LIONS VS. CAROLINA COBRAS PREVIEW: LIONS LOOK TO EXTEND WINNING STREAK
by Alex Husting
This Saturday the Lions will be on the road yet again as they look to extend their winning streak to four games against the Carolina Cobras (1-2) in Greensboro. The Cobras are currently on a two game losing streak following a 65-27 loss to the Jersey Flight last week.
The last time these two teams met was in the season finale of the 2019 season, with the Lions picking up the victory 46-34. The Cobras later made it to the 2019 NAL Championship game, eventually losing to the Jacksonville Sharks 52-48.
For the Cobras, the return to the gridiron in 2021 started off right with a 45-42 victory over the Jersey Flight in the first NAL game of the season. T.C. Stevens hit the game-winning field goal as time expired and earned NAL Special Teams Player of the Week for his late-game heroics. On the defensive side, Joe Powell earned NAL Defensive Player of the Week for leading the team in tackles. It is important to note that Powell will be out against the Lions and T.C. Stevens is listed as probable.
The Cobras followed that up with a bye week and then a matchup with the Albany Empire in week three. Despite a great performance from the offense, including 286 yards and seven touchdowns from quarterback Sam Castronova, the Cobras could not find a way to stop the Empire offense and lost the matchup 83-58.
The Cobras week five rematch with the Flight was also the home opener for the Cobras and despite coming off of a tough loss to the Empire, the Cobras seemed like the favorites heading into the matchup.
What followed was complete domination by the Flight from wire-to-wire. The Cobras could not get anything going on offense during the first half and they fell behind 27-7 at the half. They headed into the fourth quarter with some hope of a comeback, having closed the gap to 34-20 but the Flight’s offense exploded and two costly turnovers by the Cobras all but sealed it.
After two games with five-plus touchdowns, Castronova seemed poised for another good performance throwing the football but he struggled throughout the entire matchup with the Flight. Castronova only completed 39.4% of his passes and turned the ball over four times with two interceptions and two fumbles. Three of those turnovers were returned for touchdowns.
The Cobras struggled to protect Castronova and the Flight defense was able to sack the quarterback three times during Saturday’s game.
The Columbus Lions defense has been known this season to attack the quarterback and attack the opposing offense, leading the league in forced turnovers, points and yards allowed per game as well as being tied for the most sacks on the season with seven.
The one area where the Cobras found success against the Flight on offense was in the running game as the Cobras found the end zone three times with three different rushers. If the Lions are able to shut down the Cobras’ passing attack then the Cobras could start to lean on the running more as the game goes on.
Despite the issues against the Flight, the Cobras can still be dangerous on offense and they have a great one-two punch in wide receivers Kendrick Ings and BJ Bunn. Bunn and Ings are both over 240 yards receiving this year and Ings leads the team with 261 yards and 10 touchdowns. They have been Castronova’s favorite targets this year and could be a problem for the Lions second that could be without Maurice Leggett.
On the defensive side the Cobras could be without another defensive back with Justin Sullivan listed as questionable. The Cobras defense, which has already struggled this year, allowing 66.7 points per game, could be short handed against a dangerous Lions offense that is second in points per game and yards per game.
The Lions will be without Ryan Gates who was injured last week against the Sharks and recently went on short-term IR and Dion Small has been listed as questionable so the Lions could also be without one of their veterans on the offensive line. When Small went down against the Flight Dustin Burns switched to center and Kendrick Washington came in as the third lineman and with Small injured the same game plan could be used against the Cobras.
Despite this, the Lions are still coming off of three straight wins and the offense and defense are both red hot with Espinosa and Marvin Ross leading the way last week. The Lions will hope to continue this streak in Greensboro as they take on the Cobras.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. EST. The game can be watched live with CTV Beam, at https://www.nationalarenaleague.com/home or on the NAL’s official Youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSzSD8STXiEVPVtUDO9juhA.
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.