The Columbus Lions defeated the Georgia Firebirds last night 63-50 before a rowdy Jungle crowd, which was much more of a challenge than anticipated by players, coaches and fans alike. After a drubbing on two separate occasions in 2016, the Firebirds came into the Columbus Civic Center focused and ready. After a few minutes of play, the Lions quickly realized that this Firebirds team was clearly different than last year’s.
The Lions jumped out to an early 12-0 lead after a quick touchdown drive and 46 yd. interception return for a TD by Kyle Griswould. It seemed that the Lions were going to coast to another big win, but the Firebirds came storming back and scored 10 unanswered points to close the gap to 12-10 after one quarter of play.
In the 2nd quarter both teams traded blows with a series of explosive plays on both sides. Neither the vaunted Lions Black Shirt defense, nor the Birds defenders, led by former Lion greats Larry Edwards and Roshawn Marshall seemed to be able to stop the offenses. On the Lions side, big catches were made by Jarmon Fortson, Michael Reeve and Tristan Purifoy; and for the Firebirds, Terrence Ebagua and John Harris seemed to be unstoppable. With the defenses of both teams out of sync, the score at the end of the 1st half was 32-31 Lions.
The second half would bring more electricity as the Firebirds came out smoking and converted a key 4th down play to eventually take a 34-32 lead with a short field goal. It was the 3rd time the Lions defense held the birds to 3 points, but the Lions also relinquished the lead for the first time with the short kick. The Lions immediately came roaring back and scored, making it 39-34.
The Lions extended their lead to 17 in the 4th quarter with some very key defensive plays made by Kendrick Washington and newcomer Corey Crawford, who recovered a fumble that was forced by Washington in the end zone for a touchdown. Ebagua and the Firebirds came roaring back after recovering an onside kick, cutting the lead to 4. Lions defensive back Chris Smith answered with a kickoff return for a touchdown, and the final nail in the proverbial coffin came at the hands of Kendrick Washington, who caused another fumble and returned it himself inside the Firebirds 5 yard line with less than a minute left in regulation. After one offensive play, the clock ran out on the Birds, and the Lions escaped with a 63-50 victory.
Darren Daniel played well again for the Lions, completing 19-27 for 238 yds and 5 TDs. More importantly, Daniel protected the ball and did not throw an interception. Mike Reeve and Jarmon Fortson both had two receiving touchdowns for the Lions, and Tristan Purifoy added one himself. The Lions defense scored two defensive TDs and Chris Smith had a return for a TD. This is the second straight week that the Lions defense caused multiple turnovers.
The Lions play on the road this week, facing the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks on April 9th. The next home game for the Lions is April 22nd against the High Country Grizzlies.