Big first half from Espinosa and Lions' defense secures 56-32 victory.
Before the 2021 NAL season began, Lions quarterback Mason Espinosa called his receiving corp the most talented in the entire league and the talent of that group was one full display on Saturday in a 56-32 Lions victory.
Espinosa was once again spreading the ball around with three of his receivers finding the end zone, including three touchdown catches for Romond Deloatch and two for Lonnie Outlaw, along with one diving touchdown grab by Desmond Reece.
Antwane Grant made his return to the gridiron after missing the previous two games with injury and while the former Rookie of the Year did not find the end zone, he had one of the highlights of the night after he cut completely across the field to avoid defenders on a screen pass, making a number of players miss on his way to a nine yard gain. He finished the game with five catches for 51 yards.
The scoring began early for the Lions with Espinosa finding Deloatch on the opening drive, however Ryan Gates missed the extra point attempt and was injured on the ensuing kickoff, Gates’ injury forced the Lions to turn to offensive lineman Felipe Pipecas for kickoffs and exclusively two-point conversion attempts following touchdowns.
On the following drive the Sharks started to find a rhythm on offense and made it inside the five but Marvin Ross made an interception over the middle to halt the Sharks’ drive and give the ball back to Espinosa and company. This was a common theme throughout the game as the Lions defense forced four turnovers by the Sharks, all of which were interceptions.
The Lions wasted little time and Deloatch caught his second touchdown of the night to make it 12-0 late in the first quarter. The Sharks eventually found some momentum, scoring 12 points in the second quarter, including a deuce from Brandon Behr, but it was not enough to keep pace with the Lions offense as Espinosa continued to find his receivers with three more touchdowns in the third quarter.
Another interception from Ross forced the Sharks to make a change under center and Breck Ruddick was replaced with backup quarterback Connor Kaegi. The change did not have much effect during the first half and the Lions headed to the locker room with 32-12 lead.
In the second half Kaegi was able to find his groove and the Sharks reached the end zone three times but, like last week, turnovers continued to cost the Sharks. Kaegi was picked off by Ross, his third of the night, following a Corey Crawford rushing touchdown which made it 40-19 late in the third.
The Sharks defense then got a turnover of their own by picking off Espinosa, his only interception of the night, but Kaegi and the offense gave it right back as Kaegi’s pass was intercepted by Maurice Leggett.
The Lions were able to capitalize yet again with Espinosa finding Deloatch for the third time and extending the lead to 48-19 with just over five minutes remaining in the game.
Later in the fourth, Maurice Leggett went down with what appeared to be a serious injury. Leggett was down near the wall for several minutes while being attended to by members of the Lions’ medical staff, including some from the Sharks. Leggett was eventually able to get up and walk off the field with some assistance from a member of the Lions’ staff.
Following Deloatch’s third touchdown, chances of a comeback seemed unlikely but the Sharks continued to attack the Lions defense and Kaegi found Paris Mack, a former Lions receiver, twice for touchdowns late in the fourth.
After Mack’s first touchdown one the wildest sequences of the season occurred. Following the score, the Sharks attempted an onside kick and recovered it. A penalty forced them to re-kick and that is when Sam Dobbs rose above the players to catch the kick and returned it to the end zone for another Lions touchdown. This made it 56-26 with three minutes to play.
Momentum continues to grow for the Lions as they find their way to another double-digit win with the offense and defense seeming to hit their strides at the right time. Despite one turnover, Espinosa continues to pick defenses apart with his talented group of receivers and the possible NAL MVP candidate finished with 242 yards and 6 touchdowns on 24 completions. The veteran of the receiving corp, Lonnie Outlaw, led the team yet again with eight receptions for 101 yards.
On defense, while they did not have another shutdown performance like last week, they still held the Sharks in check for most of the game, specifically in the first half, and the turnovers that they forced crushed the Sharks’ momentum at a number of points in the game. Marvin Ross did his best Nighthawk impression with three interceptions as the former All-NAL selection is becoming the lockdown corner fans had hoped he would be before the season.
The defensive line wreaked havoc for any quarterback the Sharks put under center with five total sacks, including “Big General” Ulric Jones leading the team with 2.5 sacks on the night.
The Lions will hope to carry this momentum with the next week as they travel to Greensboro to take on the Carolina Cobras on June 26. 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.
The full stream of tonight’s game against the Sharks with Jared Dillard and Aidan Kowalski on commentary can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6M8tyZYwG8.
This week also marked the first week of the NAL’s new fantasy football league. The Lions vs. Sharks game functioned as a bit of a test run with fans able to join and draft players from both teams to assemble their rosters. The league can be accessed via the Fantasy Football tab on the NAL homepage or here: https://www.fantasizr.com/sport/nal-jax-vs-col.
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.
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 fifth season in 2021. For more information regarding expansion opportunities or partnerships, contact Commissioner Chris Siegfried at email@example.com For more information about the NAL visit www.nationalarenaleague.com, facebook.com/nationalarenaleauge, twitter.com/NALfootball, Instagram.com/nationalarenaleague.