The last game of the season proved to be the biggest win for the Columbus Lions (6-8) as they defeated the defending NAL Champions Carolina Cobras (10-4) 46-34 to extend their winning streak to 3 games on route to Jacksonville for the NAL Playoffs.
In front of a packed Columbus Civic Center, the Lions’ defense has their best showing of the year forcing multiple turnovers and limiting a Cobras team that scored 70 points last meeting to just seven points in the second half to seal the win. Although Carolina outgained Columbus 230 to 195, their 10 penalties for 78 yards and being 2 for 6 on third down hurt them time and again throughout the game. Charles McCullum would complete 20 of 39 passes for 234 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. McCullum, who is usually a threat with his legs, found it hard to move around in the pocket all night long. Jordan Jolly had 10 receptions for 100 yards and four touchdowns, leading Carolina receivers in all three categories.
Bryan Hicks, who defeated Carolina as a member of the Orlando Predators, delivered once again. Hicks completed 18 of 30 passes for 202 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. He would spread the love through the air, especially to Triston Purifoy, who led Columbus with six receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown. Desmond Reece hauled in five receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown of his own but was crucial in the RedZone running game. Reece would carry the ball seven times for 16 yards and three scores. Bones Bagaunte had five receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown while even offensive lineman Dion Small caught a touchdown late in the game to give Columbus a sizeable lead.
The Lions defense was a headache all night for the Cobras. Defensive back Kyle Griswould led all players with 5.5 tackles. The defensive line of Ulric Jones, JT Surrattt and LaMichael Fanning lived in the backfield causing chaos. Early in the second half, the Lions defense would cause a fumble on Carolina’s own one-yard line that would be recovered by Jones to set up a touchdown. Dominick Sanders would come up with a huge interception late in the 3rd quarter to prevent Carolina from scoring.
At the 8:00 mark in the second quarter, the Lions found themselves down 20-7, but would go on to outscore the defending champions 39-14 to close out the season. The Lions, defeating New York, Orlando and Carolina, now find themselves on their longest winning streak of the season and hold the second longest winning streak in the NAL just in time for playoffs. Next up are the Jacksonville Sharks, owner of the longest winning streak at 13 games and the hottest team not only just in the NAL, but all of Arena Football.
The Lions were 0-2 during the regular season against Jacksonville, losing 48-24 at home on April 19th and 49-41 on the road June 8th. The Sharks got their tune-up game in vs the Orlando Predators, winning 85-30. The last time these two teams met in the post season was back in July of 2017, where the Sharks would defeat Columbus 27-21 to capture the NAL Championship in the inaugural season. The Lions look to make it their third straight trip to the NAL Championship with a win in Jacksonville, something the Lions have never accomplished. The winner of Jacksonville-Columbus will have a date with either the Massachusetts Pirates (8-6) or the Carolina Cobras for the NAL Championship.