Columbus Lions play regular-season home finale tonight against Knoxville Nighthwawks

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerJune 15, 2012 

Yes, the Columbus Lions know they will be on the road when the Professional Indoor Football League playoffs start next weekend.

However, whom the Lions (5-6) will play and when they will play is still undecided, which is why Columbus must approach tonight's

regular-season finale against the Knoxville Nighthawks (1-10) with all the seriousness that it deserves.

The Lions still have a chance to be a No. 3 seed, and a victory in the opening round of the playoffs -- along with an upset of top-seeded Albany -- could net Columbus a home game for the PIFL championship. Throw in the fact that the Nighthawks have lost their past four contests by a total of 18 points -- three of those by a combined eight points -- and Lions coach Jason Gibson knows his team had better show up and play well tonight to win.

"Knoxville is a very good football team," Gibson said. "They've lost a lot of close games lately. We've got to not turn the ball over if we want to win. It seems like our offense is either scoring touchdowns or turning the ball over and letting the other team score touchdowns. We have the best kicker in the league, so, if our offense stalls, instead of turning the ball over and letting them have points, we have to kick field goals."

Kickoff for the game at the Columbus Civic Center is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Columbus lost 57-54 to the Albany Panthers last week at the Civic Center in a game that saw the Lions' turnover problems rear their ugly head again.

"Turnovers on offense killed us again," Gibson said. "We had a pass picked off in the end zone, a fumble recovered in the end zone, and we lost a fumble at the 1-yard line. That's 21 points right there, and we lost by three points. Our defense played a great game. We held them to under 20 points in the first half and knocked their starting quarterback out of the game. But we had those turnovers, and you just can't win when you do those kinds of things. If we could get our turnovers under control, we wouldn't lose a football game."

Following the loss to Albany, Gibson changed the Lions' practice format. Instead of staying in pads, Gibson decided to take his foot off the gas pedal a little bit.

"We had a good week of practice," Gibson said. "We had no contact so that we could try and get ready for the playoffs. In past seasons, we'd have a good record, but it came at a price and we'd go into the playoffs all banged up. I decided to switch things up so that we could save their bodies for when it counted."

As the Lions prepare for their final home game of the regular season tonight, one might look at this season as a disappointment, given their 5-6 record and relatively low seeding for the playoffs. However, Gibson looks at the glass as half full rather than half empty positive.

"We have a winning record at home and are in the playoffs for the fifth straight season," Gibson said. "We had 18 rookies on our roster at the start of the season. We've still got the top offense in the league, and, right now, anybody in the league can beat anybody else.

"In the past, we've always had a top seed, and there's a lot of pressure that comes with that. Now, we're not a top seed, but it's a lot more fun and a lot less pressure. But still, it's time to put up or shut up."

Notes: Last weekend's 57-54 loss to Albany marked the first time in franchise history the Lions have lost three straight games. … Columbus won both of the previous meetings this season, taking a 64-59 win in Columbus March 17 and a 58-55 victory in Knoxville May 12. … Knoxville defensive back Ginikachi Ibe is tied for the league lead with nine interceptions. Four of those came in two games against the Lions. … During its three-game losing streak, Columbus has 13 turnovers, going from a plus-9 to a minus-1 in turnover differential.

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