The Battle for First Place: Lions vs. Empire Preview
This Saturday the Albany Empire and the Columbus Lions will battle in arguably the biggest game of the season as the two teams will fight for first place outright in the NAL and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Both teams remain undefeated at home and have been dominant throughout the season with the Lions having the best defense, while the Empire and Tommy Grady have the best offense.
This game is a rematch from the season opener in May which saw the Empire take a commanding lead early and hold off a late comeback from the Lions to win 65-60. Grady was excellent with eight touchdowns and only one interception on his way to victory while Mason Espinosa tied the all-time record for passing touchdowns in a game with nine. Now the two teams meet again with the Lions looking to avoid a repeat of the season opener.
Both teams officially clinched their playoff spots with wins last week and regardless of the next two weeks, they will remain in the top two spots.
The Empire are coming off a narrow 55-48 victory over the Jersey Flight, which saw Grady find Darius Prince in the end zone with only ten seconds left to put the Empire ahead. The Empire appeared to be in trouble heading into the fourth quarter, but Grady rallied the offense and they scored 29 points in the final ten minutes to come away with the victory.
Grady finished the game with six touchdowns and one interception, his sixth straight game with five or more touchdowns. While Grady has thrown an interception in three straight games, he only has four total this season, second best in the NAL. Grady’s favorite target Darius Prince put on a show yet again, with eight catches for 61 yards and three touchdowns.
The duo of Grady and Prince has been the strength of the Empire this year and they are showing no signs of slowing down. Prince leads the NAL in nearly every receiving category by a wide margin, including receptions (60), yards (791) and touchdowns (25). The only category he does not lead the league in is yards per reception, which he ranks second in.
While the Lions have run a “wide receiver by committee” offense, utilizing each player and rarely relying on one, Prince has been the number-one guy for the Empire the entire season. He has had three or more touchdowns in every game this year.
Prince’s impact has been felt on the offense and the Empire lead the league in a number of offense categories, including points per game (63.8), passing yards per game (259) and even rushing yards per game (35.7).
The Empire seemingly have no weakness on the offensive end, with an excellent passing game complemented with a good running game. The team’s main weakness comes on the defensive side of the ball.
While the Empire offense has been gashing opponents throughout the season, the Empire defense has been getting gashed as well. They are fourth in points allowed per game (48.8), fifth in yards allowed per game (269.3) and last in the NAL in passing yards allowed per game (278.5). Aside from a June 4 victory over the Jersey Flight, the Empire defense has allowed 40 or more points in every game this season. The Empire offense has been able to outscore most of their opponents, despite their issues on defense, but when the Empire visited the Sharks on June 26, the Sharks were able to control time of possession and slow down the Empire offense on their way to a 62-58 victory.
The Empire have found success on defense in pressuring the quarterback and they are second in the league in sacks with 14, behind only the Lions. When the Lions and Empire first met the Empire defense got to Espinosa four times for a combined 44 yards lost. Both defenses will be looking to apply pressure to the opposing quarterbacks in order to disrupt the rhythm of the two best signal callers in the league.
This Saturday the Columbus Lions will face their toughest challenge yet when the Empire come to the Civic Center. The Lions defense has been dominant throughout the season but now they will face the best offense in the NAL. The only time the Lions have allowed more than 40 points this season was against the Empire in the season opener.
On offense, Mason Espinosa and company will look to build off the 67 point performance against the Sharks as the NAL MVP candidate continues to put up efficient numbers with few mistakes. The last time Grady and Espinosa met the two quarterbacks combined for 17 touchdowns and this Saturday there could be even more with both offenses improving throughout the season.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m EST 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.