Lions Lose to Empire in High Scoring Affair
by Alex Husting
The Columbus Lions failed to pick up the victory in a high scoring contest against the Albany Empire, losing 65 to 60. For the Lions, missed extra points may have cost them the game while one final push to take the lead in the final minute came up short.
The game got off to a quick start with the Empire taking a 14 point lead with two touchdowns in the first five minutes of the game. The Lions responded with two touchdown passes from Mason Espinosa to former AFL Rookie of the year Antwane Grant.
However, the Lions were unable to tie the game up at 14 all because of a failed extra point kick from Jed Solomon and a failed two-point conversion attempt. Failed extra point attempts would be a theme for the Lions throughout the game as they only converted three out of nine total attempts on the night.
The two teams exchanged a pair of touchdowns later in the second quarter before the Empire reached the end zone once again on a Tommy Grady pass to Darius Prince which made it 28-18 just before halftime. That was Grady’s third touchdown pass of the night and all three were to Darius Prince.
While the score sat at 28-18 with the Empire in the lead there was an offensive explosion in the second half. A rogue point for Empire kicker Craig Peterson started the half and the Lions answered with a touchdown pass from Mason Espinosa to Lonnie Outlaw, his second touchdown catch of the night.
Back and forth scoring continued for the remainder of the half with the Empire maintaining a steady lead due to another rogue point from Peterson, Grady and Prince connecting for three more touchdowns and the Lions’ struggles on extra points continuing.
As the clock was winding down late in the fourth quarter the end result seemed clear as the Empire was up by 19 with under one minute left to play and the Lions seemingly had no answers for the Empire passing attack. The Lions got the ball back following an Empire score and Espinosa was sacked on the first play of the drive. Despite this, the quarterback responded immediately with a near hail mary to Desmond Reece and a two-point conversion cut the lead to 11.
Jed Solomon was able to convert an onside kick attempt and the Lions seemed to have momentum. After the onside kick recovery Espinosa once again went for it all and after a crazy tip from the defender Sam Dobbs made the catch and cut the lead to five.
In a matter of seconds the Lions were within striking distance, however a failed two-point conversion and the Empire recovering the next onside kick ended any hopes of a comeback and secured the win.
While the game once seemed out of reach, a late burst from the offense nearly brought the Lions all the way back but they could not overcome the mistakes they made earlier in the game. The Lions left 10 points on the field in failed extra point attempts. This was the biggest issue for the Lions on Saturday night, however there were other issues that hurt their chances against the Empire.
While the offense did find a lot of success, with Mason Espinosa throwing an incredible nine touchdowns and even out gaining the Empire in total offense by 51 yards, poor pass protection and issues on third down hurt the offense early on. The Lions only converted three out of nine total third down plays and Mason Espinosa was sacked four times and lost a total of 44 yards.
Despite this, there were a number of bright spots for the Lions. Espinosa was dominant in his first game back with nine touchdowns to only one interception, Lonnie Outlaw reaching the end zone four times. The passing game was clicking on all cylinders with three different receivers eclipsing 50 yards five different receivers finding the end zone. Marvin Ross marked his return to Columbus by picking off Tommy Grady, the only turnover caused by the Lions defense tonight.
The Lions were unable to open the season with a win, however there are a number of signs from the game that the team is heading in the right direction. After only two weeks of camp, Espinosa is clearly in sync with his receiving core and that group could prove to be even more dangerous as the season moves along.
The circumstances of a sudden schedule change definitely made this season opener more difficult than expected, but after nearly two years away from the game the Lions are finally back on the field and now head coach Jason Gibson and the team have a week to prepare for the home opener against the Orlando Predators. The game is scheduled for June 4 with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
ABOUT THE COLUMBUS LIONS
The Columbus Lions are members of the National Arena League (NAL). Founded in 2007, the Columbus Lions are starting their 15th season in 2021. The Lions are a 3x league champion and 13 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.