Columbus Lions return home for first time in a month Saturday night

End month-long stretch on road

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerApril 19, 2013 

There's no place like home and boy, do the Columbus Lions ever know that.

Columbus (2-2) returns home tonight for the first time in more than a month when it hosts the Richmond (Va.) Raiders (3-1) at the Columbus Civic Center. Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

"It'll be fun to be here," said Lions coach Jason Gibson, whose last home game came March 10 against the Knoxville Nighthawks.

"Not having to go on a long road trip will be nice, but there are some headaches that come with home games, like making sure people have tickets and playing in front of all your friends and family. However, we don't lose (at the Columbus Civic Center) very often, so I think that's an advantage for us."

One of the highlights of practice this week has been the quarterback competition between incumbent starter Marcus Jones and newcomer Brian Harris, a Mississippi College product.

"I'm trying to find a quarterback who can make plays," said Gibson. "(Harris) has some good experience and he's looked good on film. I wanted to bring someone in who could be some competition or even help us become a better football team."

Jones led the Lions to a 45-42 victory at Louisiana -- the cellar dweller in the Professional Indoor Football League standings -- but he was only 23-for-40 passing and had three passes picked off, two of which were brought back for touchdowns. For the season, Jones is 51-of-92 for 703 yards and 13 touchdowns, but he's also thrown eight interceptions -- seven of which have come in the Lions' last two games.

Gibson said Jones will get the start tonight, but added that Harris will dress as well, implying the Lions may see their third signal-caller of the season under center before the game is over.

"We have to put together a complete game," said Gibson. "Our defense are special teams are going well, but in my opinion, our offense is still lagging behind. However, we're 2-2 despite having used two quarterbacks, giving the ball up 12 times, having two straight bye weeks and going six weeks between home games. So, I'll take it."

While Columbus was busy pulling out a road win at Louisiana last week, Richmond knocked off Lehigh Valley, 62-51, at the Richmond Colisuem. The Raiders have won three straight games since a season-opening loss to the league-leading Alabama Hammers.

"Richmond is a good team," said Gibson. "They always play good defense and are physical. Their arena is a hard place to play, so I'm glad we're playing them here."

The Raiders are led by quarterback Warren Smith, who's gone 52-for-89 for 684 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air. Herb Jones (23 catches, 274 yards, 4 TDs) is his main target, but the Lions will also have to look out for fullback Mike Jones, who leads the league in carries (41), rushing yards (159) and yards per game (39.8).

Columbus will be short-handed on defense, though, as linebackers Herschel Thornton (wrist) and Ryan Babb (hand) are expected to miss the game. The Lions will also be missing fullback/linebacker Gerald Harris, who leads the team with 79 rushing yards, after he fractured multiple ribs against Louisiana.

The Lions have 12 turnovers -- the second-highest total in the PIFL behind Alabama's 13 -- so taking care of the ball is an obvious priority tonight, but Gibson said his team also must be the tougher team if it wants to knock off the Raiders.

"We have to be the more physical football team and knock some people around," said Gibson. "We have to play physical football along with utilizing the athletic ability we have. Our guys have to come out and make plays early, not only to gain confidence in themselves, but to make Richmond question their ability to make plays. I think if we do that, we're going to get the crowd into the game."

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