Lions dominate in all three phases on their way to victory

by Alex Husting

Whether it was offense, defense or even special teams the Lions found success all over in the field during a 55-40 victory against the Orlando Predators in Friday’s home opener. 

There was not much known about the Predators prior to the game and the starting quarterback for Orlando was a surprise as well with Bryan Hicks getting the start. Following a stop inside the 10 by the Lions defense, the scoring started with a touchdown pass from Mason Espinosa to Lonnie Outlaw, their fifth touchdown connection of the season. The extra point became a big moment following last week’s issues on special teams against the Empire, and new kicker Ryan Gates gave the Lions a seven point lead.

When a tough run from Predators QB Bryan Hicks on fourth down failed to reach the first down marker, the Lions seemed to be in a great position to extend the lead and take control of the game early. The Predators defense needed a stop and they got one when Joshua Jenkins intercepted Mason Espinosa on the very first play of the drive. The Predators were able to march down the field, a big run from Desmond Maxwell got the offense inside the 10, and the game was all tied up at seven.

Ryan Gates then made his first of two field goal attempts early on to make it a 10-7 game. A defensive pass interference by Marvin Ross put the Predators in scoring position almost immediately. The defensive back then went for an interception but tipped the ball in the air and Predators receiver Donovan Raspberry made an acrobatic catch to put Orlando ahead. From this point the teams began to trade touchdowns throughout the remainder of the first half. 

Espinosa spread it around with Desmond Reece and Romond Deloatch catching touchdowns along with Outlaw. 

Bryan Hicks kept pace with the former NAL Offensive Player of the Year through the first half, throwing four touchdowns of his own, each to a different receiver. 

Even in such a high scoring contest, both defenses came up with big plays of their own. The Predators applied pressure throughout the game and sacked Espinosa while the Lions defense got their first sack of the season from Ken Washington and Ulric Jones blocked an extra point attempt.

The half ended with a wild tipped pass off Joshua Jenkins’ hands which landed in Deloatch’s for his second touchdown of the day and it put the Lions ahead going into the locker room.

The second half saw the Lions dominate and extend their lead as the Predators were held to only 13 in the entire second half. Espinosa and the offense controlled the clock with an opening drive that lasted over seven minutes and ended with a touchdown to Romond Deloatch. The Lions dominated in time of possession, holding the ball for over 36 minutes for the game while the Predators only had the ball for 22 minutes.

The defense responded with a number of big stops and the Predators did not find the end zone again until under a minute was left in the third quarter. The defense also got its first turnover of the game when Maurice Legget intercepted Hicks in the middle of the third quarter. 

Ryans Gates kicked his second field goal and this one was bigger than the first as it came after two penalties backed the Lions up to 4th and goal from the 18. The new kicker sent a 32 yarder right through the uprights and made it a 41-27 game late in the third quarter. In total, Gates went seven-for-seven on extra points and two-for-two on field goals and his reliability meant the Lions did not have to lean on two-point conversions to stay in the game like in week one against the Empire.

Despite the turnover in the first half, the Lions offense was clicking on all cylinders during the game with Mason Espinosa leading the way with 219 yards and six touchdowns as the veteran was finding his receivers all game. Romond Deloatch reeled in three of those touchdowns while Desmond Reece caught two and Lonnie Outlaw finished with one.

The running game played a bigger role in Friday’s matchup with Tiberias Lampkin getting seven carried for 21 yards and reaching the end zone late in the fourth quarter to make it 55-33 with under three minutes to play.

The Predators reached the end zone one last time with nine seconds left but the result was all but certain. A final run up the middle from Tiberias Lampkin ran out the remainder of the clock and the Lions secured their first win of the season.

Hicks finished 195 yards through the air and five touchdowns to four different receivers. While Rob Jones had the yards and receptions it was D.J. Myers who led the team with two receiving touchdowns. 

The Lions came out of the locker room with a purpose and the performance in the second half in all three phases was the difference. The Predators had no answer for Espinosa and the offense in the second half and the defense getting stops and forcing a turnover allowed the offense to increase their lead and run even more time off the clock.

If you missed the game, you can watch the full broadcast with Jared Dillard and Aidan Kowalski on the call here:

The Lions return to the gridiron next Saturday, on the road against the Jersey Flight. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. EST. The game can be watched live with CTV Beam, at or on the NAL’s official Youtube channel


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