bit of déjà vu watching the Saginaw Sting this season.
Austin Pichiotino has been all over the field making plays since joining the team punishing ball carriers, picking off passes and plunging in for touchdowns.
The last time many of the Warriors faithful saw Pichiotino roaming the field making plays was when he re-writing record books leading Western to the playoffs, and now he's trying to do the same playing professional indoor football with the Sting.
"It's something new," he said. "It's a lot different than being outside and being able to run around, a lot quicker decisions."
On Saturday, May 9 he had his most dynamic performance of the season leading the team with eight total tackles and hauling down two interceptions helping lead Saginaw to a 79-37 come-from-behind win over Buffalo.
Pichiotino and the Sting have a rematch with Buffalo on the road Saturday, May 16.
It was the fourth straight win for the Sting and a performance for Pichiotino that has been nearly four years in the making.
A record-setting quarterback in high school, Pichiotino was the MLive Bay City Times Player of the Year in 2011 when he threw for 1,821 yards and 24 touchdowns, including a state-record tying seven touchdown game against No. 1-ranked Mount Pleasant.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound athlete capped off his high school career with 5,120 passing yards and 63 career touchdowns, which earned a spot on the MHSAA all-time list. He also rushed for 2,790 yards and 41 touchdowns before embarking on what was supposed to be an equally successful college career.
It didn't turn out that way.
Pichiotino, 22, played a redshirt season at Northwood in 2012 before stepping away from the game.
"I was en route to (playing for the Timberwolves)," he said. "They had me playing quarterback, then they had me playing receiver and punting. I was going to transfer out and go to a different school, but I never got to it."
Since then he's been biding his time waiting for another opportunity and that came in a flag football league in Saginaw where he played with Saginaw Sting co-owner and head coach Stuart Schweigert.
"I knew he was an athlete," Schweigert said. "We had him come out and had him at receiver first. He was a little concerned because he wasn't getting much playing time. But I said, 'Pich, we need you at quarterback for us.' At the time, I didn't know what was going on with AJ (McKenna)."
McKenna was able to work out a deal and play out the season with Saginaw, but Pichiotino's pure athleticism has secured a future with the franchise going forward as the potential for next season.
Since missing the first two games of the year, Pichiotino has rejoined the club as the practice quarterback — with McKenna living in Pennsylvania during the week — and has gained game experience as a gunner on special teams, in the defensive backfield and mop-up duty behind center.
In a win over Cleveland, he threw for one touchdown and rushed for another.
"He's a heck of an athlete," Schweigert said. "He can play wide receiver, cornerback, running back, safety. One thing we've been lacking is that position on defense, that other cornerback spot, and I think now we've finally found our guy."
And they'll need him now more than ever as Saginaw aims to keep its winning streak alive and earn a playoff berth.
Since dropping their first two games of the season, the Sting have won four straight with wins needed in their final two playoff games to have a shot at a playoff game at home.
SAGINAW, MI — If the Saginaw Sting had a weakness Saturday, May 9 against the Buffalo Lightning, it was defending dynamic receiver Derrick Bloomfield.
But they rectified that situation in the second half.
The burning wide receiver paced Buffalo to four touchdowns in the first half, but Saginaw limited Buffalo to one touchdown in the second half scoring 42 unanswered points in a 79-37 win.
With their fourth straight win, the Sting improved to 4-2 overall with a rematch scheduled against the Lightning next week.
AJ McKenna threw a 30-yard touchdown to Daryl Gooden on the first play from scrimmage for a quick 7-0 Saginaw lead, but Buffalo stormed back on a field goal and two Bloomfield touchdown receptions to take a 17-7 lead.
The two teams traded scores in the second quarter with Bloomfield scoring two more touchdowns and DeShawn Hayes rushing for four of his five touchdowns sending a 36-31 Saginaw lead into the half.
Josh McIntosh kicked an uno to open the second half giving the Sting a 37-31 lead, but Buffalo answered with a 45-yard touchdown pass from Steffen Colon to Bloomfield to force a 37-37 tie.
It was all Saginaw the rest of the way with Virgil Williams returning two interceptions for touchdowns and another Hayes rushing score.
McKenna threw touchdowns to Gooden and Alex Evans in the fourth, and LaTreze Mushatt returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown to seal the victory.
Saginaw turned the ball over twice with a fumble and an interception, but the Sting made up for it with six interceptions.
The Sting defense was penalized twice on their first defensive possession, but Saginaw finished with three total penalties for the game compared to one for Buffalo.
Defensive backs. After getting torched in the first half, Saginaw's defensive backfield made up for it in the second half with ball-hawking plays aided by a ferocious pass rush. Williams and former Bay City Western star Austin Pichiotino had two interceptions apiece, and Mushatt added another.
Hayes didn't have to carry the load for Saginaw, but he was efficient with the touches he did have finishing with eight carries for 26 yards and five touchdowns.
Saginaw's defense was torched by Bloomfield who put up video game numbers finishing with 11 receptions for 205 yards and five touchdowns
3rd Annual Anti-Bullying Nightpresented by Walmart on Bay Road
SAGINAW, MI — The big uglies don't usually get a ton of press on football teams, but when they do their job an offense can look oh so pretty.
Just ask the Saginaw Sting who've been the recipient of strong offensive line play, specifically from first-year indoor offensive lineman Devin Smith.
"I think Devin has played phenomenal," Saginaw coach Stuart Schweigert said. "I was super excited knowing he was going to play for us. ... I think he's adjusted pretty seamlessly.
"I think he has the ability, definitely, to play at the Canadian football level, if not the NFL level."
Smith, 22, had a couple ties to the Sting that made his signing with the club make perfect sense.
For starters, older brother Spenser has been a star linebacker for the last several seasons in Saginaw. And he has a camaraderie with Schweigert as a fellow alum of the Purdue.
A native of Detroit, Mich., he played junior college football at Arizona Western before moving to the Big 10 with Purdue as the Boilermakers starting left guard. He turned a strong career there into a tryout with the San Diego Chargers in the spring of 2014 before taking a year off from the game.
But he's back now pancaking defensive linemen for the Sting.
"I had to adjust," Smith said. "Playing 11-on-11 your whole life as an offensive lineman, some of your technique and rules have to defer to situations you have on the field and short distance to the quarterback."
The last time Smith put on a football helmet before joining the Sting was May 2014 in camp with the Chargers, but at 6-foot-5, 333-pounds, he was the perfect fit moving into the left tackle spot for Saginaw upon his signing.
"The thing he's got that I love, he's got such great hand speed," Schweigert said. "He's very good with his hands and has such a long reach. He can really jam those defensive ends, shock those guys the other direction, which gives AJ time. An extra half second in indoor football is huge."
British Columbia of the Canadian Football League has shown interest in Smith, and he's going to have a chance to work out in front of a Winnipeg scout in the coming weeks.
With Smith leading the charge up front, Saginaw has powered to a three-game winning streak on the back of an offense that has topped 50 points all three games.
The Sting have rushed for six touchdowns as a team during that stretch, highlighted by 103 yards rushing as a team against Cleveland.
"It starts with our offensive line," Schweigert said. "If you don't have an offensive line to protect the quarterback, you're not going to be successful. Every week our running game has gotten better."
Saginaw needs that to continue over the last three weeks with two games against Buffalo and another scheduled against Atlanta. The Sting need to win all three for any chance at a home playoff game.
Saginaw hosts Buffalo at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 9 at The Dow Event Center for its annual Anti-Bullying Night. Anyone under 18 who signs an anti-bullying pledge receives free admittance to the game.