Playoffs Round One: Lions vs. Predators Preview
This Saturday the Columbus Lions and Orlando Predators will meet for the first time since June 4. This time around, the stakes will be a little higher with the winner of Saturday’s contest going to the 2021 NAL Championship game.
In that first matchup, the Lions were dominant in a 55-40 victory, controlling time of possession and moving the ball at will behind the arm of Mason Espinosa. The Predators were led by Bryan Hicks at the time and he threw for five touchdowns during that game and seven more against Jacksonville the following week when the Predators got their first win of the season.
Hicks’ reign as the starter for the Predators was short lived after an injury during a June 19 loss to the Empire forced him onto IR. Fasutino Sauced was the next man up and he started the following week when the Predators travelled to New Jersey to take on the Flight. Sauced threw for four touchdowns in another loss, bringing the Predators to 1-3 on the season.
Following this game, the Predators looked to free agency for a new quarterback, signing Patrick O’Brien from Catawba College. O'Brien joined the team on June 28 and only four days later he was the starting quarterback in the Predators rematch with the Sharks. Since being made the starter, the Predators have been a different team, winning his first three games as a starter, and only losing the season finale against the Carolina Cobras, with the Predators’ spot in the playoffs already secured.
Since taking over, O’Brien has completed 83 passes 140 attempts for 813 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. His favorite target this year has been D.J. Meyers, the clear number-one receiver for the Predators with 55 receptions, 630 yards and 16 touchdowns, all leading the team. Meyers has become more first option since Dezmond Epps was suspended indefinitely following the Predators fourth game.
O’Brien’s numbers have not reached the levels of Mason Espinosa or Tommy Grady but when he is under center the Predators find ways to win.
He has struggled with turning the ball over and his worst performance came against the Flight on July 12, where he threw three interceptions. Despite that, O’Brien made up for it with three rushing touchdowns and led the Predators to a 32-12 victory. O’Brien’s ability as a runner is something to watch this Saturday as he has five rushing touchdowns this season.
In fact, while the quarterback change has been the key to turning around the season for the Predators, their passing attack is not the strength of the offense. They are fourth in the league in passing yards per game (208.0) and passing touchdowns (33), they are second in the NAL in total rushing yards (265) and rushing yards per game (33.1).
This running game has been led by fullback Desmond Maxwell, who leads the league in every major rushing category, despite only playing in six games for the Predators. Maxwell has 196 yards on 46 attempts with six touchdowns. In the Lions two losses this season, the Albany Empire were able to rush for over 40 yards in each game, keeping the defense guessing and opening up the passing game for Tommy Grady.
On special teams, the Predators have struggled to find a reliable kicker. Jorge Leon was their first option at kicker, and he made only 57% of his extra point attempts and missed his only field goal attempt in three games. The Predators then made the switch to Dylan Barnos which has helped solve their problem with extra points, Barnos has only missed one out of 12 total attempts, but they still have yet to make a field goal, with Barnos missing all three of his attempts this season.
On the defensive side, the Predators have been inconsistent throughout the season. They are second in the league in points allowed per game (44.8) but they are fifth in the league in yards allowed per game (243.5) and passing yards allowed per game (230.5). They are one of the best in the NAL at forcing turnovers, with 16 combined this year, including 12 interceptions, and they lead the league in defensive touchdowns with four.
Their major weakness as a pass defense comes from the lack of pressure they are able to put on quarterbacks. They have only four sacks this year, the worst in the NAL.
This first round matchup between the Lions and the Predators may be a rematch from earlier in the season but both teams have changed dramatically. The Predators have a new quarterback and Desmond Maxwell has become more of a focal point of the offense. For the Lions, Antwane Grant and Corey Crawford are two big parts of the offense that were not present in the June 4 matchup.
Kickoff for round one of the playoffs is set for 7 p.m EST on August 7 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.