As a famous coach of what some call football once said, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. It is much more important than that”. Those words were spoken by the highly successful coach of Liverpool Football Club in Liverpool, England (Yes, where the Beatles are from) Bill Shankly in the 1960s, but they apply to what will be a watershed moment for either the Lions or Sharks on this Friday night. Four teams qualify for the NAL playoffs. Only two receive home games. This night will go a long way to deciding who those teams are. The Lions are coming off a dominant display against the Carolina Cobras that marked their fourth win of the season. Kick returner slash wide receiver slash defensive back, Darrien Townsend left his mark all over the field last week in a breakout performance for the Youngstown State alumnus. The quarterback position is always under the spotlight and the Lions are now on their third play caller (fourth if you include a cameo by superstar Jarmon Fortson) under center in Daniel Smith. Previously we have seen Darren Daniel and Danny Southwick, but the offense seemed to receive a jolt with the introduction of the athletic, fast moving and thinking, Smith. Kerry Starks is another standout at fullback and linebacker. When not recording one of the 6 sacks he has on the season, Starks is scoring rushing touchdowns across half the entire field. Starks and Smith will be counting on continued improvement on their offensive line and will be bolstered by the excellent play of the Lions’ secondary.
After calling an audible to Arville Nelson at quarterback, the Sharks have won three straight games. Nelson replaces Last Chance U star and former Nevada Wolfpack quarterback Malik Henry. Nelson is a veteran of the Arena Football League (AFL). After a standout career at Texas Southern, he made his debut for the Alabama Hammers in the Southern Indoor Football League (SIFL), before moving into the Arena Football League 2, and later into the AFL proper. Nelson spent time from 2013-2019 in the AFL and featured on the Spokane Shock, Pittsburgh Power, Cleveland Gladiators, and Washington Valor (He also spent one year with the West Virginia Roughriders of the National Arena League (NAL) in 2018). Nelson’s career highlights include throwing for 3,425 yards (pretty good on a 50-yard field) and a gaudy 70 touchdowns for the Gladiators in 2016 and leading the Washington Valor to the ArenaBowl XXXI title, securing the Most Valuable Player Trophy for his performance in the championship game. His impact, or lack thereof, will be decisive in what is a pivotal game for the 4-3 Lions (3rd in the NAL) and the 4-4 Sharks (4th in the NAL).
The good guys were buoyed by what can only be described as a Johnny Manziel or, if you have a longer memory, former Georgia quarterback Fran Tarkentonesque performance from new quarterback, Daniel Smith. His fadeaway buzzer beater of a touchdown pass in last game’s second half was an apt display of everything Smith can provide. The last time these two teams met, the Lions were sacked 8 times. For reference, they were sacked three times all last year. The Lions will rely on Smith’s fast footwork, fast twitch decisions, and shall we say, improvisation? Smith will be enlivened with the return of Romond Deloatch, who has caught two touchdown passes and made 4 tackles in defense so far on the season. He adds a 6’4” 220 lbs. target to compliment the Houdini like exploits of Darrien Townsend and the stellar elegance of Jarmon Fortson (who is 5th in the league with 9 touchdown receptions on the season).
To summarize what to watch, as always, if the trenches are not where the game is won, they are where the game is lost. The Lions will have to maintain the improvement they have shown in pass protection. They will be tasked with keeping running back slash defensive terror, Chei Hill, off Smith’s back. Hill has recorded 5 sacks so far this year (good for 3rd in the league behind Columbus Lion Kerry Starks (6.0) and Orlando Predator Sha-Ki Holines (5.5) alongside 19 tackles and 3 rushing touchdowns. Next, Arville Nelson must be stopped and if not stopped, limited. We will need a strong performance from, Columbus Lions’ legend turned defensive coordinator, Damian Daniels’ secondary if we are going to stop the surge that the Sharks have been on. Another player on the wrong team to watch will be Devin Wilson. The Jacksonville receiver is leading the league in receiving yards (597). If we can keep Smith clean, keep the skies clear on defense, and avoid costly turnovers and penalties, we will put ourselves in the best position to take not only bragging rights over the dastardly Jacksonville Sharks but also a two-game lead over them in the crucial NAL playoff race.
2022 NAL Season tickets for the Lions are still on sale here.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org For more information about the NAL visit www.nationalarenaleague.com, facebook.com/nationalarenaleauge, twitter.com/NALfootball, Instagram.com/nationalarenaleague.