Keys to the Game: 2021 NAL Championship Preview

by Alex Husting

The Lions and the Empire will meet for the third time this season, this time with the NAL Championship on the line. These are the keys to the game for the Lions.

1. Stop the Run

In nine games this season, the Lions have allowed 40 or more rushing yards only twice this season, both times were against the Empire and both were losses. Tommy Grady and the Empire passing attack is already dangerous enough but combined with a consistent running game to compliment it, few teams have had answers for the Empire offense. If the Lions can find a way to shut down the run, the Empire will have to lean entirely on their passing attack. The Empire offense could become one-dimensional. When the Lions stop the run, they win games and the same could hold true tonight if the Lions can shut down the Empire running game.

2. Put Pressure on Grady

One of the best ways to disrupt a quarterback’s rhythm is to put pressure on the quarterback and get sacks. Sacks can kill drives and force the quarterback to keep his eyes on the line when he drops back to pass. The Lions have only registered one sack in two games against the Empire and Tommy Grady has had a relatively clean pocket in both games, giving him time to find holes in the defensive coverage. The Lions lead the NAL in sacks this season with 18 and their ability to get in the backfield early and often has been one of the reasons they have dominated teams this season. With “Big General” Ulric Jones leading the way, the Lions will be looking to get in the Empire backfield tonight and disrupt Grady and the Empire passing attack.

3. Slow Down Darius Prince

Darius Prince just won the NAL Offensive Player of the Year award and there were many who likely expected it from the best receiver in the NAL. Prince ranks first in every receiving category in the NAL, including longest reception. Prince has been the most dominant offensive player in the NAL this season, scoring two or more touchdowns in eight out of nine games. If the Lions defense can slow down Prince, they will force Grady to look to his second and third options on passing plays and disrupt the Empire offense.

4. Desmond Reece and Sam Dobbs again

With the NAL Injury Report revealing that Romond Deloatch will be out in the NAL Championship, the Lions will look to the combination of Sam Dobbs and Desmond Reece yet again. In the two games since Deloatch was injured, Dobbs and Reece have both stepped up, including last week which saw Reece catch six passes for 89 yards and 2 touchdowns. Dobbs was used in blocking roles as well as running the football, with two attempts for eight yards and one reception for five yards. Reece and Dobbs can open things up for Grant and Outlaw and allow Espinosa to spread the ball around. When the Lions offense does this, they have had success.

5. Force Turnovers and Score off Turnovers

The Lions have been the best defense in the NAL this season in a number of categories including forcing turnovers. They have forced 31 turnovers this season, the most in the league and something that has changed momentum in a number of games this season has been the difference maker. If the Lions can force turnovers and the offense can take advantage, that could be the difference against the Empire. The Empire do not turn the ball over often but if the Lions can force Grady to make mistakes, and Espinosa and the offense can take advantage then those moments could shift momentum in the Lions' favor. 

Kickoff for 2021 NAL Championship game is set for 7 p.m EST on August 14 The game can be watched live with CTV Beam, at or on the NAL’s official Youtube channel


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 Follow the Lions on Facebook at, twitter @columbuslions and


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 For more information about the NAL visit,,,