Darron Thomas threw five touchdown passes but It was not enough as the Columbus Lions (9-7) defeated the Massachusetts Pirates 50-36 to end the Pirates (11-6) first ever playoff run toward a National Arena League championship.
The fourth seeded lions scored on their first possession of the game as former Pirates receiver London Crawford made a one handed catch in the corner of the end zone. Quarterback Jeremy Johnson’s four yard pass and an extra point by Tyler Rausa gave the Lions a seven point advantage.
Rausa added a 22 yard field goal as the quarter ended giving Columbus a 10-0 lead.
The Pirates opened the second quarter with Thomas hitting Mardy Gilyard with a five yard TD pass to cut the deficit to three points. The Lions answered with a quick four play drive that ended with Johnson scoring his first of four rushing touchdowns on the night. His one yard run upped the score to 16-7. The Columbus defense then came up with the only turnover of the game as Shattle Fenteng picked off Thomas in the end zone to end a Pirates threat. The Lions turned the turnover into points with a seven play, 46 yard scoring drive. The big play was a Johnson pass to tight end Dion Small on a fourth and three from midfield. Small made the catch and ran the ball down to the six yard line. On the next play Johnson ran the ball in for “six” and the Lions led 22-7.
The game then took a dramatic turn on the Pirates next possession. On a second and 20 from their own 10 yard line Thomas was sacked by Steve Miller and Corey Crawford and injured his right ankle. He left the game for two plays as Bones Bagaunte ran the ball five yards and then Ali Mourtada attempted a 58 yard field goal which was no good giving the Lions their third defensive stop on the first half. The half ended with Columbus out front 22-7.
Thomas did return to play for the Pirates in the second half with limited mobility. He led the Pirates to a score to start the third quarter. Thomas found Bagaunte with an eight yard TD pass. The extra point and a “Duece” by Mourtada closed the score to 22-16. The Lions had the answer as Johnson completed three of four passes on the next dive that covered 45 yards in seven plays. Johnson found the end zone on a four yard run. Rausa then stepped up to add the point after and a “Duce” to give Columbus a 31-16 lead.
The pirates would not go away as they closed the quarter with their own 45 yard drive as Bagaunte’s nine yard touchdown grab kept it close. Columbus had an eight point lead at the end of the third.
The teams traded touchdowns on each possession of the final quarter. The Lions added nine quick points with Johnson scoring on a three yard scamper and Rausa notching his second “Duce” of the game. Thomas found Devonn Brown from eight yards out to put the Pirates down by ten. Brown finished the game with nine receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown. The TD was his 25th of the season.
With 5:50 remaining, the Lions scored their final touchdown as on first and goal at the six, Crawford lined up slot left and scored running around the right end to push the score to 47-30, Columbus. The last hurrah for the Pirates came on the next possession as Thomas connected with Bagaunte for his third touchdown reception of the night to put the Pirates down 47-36. Bagaunte ended the evening as the Pirates leading receiver with 10 catches, 80 yards and three scores.
A failed onside kick attempt by Massachusetts gave the ball to the Lions on a short field. Rausa ended the scoring and the Pirates season by kicking at 20 yard field goal, giving Columbus as 50-36 victory and a birth in the National Arena League championship game.
Even with an injured leg Thomas was able to finish the game completing 27 of 48 passes for 224 yards with five touchdowns and one interception.
For the Lions, Johnson was 24 of 34 for 233 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Johnson ran the ball nine times for 15 yards and four scores. His leading receiver was Jarmon Fortson who had 10 receptions for 100 yards. Crawford had nine catches for 81 yards with one TD receiving and one rushing.
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