You could not have scripted a better start to Friday night for your Columbus Lions. 3 plays produced a 9-0 lead. Kicker Blake Erickson began the game with a two-point conversion before the Sharks surrendered possession to Kendrick Washington. Washington tore the ball out of the fullback’s hands and gave the Lions offense a 1st and goal. Jarmon Fortson, the Swiss army knife of a superstar player, began the first offensive play in the backfield and ended it in the back of the end zone after receiving a pitch from starting quarterback Daniel Smith. Erickson converted the extra point and narrowly missed a second two-point conversion on the following kickoff. Jacksonville quarterback Arville Nelson looked to lead a better drive than his first but could only manage a turnover on downs after overthrowing a double covered receiver on a 4th down heave. Unfortunately, the Lions drive stalled in a goal line to go situation and settled for a field goal attempt which was blocked by the Sharks but not returned. The first quarter came to a close after two pass completions flipped the field position for the Sharks and allowed them to continue the push down 9-0.
To start the second quarter, the Lions defense stood strong. They forced another fourth down conversion attempt by Jacksonville and proceeded to strip sack Nelson after excellent coverage from the secondary. Southern Miss Golden Eagle Deandre Brown forced the fumble with his third sack of the season. The Sharks recovered the fumble, but the damage was done with the 4th down denial. In a cruel reversal of fortune, Jarmon Fortson made an excellent one-handed catch on a screen pass and turned up field but was the victim of Sharks defensive back Markus Smith’s best Kendrick Washington impersonation when he stripped the ball, recovered it, and returned it for the first Sharks touchdown of the night. In perfect parity, the Lions then blocked Jacksonville kicker Cody Barber’s point after attempt keeping the score at 9-6. It would not stay there very long. At least not if last week’s special teams player of the week had anything to say about it. And fortunately for the Lions, one Darrien Townsend most definitely did. He received the kickoff and despite the Sharks best efforts could not stop Mr. Townsend from returning the kickoff to sender for 6 points. Blake Erickson made it 16-9 with his second extra point and fourth overall contribution to the score on the night. After a drive that included the Sharks first successful 4th down conversion, Arville Nelson took matters into his own hands-- or should we say feet? After converting the 4th down on a designed quarterback run, he improvised with the biggest gain being a decisively non-designed scramble. Nelson capped the drive with a classic quarterback sneak for 6. The following extra point attempt was again blocked by the Lions and the score rested for the moment at 16-12. The 1st half petered out to an end after the Lions drive ended with a missed field goal attempt and the Sharks failed to manage their time properly and saw an excellent open field tackle by Valdosta State alumnus Maurice Leggett that saw the time tick off the clock before the Sharks could do any more damage. The Lions entered the locker room up 16-9.
After the Jacksonville Sharks kicker put the opening kickoff of the second half out of play, the Lions offense finally got out of 1st gear and capped an excellent drive with Daniel Smith airing out a perfect touchdown pass to Darrien Townsend. Erickson made it three for three on extra point attempts on the night and offered an unreturnable kickoff that was nearly converted for another 2 points to give the Sharks possession. It took only two plays and two players for the response from Jacksonville. Two completions from Nelson to former Florida State Seminole Nyqwan Murray resulted in a touchdown for the Sharks. The extra point was converted, and the score was brought to 23-19. The Sharks seemed to have learned their lesson and did not even attempt to offer anything returnable to Darrien Townsend. Daniel Smith and the offense would have to provide any immediate response to the Sharks scoring drive. He did just that. After a few completions, Smith snapped the ball, scanned the field, scrambled to the left, and fired a strike to the reliable hands of Carver High grad Jarmon Fortson for the second touchdown pass of the night for the Lions offense. Sometimes everything goes right, even when they go wrong. That certainly happened to Erickson who managed to convert a muffed hold into one more point bringing the tally to 30-19. On the ensuing possession Nelson again willed the team, and himself, into the end zone for an immediate response. The bad guys tagged on an extra point brining the score to 30-26. That is where the third quarter would end.
Unfortunately, the beginning of the fourth quarter were nervy for the Lions. They failed to convert on a 4th down for the first time on the night and handed the ball back to Nelson and the Sharks. Despite NAL sack leader Kerry Starks extending his season total to 7.0, Nelson was able to stand in on the drive and deliver the Sharks their first lead of the night with another throw from Nelson to Murray. Barber converted the extra point, and the difference was a field goal at 33-30. A long, methodical drive from Columbus answered. Smith led the team down the field with help from his friends in the Jacksonville secondary who could not seem to cover Jarmon Fortson legally. A goal to go situation was resolved after the third rushing attempt saw Darrien Townsend do his best Reggie Bush impression with a juke that eluded multiple defenders and put him in the end zone with 3:30 left to play. Another mishandled snap denied Erickson his fourth extra point, but the Lions reconquered the lead at 36-33. The Lions were having trouble with the red-hot Jacksonville offense and only had a 3-point advantage. Nelson was gaining in confidence and firing completions. The Lions seemed on their heels. It looked as though the best they could hope for is to force a field goal attempt. With 1:17 left in this pivotal, rivalry matchup, former AFL champion quarterback Arville Nelson took the snap, made his drop, fired a pass intended for his receiver running a slant route, and the play ended in a touchdown. The touchdown was scored by Columbus Lion Droell Green who read the slant immediately and returned the pass for a Columbus Lions touchdown! The interception was Green’s third of the season and could not have come at a more crucial moment in the NAL playoff race. Following the shock of what just happened and facing a 10-point deficit with 1:00 left to play, the Sharks could only manage four prayers which landed on the deaf ears of the beautiful green turf of the Columbus Civic Center. Columbus finished the job with a couple forward gains and closed out a triumphant victory 43-33. Coach Jason Gibson had this to say after the game, “It was a great defensive performance. We still have a lot to do on offense, but a win is a win”. The Lions were most certainly excellent on defense and wins are what matters. The Lions improve to 5-3 on the season and the Sharks fall to 4-5. The Lions next matchup will see them face the defending champion Albany Empire at MVP Arena at 2:00 pm est Sunday June 26th.
ABOUT THE COLUMBUS LIONS
The Columbus Lions are members of the National Arena League (NAL). Founded in 2007, the Columbus Lions are starting their 16th season in 2022. The Lions are a 3x league champion and 14 playoff appearances in their rich history. The Lions play their home games at Hughston Field in the Columbus Civic Center. Lions Season Ticket Memberships are on sale now call (706) 322-3336 or visit columbuslions.com. Follow the Lions on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Lionsfootball/, twitter @columbuslions and instagram.com/Columbuslions.
ABOUT NATIONAL ARENA LEAGUE
The National Arena League was founded in 2016 and hosted its inaugural season in 2017 as the premier league in arena football. The National Arena League will kick off its sixth season in 2022. For more information regarding expansion opportunities or partnerships, contact Commissioner Chris Siegfried at email@example.com For more information about the NAL visit www.nationalarenaleague.com, facebook.com/nationalarenaleauge, twitter.com/NALfootball, Instagram.com/nationalarenaleague.