Lions fall to Panthers 40-37 but aren't discouraged

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerMarch 17, 2013 

The Columbus Lions missed an opportunity Saturday night to knock off the defending Professional Indoor Football League champion Albany Panthers in Albany, but Lions coach Jason Gibson wasn't at all discouraged by the setback.

"We played like I thought we played," said Gibson of his team's 40-37 loss. "We knew Albany's defense would be tough and they were, but our defense played well, too. We missed a field goal and two extra points and that was the difference in the game."

Albany (2-0) pulled out the win on a 28-yard field goal by Ryan Gates with five seconds to go in the game. Columbus (1-1) had just tied the game at 37 on an 18-yard field goal by Chandler Brooks with 12 seconds remaining, but the Lions were driving for a touchdown before starting quarterback Marcus Jones suffered an ankle injury and had to leave the game. His backup, Garrett Sutphen, completed one of his two passes, but was sacked as well and Columbus had to settle for a field goal to tie things up. After Brooks' kickoff went for a touchback, Albany took over on its own 10 and completed a 26-yard pass to the Columbus 14, setting up Gates' game-winning field goal.

"We kept stopping Albany, but we'd commit penalties to give them first downs," said Gibson. "We only had the ball three times the whole first half and eight times for the whole game. Most indoor football games, a team gets the ball six or eight times in a half. We didn't play well along the defensive line and couldn't get a lot of pressure on the quarterback, but we had a lot of people banged up."

Columbus kept Albany quarterback Cecil Lester in check most of the night, as the Panthers' signal-caller only went 17-for-37 for 215 yards and two touchdowns through the air. However, the Lions' defense -- which forced four turnovers in last week's season opener against Knoxville -- had no takeaways and no sacks against the Panthers.

"We took away what we wanted to take away," said Gibson. "But there was only one turnover in the game and that was them picking off one of our passes. We were up 34-30 late in the game and had a sure-fire interception, but the ball was dropped and they scored on it. It's just those little things that got us."

Jones had a solid first start for the Lions, going 12-for-19 for 192 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. He also had 10 carries for 13 yards as Columbus used a balanced offensive attack, with 18 rushes against only 21 passing plays. Gibson said the play-calling -- which goes against indoor football's normal pass-happy philosophy -- was done for a number of reasons.

"I thought (Jones) played well," said Gibson. "He answered a lot of questions I had about the quarterback position. We ran the ball more because we wanted to try and keep our defense off the field and keep their defense honest. Albany was getting a big rush up the field and we were trying to exploit that. Five yards is five yards, regardless of whether it's from a run or a pass."

Maurice Dupree was Jones' top target, catching five passes for 127 yards and three touchdowns. LeRoy Vann had four catches for 32 yards and a score and Earl Alexander had the another touchdown catch, a 40-yarder from Jones early in the second quarter. On defense, wide receiver/linebacker Jarmon Fortson had his second straight good game, as he led the Lions with seven tackles. Anthony Shutt had five stops and Jeremy Gray had four tackles and three pass breakups in the loss.

With two games in the books, the Lions are now off until April 6, when they travel to Huntsville, Ala., to take on the Alabama Hammers. Columbus doesn't return to the friendly confines of the Columbus Civic Center -- also known as "The Jungle" -- until April 20, when the Lions host the Richmond Raiders.

"The two weeks off will help us because it'll help our guys heal up," said Gibson. "Our defense is where we need it to be. That's what we worked on in the offseason. We'll get there. We're still going to get better and we haven't played our best ball yet."

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