The Columbus Lions were a part of history on Saturday night.
For the first time in indoor football history, a Mexican-based team played on American soil as the Lions played host to the Monterrey Steel at the Columbus Civic Center in National Arena League action.
The home team sent the Steel back south of the border with a loss as Columbus defeated Monterrey 48-18 before a crowd of 2,425.
The game, however, was marred by chippy play on both sides. A total of 29 penalties for 231 yards were assessed to both teams, more than either team’s offensive total for the night. Columbus mustered 197 yards on offense, while Monterrey had 144 offensive yards. There were also multiple ejections on both sides from some of the play after the whistle.
“We knew that was going to come,” said Lions head coach Jason Gibson. “I told the officials before the game they were going to run their mouths. They knew it.”
“They came in here with the mindset to get under our skin,” said wide receiver Tristan Purifoy, who finished with two touchdowns on the night. “We know we have some hotheads on our side, so we have to make sure to calm them down and keep everyone under control.”
“The goal coming into the game was to win,” said wide receiver Jarmon Fortson, who scored a late first half touchdown in a second quarter that saw Columbus outscore Monterrey 29-0. “We know they were going to come in and be scrappy and feisty with a couple of guys who played here years ago. Next game, we just have to control it and handle the pressure better.
“I’m looking at the bigger picture after winning two rings back to back. Getting kicked out of the game isn’t going to win games. We’re down with three losses already, so we’re trying to keep everything composed and get back on a winning streak.”
Before Gibson lamented on his team’s offensive struggles, he gave the defense kudos for stepping up in the game. The Columbus defense held the Steel to a season low in points and shut them out for a span of more than 32 minutes from early in the first quarter to midway through the third quarter.
“Our defense is starting to play really, really well,” Gibson said. “We have to make sure everyone’s healthy, but we have a good bye week coming up.”
On offense, however, the Lions mustered only 12 points in a second half that saw them outscore Monterrey by just a single point. Starting quarterback Darren Daniel suffered a minor injury and was spelled by Mason Espinosa in the final two quarters.
“That’s two games in a row we’ve struggled on offense,” Gibson said after the team scored just 28 points in a loss last week at Jacksonville. “We have to do some things different and fine-tune some things. We just went backwards. We have guys playing on an individual basis, and that’s a problem. We can correct that, though. We’ve still got time.
“It was good for Mason to get those reps, but we stuttered. I hate to say it, but that’s some of the worst (offensive play) I’ve been a part of. We’re supposed to finish these games. We can’t play four quarters.”
Turnovers plagued the Lions again as they had four giveaways on a pair of fumbles and a pair of interceptions.
“If you have an answer (for the turnovers), you can send it to my inbox, and I’ll gladly try it in practice,” Gibson deadpanned. “I don’t have an answer. Tonight, though, with a thin roster (due to ejections), we survived the game. It was a battle of attrition.”
Fortson and Purifoy, however, offered some solutions to lessen the turnovers.
“We just watch more film and get on the same page with the quarterbacks,” Purifoy said. “Nothing wrong with more timing, more film, more practice, more timing.”
“We try to get as open as possible and make the read easy for the quarterback,” Fortson added. “Once we do that, hopefully we can get the turnovers down some.”
The Steel was also decimated at the quarterback position as both starter Darwin Pittman and backup Kasey Peters suffered injuries during the game. The second half saw Monterrey play former Lions wide receiver London Crawford behind center, who ended up with the only passing touchdown of the night for the Steel.
It was a frustrating night for Monterrey, a team that features a star-studded cast at wide receiver including Crawford, former Lion Maurice Dupree, and former Super Bowl champion and NFL wide receiver Jacoby Jones. All night, however, the Steel were unable to get the ball into their hands to produce offense except for the lone touchdown pass from Crawford to Jones.
“You win the game with the offensive line, defensive line, and quarterback,” Gibson said.
The Steel are a paper tiger of sorts in terms of won-loss record. At 3-2, they are among the upper echelon of teams in the NAL standings, but their three wins have been against teams who are currently a combined 0-11. Besides Saturday’s game, they dropped a 60-21 decision to Jacksonville on Apr. 24.
The Lions face Monterrey south of the border in Mexico on Monday, June 12.
Gibson maintains that Columbus shouldn’t lose another game the rest of the season, a statement he made coming out of last week’s loss to Jacksonville.
“We’ll run the table in the second half,” Gibson said. “The last six games really set up well for us. We had to win (tonight’s) game at home. I expect us to win the next five, but we have to be penalty-free and turnover-free.”
“We’re going to make sure we carry out the coach’s plan, but at the same time, we have to take it week by week,” Purifoy said. “We can’t look towards the end because we still have six more weeks. One game at a time, one opponent at a time.”
“It’s a lot of pressure, but I’m the type of guy who likes that Coach put that on us,” Fortson said of Gibson’s statement. “I’m going to respond well, and I hope the rest of the guys respond well. I hope to keep the streak going.”
After an off week, the Lions have a scheduled home game against the Dayton Wolfpack on Saturday, May 20 at 7 p.m. in the Civic Center.
Saturday at Columbus Civic Center
M – Darwin Pittman 2 run (Brandon Rutherford kick), 10:14.
C – Michael Reeve 34 pass from Darren Daniel (Lindsey Wolfe kick), 0:00.
C – Daniel 1 run (Wolfe kick), 8:51.
C – Reeve 11 pass from Daniel (Wolfe kick), 4:20.
C – Jarmon Fortson 24 pass from Daniel (Wolfe kick), 0:54.
C – Tristan Purifoy 4 pass from Daniel (Purifoy run), 0:00.
M – Jacoby Jones 24 pass from London Crawford (Nathaniel Dunn run), 7:34.
M – Rutherford 38 FG, 14:54.
C – Purifoy 2 run (kick failed), 7:32.
C – Kyle Griswould 45 interception return (no try – end of game), 0:00.
Records: Monterrey 3-2, Columbus 4-3. Next: Monterrey at Corpus Christi, Mon., May 15; Columbus, home vs. Dayton, Sat., May 20 at 7 p.m.