Lions come up short in highest scoring NAL Championship, lose 79-62
The Lions met the Empire for the third time this season, this time with the NAL Championship on the line. Despite a competitive and high scoring first half, the Empire pulled away in the second half, winning their first NAL Championship 79-62.
The previous matchups saw high-powered offenses scoring at will and tonight’s game was more of the same with a combined 94 points in the first half alone. The scoring was immediate and often by both teams, with every drive of the first half ending in a touchdown, except the last drive of the half for the Empire which was one play before time expired.
The Lions’ first four possessions were each one play with each drive ending in a touchdown pass from Mason Espinosa. The Lions did not have a drive of more than one play until late in the second quarter.
The Empire was more methodical, marching down the field with a combination of short and intermediate throws as well as a run game.
Halftime came with the Empire winning 48-44, with the Lions scoring the last touchdown of the half. Special teams was all the difference in the first half with Tristan Reynolds struggling on extra points, making only two of his five attempts and a fake field goal attempt that failed. On the seventh Lions touchdown of the half the Lions decided to go for two but they were unsuccessful.
The Empire opened the second half with a deuce to extend their lead to six points. The record for most combined points in an NAL Championship game was tied with over 10 minutes left in the third quarter when the Lions scored again to make it 50-50.
The remainder of the second half saw the Empire take control and pull away from the Lions. After a very close first half, the Empire outscored the Lions 31-18 in the second half. The Lions were unable to stop the Empire offense throughout the game and a number of key stops from the Empire defense made all the difference in the second half.
The Empire were only kept out of the end zone twice during the game, once when time expired to end the first half and again when time expired to end the game. Espinosa was excellent in the first half, starting the game with four passes and four touchdowns.
The Empire defense was able to slow down the Lions offense in the second half with a turnover on downs inside the red zone and an interception of Espinosa in the end zone.
After nearly two years away from the game. The NAL and the Lions returned for a shortened 2021 season.It was a successful season from the Lions, with a 7-3 overall record and a bounce back year following a 6-8 season in 2019.
This season, Mason Espinosa was the NAL MVP, Marvin Ross the Defensive Player of the Year, Lonnie Outlaw the Most Improved Player, defensive coordinator Brandon Reed was the Assistant Coach of the Year and Jason Gibson was the Head Coach of the Year. The Lions made it to the playoffs for the fourth straight season and this was their third NAL Championship appearance, the most of any team in the league.
The Lions came up short tonight against the Empire, arguably one of the best offenses in NAL history. Now coach Gibson and the Lions will look ahead to the 2022 NAL season and another run at the championship.
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