Lions' winning streak ends with 63-43 loss to the Empire
In the NAL Game of the Week, the Columbus Lions could not stop the Empire offense in a 63-43 loss to the 2019 AFL Champions. With the victory, the Empire clinched home field advantage throughout the NAL playoffs while the Lions will host the first round game but could travel to Albany for the second round game if the Lions and Empire advance.
Despite the two high scoring offenses present in the contest, the first quarter was a defensive battle with no touchdowns from either team.
The Empire offense managed only a deuce on the opening kickoff and saw their first drive shut down in the red zone when Kendrick Washington intercepted Tommy Grady in the red zone.
The Lions offense did not fare much better, managing only three points on a 35 yard field goal from new kicker Craig Camay.
Both offenses finally found some rhythm in the second quarter and did not look back. The scoring started with an Empire touchdown on a run from Jeramie Richard to put Albany up 9-3. The teams continued to exchange touchdowns, with Antwane Grant accounting for both of the Lions touchdowns, until late in the second quarter when the Lions got the ball following a Darius Prince touchdown.
With the Empire winning 23-16 and set to receive the second half kickoff, the Lions began a long drive and methodically marched down the field, hoping to score with no time left for the Empire. The Lions eventually got in the red zone with under a minute to play but the Empire made key stops and on 4th and three, Mason Espinosa’s pass, intended for Lonnie Outlaw, was deflected the Lions gave the ball back to the Empire.
With only 50 seconds left before halftime, Grady and offense were able to find holes in the Lions defense and Grady eventually found Prince in the endzone to expand the Empire lead to 30-16 just before the half.
With this late touchdown, the Empire completely shifted the momentum going into the locker room and now the Lions needed to not only keep pace with the best offense in the NAL, but also find a way to keep them out of the end zone.
The Lions found a way to start the second half when Marvin Ross picked off an errant throw from Tommy Grady and gave the Lions offense a chance to cut the lead to one possession. Mason Espinosa and the offense did not waste that chance and quickly found the end zone with another Antwane Grant receiving touchdown, his third of the day. Once again both offenses continued to trade touchdowns through the third and fourth quarters, including a failed onside kick attempt from the Lions that was taken into the endzone uncontested by the Empire.
The Empire continued to score with another Darius Prince touchdown, his second rushing touchdown of the day and fourth overall, extending the lead to 56-43 following a missed extra point.
The Lions offense once again tried to keep pace with the Empire and put more points on the board, but the Empire defense stuffed back to back running plays and when a fourth down trick play for Antwane Grant failed, Albany got the ball back with seven minutes remaining. The Empire took six minutes off the clock on the ensuing drive and capped it off with Darius Prince’s fifth touchdown of the night, his third on the ground.
While the Lions defense found some success in stopping the Empire in the first quarter, Grady and the offense never looked back after a 28 point explosion in the second and the Lions offense struggled to keep up. While the connection between Grady and Prince has been a big part of the Empire offense and was again today, Prince had eight receptions for 128 and two scores, it was the Empire running game that gave them the edge.
The Empire came to Columbus with the number one rushing attack in the NAL and proved why with 52 yards on the ground and five touchdowns against the Lions. The running game’s success came in part due to Grady’s own performance. Despite being picked off twice, Grady completed over 70% of his passes and was not sacked once, giving him time to find his receivers.
As for the Lions offense, Espinosa and his receivers were finding holes in the Empire defense throughout the game, with Espinosa completing 31 passes for 342 yards and six touchdowns, but issues on 3rd and fourth down halted drives and gave the Empire offense more opportunities.
Lonnie Outlaw and Antwane Grant both eclipsed 100 yards receiving, with Grant leading the team in receptions (13) and touchdowns (five) while Outlaw led in yards (147).
The Lions will be back home again next week when the Jersey Flight come to Columbus for the regular season finale. With their playoff spot secure and a first round home game guaranteed, it will be interesting to see if the Lions choose to rest some of their starters, or if they use this game as a chance to build some momentum before the playoffs. The first playoff game will be on August 7 at the Columbus Civic Center.
Kickoff for the regular season finale is set for 7 p.m EST on July 31 and tickets are on sale here. 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.
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.