Columbus’ defense was the story of the game as the Lions limited Lehigh Valley to a mere 190 total yards in a 50-18 victory April 13th at the Columbus Civic Center. It was the season opener for both teams.
The defense did not allow a touchdown until the second half and sacked the Steelhawks six times. The Lions also recovered one fumble and intercepted a pass as well.
Meanwhile after a slow start, the Lion offense started clicking on all cylinders and ran up 285 yards of total offense with seven passing touchdowns.
“Going into the game, the Steelhawks had more veterans on their roster then we did,” said Coach Jason Gibson after the game. “But our defense played well the entire game.”
“I thought my big dogs stepped up their play and our new guys contributed like Greg Hall, Darius Rosser and Robert Sands.” Gibson added about his game defense. ”Before the game started, we didn’t know what we had and only game experience will tell you.”
Hall was credited with two sacks and a fumble recovery, Rosser had one and a half sacks and Sands had an interception in the end zone to deny the Steelhawks in the second half.
“I was very emotional during the game,” said a smiling Rosser after the contest.”I have not been in a football game in a year and a half and it felt really great being out there and playing the game I love.”
Rosser added that “we have a high standard and allowing just three points in a half is just a start, our goal is to not let the other team score, period. I wanted to get everything out of me that I can and get to the quarterback.”
Greg Hall was icing his foot after the game but was also feeling pleased about the team’ defense. “We wanted to show our defense was ready. I was happy that I could help the team with the fumble recovery and sacks and want to keep doing that the rest of the year.”
While the defense shut the door on the Steelhawks, the Lion offense starting putting up points as quarterback Mason Espinosa began finding open receivers and got a helping hand from new fullback Quayvon Hicks in the running game.
Although considered a passing league, the Lions rushed the ball for 55 yards and Hicks had 46 of those. Espinosa added 200 passing yards of his own with five touchdown passes before substitute Jeremy Johnson took over the offense and passed for a TD in the fourth quarter also. The 7th TD pass came on a halfback option throw by Triston Purifoy.
In fact one Lion scoring drive was one play, a 28-yard scoring catch by Fortson in the third.
“We have been working on stretching the field all camp. Last year we were good at hitting the short throw and moving the ball down the field but coach wanted us to be able to hit the long pass to add more to the offense and it was good to see it work,” said Espinosa after the game.
Veteran Jarmon Fortson led the team in receiving with nine catches for 85 yards and scored four touchdowns and returnee Durron Neal added six catches for 70 yards and two scores. Hicks showed his versatility as he also caught two passes for 25 yards and a touchdown.
The Steelhawks all-time leading receiver Brandon Renford had the only touchdown reception of the night for the visitors. The other score by Lehigh Valley was back backup Seth Higgins on a one-yard run with one minute left in the game.
Columbus led 15-0 at the end of the first period as Lindsey Wolfe had a two-pointer after Espinosa’s first TD pass was thrown to Fortson for a 15-yard score. Quayvon Hicks scored his first arena football TD as well on a pass from the Lion quarterback and it was 15-0.
In the second quarter, the Steelhawks finally got on the scoreboard with a field goal and the Lions countered with Espinosa hitting Fortson for the second time on a six-yard TD and Purifoy tossing to Fortson again for his third score. That made it 29-3 at intermission and the Lions were in control of the game.
Columbus came out strong in the third and made it 43-10 at the end of the period with Fortson getting his fourth TD score and Neal catching his first TD pass of the game, an 18-yard score.
Walden hit Renford for his only TD pass of the game in the third for Lehigh Valley’s only passing score.
That’s when both teams went to their bench with Jeremy Johnson taking over the offense for Columbus and Higgins doing the same for Lehigh Valley. Johnson threw a TD pass to Neal of two yards that had Neal doing a back flip and a 50-10 lead.
Higgins finally got one long pass to FJ Williams to the Columbus two and then ran twice for the score. Spencer Hotalings’ two-pointer on the kickoff in that last minute ended the scoring for the night.
Johnson then led the offense to two first downs and used up the clock to end the game.