LIONS WIN FOURTH STRAIGHT HEADING INTO MIDSEASON BREAK
by Alex Husting
As the Columbus Lions headed to Greensboro to take on the Carolina Cobras there was a lot at stake for the 3-1 Lions. The Lions were looking to keep their winning streak alive, keep pace with the undefeated Albany Empire and gain some momentum heading into their double bye week. The Lions accomplished all of this in a 54-30 victory over the Cobras.
This was the Lions’ first game since Ryan Gates was put on IR and one of the biggest questions before the game was how the Lions would adapt without their kicker. The answer was clear right from the start as the Lions followed an opening drive touchdown from the Cobras with a touchdown drive of their own when Mason Espinosa found Antwane Grant on a deep throw.
The Lions offense stayed on the field and converted a two-point conversion when Espinosa found Lonnie Outlaw to make it 8-6. The Lions stuck to two-point conversion throughout the game, converting three out of eight attempts during the game.
For Espinosa, the veteran quarterback finished with six touchdowns through the air and another on the ground. This was his fourth game of the year with six or more touchdowns and he has never thrown for less than five.
One of the biggest question marks coming into the game was if the Lions defense could continue to generate turnovers, and despite the Cobras having turnover issues of their own last week, they did not have a single interception or fumble throughout the game. The Lions defense still made an impact, but this time it came with pressure on the quarterback. The defensive front came up with four sacks, with Kewan Alfred wreaking havoc in the backfield all game. The pressure upfront forced a number of fourth and longs and the Lions forced the Cobras to turn it over on downs early on in the first quarter.
Despite the Cobras controlling turnovers throughout the game, Sam Castronova and the offense simply could not keep pace with the high-powered offense of the Lions. Issues with extra points, the Cobras failed to convert a single extra-point attempt or two-point conversion, as well as problems protecting the quarterback were key factors in the offense’s struggles.
For the Lions, while Espinosa put up one of his best performances of the year, most fans will remember Corey Crawford’s performance in this game. The big man has been feeling in at the fullback position the last few weeks and the Lions incorporated him into the offense in a big way this week. The big man reached the end zone three times with one rushing touchdown early in the second quarter and catching two of Espinosa’s six touchdown passes.
The Cobras defense seemed unaware of Crawford being a potential receiver and he was wide-open on both touchdown grabs. Crawford has seamlessly filled in as fullback and now the Lions may have discovered a new way to utilize him
Injuries and a talented wide receiver group held Antwane Grant back at the start of the season but the former AFL Rookie of the Year seems to finally be finding his groove with tonight being his best performance of the year, getting 80 yards on seven receptions and two touchdowns.
The Lions led at halftime 30-18 with Grant and Crawford accounting for all four scores during the first half. The Lions were able to stretch the lead early with a quarterback sneak Espinosa, a stop by the defense on the next drive and a touchdown pass to Romond Deloatch making it 42-18. The Cobras then made a change at quarterback with receiver James Summers stepping in for Castronova. Summers had some success, finding the end zone twice on scrambling plays but it was too little too late. Espinosa found Outlaw in the end zone and then Crawford for the second time today to bring the Lions to the final score of 54-30.
Espinosa and the offense were clicking yet again and even with Dion Smalls out upfront, Quentin Hall stepped in and the Lions offensive line protected Espinosa as he found the end zone seven different times. The Lions may have found a new weapon in Corey Crawford and the next two weeks will allow the coaching staff to look for new ways to get him involved.
While the defense failed to generate a turnover against the Cobras, the pressure from Alfred and company helped keep the Cobras in check on offense and the Lions held their opponent to under 40 points for the fourth consecutive game.
The Lions head into their two-week bye winners of four straight and with time to prepare for the “home stretch”. The Lions will return to action on the road as they take on the Jacksonville Sharks on July 17. They will follow that game with back-to-back home games, including a matchup with the Empire on July 24, possibly the biggest game of the season.
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.